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
Tags: aging/life course, demography/population, health/medicine, methodology/statistics, demographic transition, fertility, mortality, total fertility rate, subtitles/CC, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: The population pyramid is a visualization of a society's age structure and is so named because of its shape. A thick base at the bottom indicates that the largest share of the population is young, and the pyramid's steep slope, which vanishes to a point, represents the cold fact that the mortality rate increases as people age. In countries around the world, the shape of this pyramid age distribution has been observed to change, a process demographers call a demographic transition. The traditional pyramid shape is common in less industrialized societies, which is an indication that fertility and mortality rates are high and life spans are short. However, with the diffusion of medical advancements, the reach of health care services, and improvments in drinking water and sanitation mortality rates typically drop and life spans increase. And with more children surviving the first decade of life and contraception becoming more widely available, fertility rates typically plummet. The result is that the pyramid-looking age distribution begins to resemble a column. Since each successive bar represents the size of an age cohort, it follows that in a society with a stable fertility rate and a low mortality rate, the bars resist sloping inward until the older age cohorts where mortaility seems to overcome advancements in health. • As the above video from The Economist explains, demographic transitions have been observed to happen on a country-by-country basis, but if one pools data from countries around the world, it appears that the age structure of the global population is slowly undergoing one big demographic transition. In 1970, the world's population could be represented as a pyramid, but in 2015 the the pyramid more closely resembles the dome of the U.S. Capitol Building. By 2060, demographers project that the dome-like structure will give way to columns, and it may be difficult to remember why demographers ever called it a population pyramid in the first place. • It is important to keep in mind that creating these graphs is more than an exercise in data visualization, and such graphs can be useful tools for policymakers. For instance, whether the age distribution resembles a pyramid or a column has important implications for answering questions about society's tax structure and resource allocations. It is essential to know the number of people who comprise vulnerable populations, such as children and the elderly. Population pyramids and the calculations they represent can also become a catalyst for more philosophical ponderings, such as what it will mean that for the first time in human history the world will have just as many older people as children.
Submitted by: Lester Andrist
Tags: government/the state, politics/elections/voting, budgeting, democracy, real utopia, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: This video from the Participatory Budgeting Project provides an overview of participatory budgeting (PB). In short, it is a "a different way to engage with government and decide how tax dollars are spent" by engaging all citizens in the budgeting process. The video outlines the steps of participatory budgeting, including (1) brainstorming ideas for projects that citizens would like to see in their neighborhoods; (2) having volunteers develop project proposals and narrow down the proposals; (3), presenting projects to the public for a vote; and (4) funding the projects with the most votes. The projects are then implemented and the process starts again the next year and budgeting cycle. The video draws upon testimonies from people who participate in the New York City PB process (the largest PB system in the US), noting the project's success. It further adds that the process started in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 1989 and has spread throughout 1,500+ communities around the world. Porto Alegre is the most famous example, and has been studied widely. For example, it is featured in Erik Olin Wright's Real Utopias project (see chapter 6, pages 155-167). Wright describes the project and its impacts on Porto Alegre, including a shift toward greater spending on poor communities, high and sustained levels of participation, strengthening of civil society, the near elimination of corruption, and greater tax compliance.
Submitted By: Paul Dean
Tags: culture, education, immigration/citizenship, multiculturalism, nationalism, race/ethnicity, american, cultural assimilation, melting pot, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: This episode of "The American Melting Pot" is from Schoolhouse Rock!, the popular animated and musical education series for children. While it sought to promote awareness of immigration and diversity, it also illustrates the concept of cultural assimilation and the ideology of the US as a melting pot. The song's chorus communicates "Lovely Lady Liberty / With her book of recipes / And the finest one she's got / Is the great American melting pot." The animation reveals her book of recipes (e.g. Irish Stew) from various immigrant groups, but also a recipe for "The Great American Melting Pot," with these ingredients: "Armenians, Africans, English, Dutch, Italians, Chinese, Poles ..." The concept of the melting pot is that these cultures have peacefully intermixed throughout American history, thus building and then becoming a part of a dominant culture of American values and customs—which continues to welcome immigrants that "melt" or assimilate into a unified mainstream American culture (Native American culture and its destruction are never mentioned). It's clear intention is to promote equality: "You simply melt right in / It doesn't matter what your skin / It doesn't matter where you're from / Or your religion, you jump right in / To the great American melting pot." But in an educational context, its ideological effect can be to obscure that race and religion both mattered at the time the series was aired in the 1970s, and that they continue to matter today. Proponents of multiculturalism have critiqued this concept and suggested new metaphors (e.g. salad bowl, cultural mosaic, or kaleidoscope) where different ethnic groups maintain their own cultural identities within a shared space. The video does, however, suggest a more nuanced notion of the melting pot when it states "How great to be an American / And something else as well" while it reveals a flag-waving grandmother's button that reads "Kiss me, I'm Polish." Thank you to Nicole Spitzer for recommending this clip!
Submitted By: Paul Dean
Tags: bodies, gender, marketing/brands, theory, beauty, looking-glass self, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: In this ad, Dove’s encouragement of women to "choose beautiful" appears to empower women, but it actually serves to reinforce western standards of beauty and one's sense of self-worth in terms of physical appearance. The ad functions as a social experiment that forces women to choose walking through an “average” or “beautiful” door in a public space. Many women shown are directly influenced by their friends or family when choosing a door, and some are physically steered toward beautiful. Others naturally select the average door, apparently feeling like they did not fit the standards of prescribed beauty. Those who "choose beautiful" report feeling better about themselves, and in this way, Dove is suggesting that being beautiful is about the choices we make as individuals. However, the message of the ad is more complicated. First, in contrast to "average," the idea that beauty is for a minority is reinforced. By positioning “beautiful” in binary opposition to “average” not all women can be beautiful. Second, all of the women interviewed, despite having different cultural backgrounds, fit conventional definitions of beauty. They are all thin, long-haired, have clear skin, and are relatively young. Even the women of color featured have light skin. This sample suggests a specific image of beauty (this skewed sample, which Dove presents as a diverse group, is further explored in our previous post). Third, it reinforces the sense of self-worth on beauty by making women choose between these specific doors, and encouraging women to choose beautiful. Fourth, parts of the video take place in countries like China and India, where the white ideal of beauty (fitting the characteristics described above) has been imposed through colonization. The implications that beauty is for the elite is inescapable. Women in the advertisement are forced to either identify with the majority or to place themselves in positions of prestige. Finally, the video is a great illustration of the looking-glass self, a theoretical concept that explains how perceptions of one’s self are influenced by interactions with others and the imagination of how these others perceive us. Through the lens of the looking-glass self, women approach the door and develop a sense of themselves as beautiful or average, which is largely shaped by their perceptions of how others see them, then experience pride or shame for associating themselves with one or the other door.
Submitted By: Miranda Ames
Tags: children/youth, class, education, inequality, cultural capital, first-gen, social mobility, 00 to 05 mins
Access: New York Times
Summary: This video and the accompanying NYT article analyze the experiences of students who are the first in their family to attend college (i.e. first-gen students). It addresses the challenges that students face, including not knowing how to network, discomfort in talking with professors, not having parents to help them navigate higher education, not having money to buy appropriate clothes for professional interviews, and needing to work while attending college. In sociological terms, these reflect inequalities in both economic capital (e.g. needing to work) and cultural capital (e.g. not having the knowledge and disposition necessary for navigating professional institutions). The video also mentions positive parts of the first-gen experience, such as knowing how to do their own laundry and other basic skills for independently taking care of oneself, and having empathy for others who struggle. It addresses issues of identity, including how some students actively conceal a first-gen identity, difficulties communicating the experience to family, but also having pride in (and "coming out" as) first-gen. These issues of identity and experience in both college and professional life are insightfully explored in Alfred Lubrano's book, Limbo: Blue Collar Roots, White Collar Dreams. Other resources on first-gen students include this Chronicle of Higher Education report and Social Class on Campus: Theories and Manifestations (Barratt 2011). The video also documents Brown's first conference for inter-ivy first-gen students, organized by the student group 1vyG at Brown, where students shared their first-gen experiences. While the video focuses on first-gen students from ivy-league Brown University, the experiences translate to other institutional contexts as well (I can attest to this as a first-gen student myself!).
Submitted By: Paul Dean
Tags: art/music, race/ethnicity, color-blind racism, microaggression, stereotypes, white fragility, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: This light hearted music video from singer Eden might be a nice way to begin an unavoidably heavy conversation about race and racism. The music video pokes fun at the way in which many whites are unknowingly racist. As the singer notes in the video's YouTube description, the song is "an R&B anthem for the obliviously racist." With tongue in cheek, the song's lyrics draw attention to the kind of racist stereotypes and microaggressions many non-white people routinely face, as well as the excuses whites routinely offer in order to defend their racism. Taking the persona of the oblivious racist, Eden sings, "You know how it is when the party's begun, sometimes you wear blackface just for the fun. And a racial slur, it can just slip out..." Then a few lines later she assures us in the refrain, "It's alright. It's all fine. Everybody calm down. I didn't cross any line. Don't be so quick to label me, I love Oprah, and I hate slavery."
Submitted By: Anonymous
Tags: class, children/youth, culture, inequality, theory, bourdieu, cultural capital, institutions, the wire, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: In this clip from season 4 of The Wire, the troubled youth discuss what makes a good "corner boy" and illustrates how cultural capital works. As demonstrated in the clip (and throughout season 4), they lack the cultural capital of professional settings. For example, they speak out of turn, disrespect authority, and speak inappropriately for the context.
But when Bunny Colvin asks the students what makes a good "corner boy," the students come alive and quickly describe the necessary traits: "keep the count straight," "don't trust nobody"; and "keep your eyes open." Their knowledge about, and interest in, working the corner illustrates the cultural capital that the teenagers possess. It is useful in navigating the streets and being a successful member of the drug-dealing gang hierarchy. The issue is that broader society does not value this form of cultural capital, which is possessed more by poor, inner-city children. Instead, society values the kinds of cultural capital that are more common middle-class suburban schools and families. In other words, the problem is not that the boys do not have any skills, but they do not have a certain type of skills. For a complementary example from The Wire, watch the restaurant scene, in which these same children lack the cultural capital necessary for eating at a fancy restaurant. The kind of knowledge and skills necessary for that setting (e.g. knowing appropriate behavioral norms, understanding menu items, being comfortable in that setting) could be helpful in a professional job interview or networking. The different values placed on cultural capital more common among middle-class families illustrate how they are more likely to reproduce their class position, thus reinforcing the class structure across generations. Like the unequal distribution of wealth, or high-quality schools, inequalities in cultural capital help to shape different economic opportunities and mobility.
Submitted By: Paul Dean
Tags: gender, sex/sexuality, social construction, heterosexism, sexism, virginity, subtitles/CC, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: In this video, Laci Green, a peer sex educator and YouTube blogger, tackles the issue of virginity and illustrates how past social norms contribute to contemporary ones. Green starts out by establishing the concept of "virginity" as a social construct—that is, the definition of virginity changes over time and across cultures. For instance, the definition of virginity is rather unclear. As Green explains, virginity can be hard to define with same sex partners, or in the absence of vaginal intercourse. So, what is virginity? Well, Green says it started in the Neolithic Period, back when there was no birth control and male-bodied people controlled most of the resources. There was a problem with establishing paternity if a female-bodied person had slept with more that one person. So, virginity was the answer. In order for a young female person to be eligible for marriage she must have been "pure" and virgin. There was also a financial element tied to this. In exchange for a virgin daughter, a father was paid material goods from the husband-to-be. Green highlights remnants of these early social practices in contemporary societies. For example, in honor-based societies, women who lose their virginity out of wedlock are often subjected to beatings and death for dishonoring their families with their "impurity." In other societies, fathers "give away" their white clad daughters at weddings, the white dresses being a symbol of virginity and purity. Importantly, Green acknowledges that, just because virginity is a social construct, doesn’t mean that it’s not "real." Virginity affects people’s material lives and values in many ways. The concept of virginity has a lot of power and shapes many aspects of people’s lived experiences, from controlling their sexualities to promoting heterosexism. Green suggests that we try to take away the power of the term virginity, and call the experience a "sexual debut" instead. For more of Laci Green’s peer sex ed and social justice videos, check out her YouTube channel or another post on The Sociological Cinema featuring one of her videos.
Submitted By: Abigail Adelsheim-Marshall
Tags: children/youth, food/agriculture, globalization, inequality, chocolate, cocoa farming, ivory coast, slavery, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: This video from CNN is a short story about child slavery in chocolate plantations. Most people love chocolate. However, contrary to what many may believe, chocolate does not come from a factory in Switzerland, Belgium, or Italy. At least not to start with. Around 70% of the world's chocolate comes from West Africa, and most of that from the Ivory Coast. These plantations are often in areas where there is little other work, creating a monopoly on opportunity. Lately, more and more people are finding evidence of child slavery on cocoa plantations. In this video, CNN reporters interview several child slaves working on cocoa farms. One of these children is Abdul, a ten-year-old who has been working on the Ivory Coast since he was seven. Abdul says that he earns no money from his work, only food and shelter. Yaku, a sixteen-year-old who also works on the plantations says that he has never been to school. These children work in dangerous conditions, which can leave scars—both physical and mental. Yaku has scars on his legs from machete accidents. CNN says that there is an estimated 100,000+ children in the worst kinds of child labor worldwide. That includes child slaves in the chocolate industry. In the documentary The Dark Side of Chocolate, researchers go undercover and look at child slavery. While child slavery is illegal in the Ivory Coast, it still happens in practice. The plantations where it occurs may supply some of the world’s biggest companies, such as Nestle and Hershey. This video is useful for looking at how Western consumerism affects the world, and how social justice initiatives such as the CNN Freedom Project can help. For more information, check out The Sociological Cinema's other video on the chocolate industry, which explores Marx's concept of alienation, or Kelsey Timmerman's book Where Am I Eating?
Submitted By: Abigail Adelsheim-Marshall
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