Tags: capitalism, class, consumption/consumerism, corporations, crime/law/deviance, economic sociology, globalization, government/the state, inequality, organizations/occupations/work, political economy, politics/election/voting, science/technology, robert reich, social mobility, subtitles/CC, 21 to 60 mins
Access: Moyers & Company
Summary: In this interview on Moyers & Company, former Secretary of Labor and professor of public policy at the University of California in Berkeley, Robert Reich discusses economic inequality and the worrisome connection between money and political power. Reich notes that "Of all developed nations, the US has the most unequal distribution of income," but US society has not always been so unequal. At about the 6:20 mark, the clip features an animated scene from Reich's upcoming documentary, Inequality for All, which illustrates that in 1978 an average male worker could expect to earn $48,302, while an average person in the top 1% earned $393,682. By 2010, however, an average worker was only earning $33,751, while the average person in the top 1% earned $1,101,089. Wealth disparities have also been growing, and here Reich explains that the richest 400 Americans now have more wealth than the bottom 150 million Americans. What happened in the late 1970s to account for the current trend of widening inequality? According to Reich, there are four culprits. First (at about 19:10 min), a powerful corporate lobbying machine has successfully lobbied for laws and policies that have allowed for wealthy people to become even more wealthy, often at the expense of the poor. Examples include changes to antitrust, bankruptcy, and tax legislation. Second (at 34:00 min), Reich argues that unions and popular labor movements have been on the decline, which means employers have been under less pressure to increase wages over time. Third (at 38:30 min), while globalization hasn't reduced the number of jobs in the US, it has meant that employers often have access to cheaper labor, which has had the effect of driving down wages for American workers. He points out that in the 1970s, meat packers were paid $40,599 each year. Now they only earn $24,190. Fourth (at 38:30 min), technological changes, such as automation, have had the effect of keeping wages low. He concludes that there is neither equality of opportunity nor equality of outcome in the U.S., and unless big money can be separated from politics, the U.S. economy is unlikely to free itself from this viscous cycle of widening inequality for all (Note that a much shorter video featuring Reich's basic argument is also located on The Sociological Cinema).
Submitted By: Lester Andrist
Tags: capitalism, class, economic sociology, government/the state, inequality, austerity, 06 to 10 mins
Summary: Political power goes hand in hand with who holds the money. Rarely are politicians poor or even "middle class" (a term they like to apply so loosely and broadly). When the political system is dominated by so few (think the 1%), the powers that be are free to use austerity to trim programs that they deem to be of least relevance to their own well-being, leaving the 99% to fend for themselves. Austerity is supposed to be a miracle fix for the economy, but the promises made when cuts are proposed often do not materialize. Moreover, the poor and working class tend to be hardest hit as programs that benefit them are often the first to be cut. This short video by Workers Uniting summarizes austerity in light of the issues confronting the least affluent across the country, including welfare cuts, lowered wages, and unemployment. Canadian economist Armine Yalnizyan states at 4:41, "You can't cut your way into growth," and later refers to the steps being taken as a "fiscal fantasy" given the common belief that cutting programs will magically solve budget deficits and lead to economic growth. Further, Yalnizyan notes that if it were this easy to solve the economic problems of the world, would it be moral to target those programs that assist the have-nots? At 7:07, Robert Kuttner suggests that we remove politicians that advocate austerity, and instead elect those who will bring us "possibility." Government needs to move forward by finding alternative ways to slash deficits and grow the economy without cutting programs that help the underrepresented 99%.
Submitted By: Rebekah Miller
Tags: crime/law/deviance, foucault, government/the state, science/technology, theory, war/military, drones, panopticon, surveillance, unmanned aerial vehicles, 00 to 05 mins
Access: New York Times
Summary: Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, are the "future of aviation." The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which regulates the use of drones and currently limits the commercial use of drones in the US, is likely to loosen this restriction by 2015 and private industry is positioning itself for a commercial boom in drones. And while the US government has mostly used drones for surveillance and combat in the war on terror, the government has weighed the use of drones for surveilling its own citizens. As noted by the NYT, Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said this year: “This fast-emerging technology is cheap and could pose a significant threat to the privacy and civil liberties of millions of Americans. It is another example of a fast-changing policy area on which we need to focus to make sure that modern technology is not used to erode Americans’ right to privacy.” From a Foucauldian perspective, the possibility of widespread drone surveillance could be the new Panopticon. In particular, inexpensive drones (<$1000) allow for continuous video footage, facilitating the proliferation of micro-power as individuals, corporations, and government observe others throughout all of society. Furthermore, it is likely to spread throughout a variety of institutions, enabling the use of drone surveillance in search-and-rescue missions, agricultural surveillance, and countless other personal and commercial applications. While Foucault offered the metaphor of surveillance technologies as swarming throughout society, drones offer a very literal extension of this expanding technology.
Submitted By: Paul Dean
This iconic image is from China's Tiananmen Square protests.
Tags: government/the state, social mvmts/social change/resistance, china, political opportunity, repression, tiananmen square, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: In this retrospective look at the Tiananmen Square protests, "CBS News correspondent Richard Roth provides a firsthand account of the massacre of pro-Democracy students in China's Tiananmen Square, 20 years after the tragedy." In 1989, Chinese students (illegally) assembled in, and occupied, Tiananmen Square to fight for political freedoms and government accountability. In the end, the Chinese government opened fire on protestors, and the estimated deaths vary from several hundred to thousands. To this day, China has banned any public discussion or remembrance of the event so many Chinese citizens still lack knowledge of the protest (which is known as the "June 4th Incident" in China). Beyond recounting this important historical event, the video illustrates several concepts in social movement theory. For example, political opportunity refers to the capacity for movements to pursue their interests publicly and be able to manipulate the system. While political systems vary in their openness to change, the degree to which opportunity exists is always a matter of debate and subject to interpretation by movement actors. In this case, student protestors marched to, and occupied Tiananmen Square (occupation is an example of a social movement tactic), but overestimated the system openness. The window for political opportunity was largely closed and the government used violence to oust the protestors. Such repression, or the forms of control (e.g. violent force) used to suppress social movements, is one of the many variables that shape the "structure of political opportunity" in social movements. As part of this repression, not only was protest outlawed, but the means to develop and communicate collective grievances continues to be suppressed (e.g. through limits on assembly and Internet usage). The short video is also a reminder of the often taken-for-granted role of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in social movements. The news reporter's usage of a cell phone (which was very rare in 1989) was important for documenting and spreading knowledge of the event, which was impeded when the Chinese government cut satellite transmissions as the situation unfolded. While this example is from the mainstream media and not the protestors themselves, it echoes the important role of cell phones, the Internet, and social media in the Battle for Seattle, Arab Spring, and other contemporary protests.
Submitted By: Paul Dean
Tags: crime/law/deviance, government/the state, drugs, medical marijuana, mandatory minimum sentencing, states rights, 06 to 10 mins
Access: New York Times
Summary: This NYT video illuminates the tension between state and federal law in medical marijuana. It focuses on the story of Chris Williams, a medical marijuana producer. Before starting his business, Williams consulted a lawyer and county attorneys. He and his partner gave tours to state lawmakers, who had legalized medical marijuana back in 2004. And while medical marijuana is illegal under national law (the federal government has classified marijuana among the most dangerous drugs), a 2009 memo from the federal Bureau of Justice noted that the government "should not focus federal resources on individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws." Williams felt he and his family were safe in operating his business under the law. However, in 2011, the federal government began cracking down on medical marijuana growers in states across the country. Along with many others, Chris Williams was arrested and now faces life in prison. The video documents some of the challenges that he and his son have faced since the arrest. In September 2012, Chris went before a jury and "was convicted on marijuana charges and for possessing firearms during a drug trafficking offense. He is currently behind bars and faces a minimum mandatory sentence of more than 80 years in prison." The video concludes by noting that 75% of Americans support medical marijuana and argues that federal law should be reformed to be consistent with state law and public will. Viewers may reflect on the advantages and disadvantages of medical marijuana and if states should be permitted to develop laws that contradict federal legislation. Do federal minimum sentencing laws make sense in Williams' case?
Submitted By: Paul Dean
Reverend Dr. William J. Barber
Tags: crime/law/deviance, discourse/language, goffman, government/the state, inequality, knowledge, lgbtq, prejudice/discrimination, social mvmts/social change/resistance, theory, civil unions, collective action frames, marriage equality, same-sex marriage, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: In previous posts on The Sociological Cinema, we have explored Erving Goffman's concept of framing (here, here, and here). To recap, the concept has been useful for scholars of social movements, who have rebranded the term collective action framing. The concept denotes the active and processual sense-making and signification of phenomena done by social actors. In other words, the realization that a conflict with police is evidence of a repressive state and that the passage of a new law is an effort to codify division and discrimination are socially "made" interpretations or meanings. They are the social achievements sociologists refer to as frames. The success then of passing a new law or amending an old one often hinges on how the proposed change is framed for the public and how influential that particular frame is in shaping the terms of the debate. The above clip is a speech from Reverend Dr. William J. Barber. who rebukes the media for using the "wrong" frame to report on the recent amendment to North Carolina's state constitution, which passed on May 8, 2012 and defines marriage as between one man and one woman. The amendment also bans any other type of "domestic legal union," such as civil unions and domestic partnerships. Barber asserts that the media frequently polled the public asking, "How do you feel about same-sex marriage?" but a better question—a better frame—would have been whether a majority should be able to decide on the rights of a minority, or should discrimination should be written into the constitution? Here Barber is clearly attempting to key the struggle against Amendment One to the protests of the Civil Rights Era, and he even mentions the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by name. In Part II, we'll move beyond framing and explore how this video can be used to illustrate insights from intersectionality theory, a theory that offers promise in overcoming the divisions of identity politics.
Submitted By: Lester Andrist
Tags: corporations, crime/law/deviance, economic sociology, government/the state, historical sociology, inequality, political economy, copyright law, subtitles/CC, 06 to 10 mins
Summary: States, it is often said, must regulate corporations in order to ensure the greatest good for the greatest number of its citizens. Even the most ardent fiscal conservative would concede that antitrust laws are necessary in order to sustain a competitive market and protect consumers from price fixing. To take another example, when states enforce copyright laws, they "promote the progress of science and useful arts." While corporations may want to own a copyright forever, states are obliged to limit the duration of copyright protection in the interest of allowing other authors the ability to remake or build from classic stories. This is what benevolent, well-meaning states should do, but in practice, corporations often wield power over state regulators, and as C. G. P. Grey remarks in the above clip, on four separate occasions Congress has aligned with the narrow interest of corporate copyright holders that the length of copyright is too short to turn a profit and so extended it. But as Grey also points out, it's hard to imagine that J. K. Rowling "wouldn't have written Harry Potter if the copyright protection was just for her whole life and not an additional seven decades thereafter." The clip works well as a rather vivid antidote to the myth that markets are best left unregulated, and the clip is also a useful entrée into a discussion about how power—in this case, corporate power—shapes the formation of law, and perhaps even the ideological premises, which become the foundation of discussions about whether those laws should be changed in the first place.
Submitted By: Sparhawk
Tags: government/the state, politics/election/voting, democracy, legislation, proportional representation, sortition, 06 to 10 mins
Summary: "Our Common Lot: Next Step for Democracy" is a plea for a government by the people, all the people. Using the "20-20" discipline as presentational format (i.e., 20 panels, each strictly 20 seconds long), "Our Common Lot: Next Step for Democracy" explains why sortition (random selection) is---as Aristotle said of the first democracy---the defining hallmark of democracy, and why elections are the hallmark of oligarchy (rule by a few). This clip can be used to provoke classroom discussion about fairness and "people power." It could also be used as a jumping-off place for practicing sortitional selection in schools (e.g., What would this look like in the context of student government?). In the sociology classroom, the clip might be useful for discussing the institution of politics, and specifically various approaches to democratic institutions and state formations. Instructors might also use the video as a way to discuss race, ethnic, gender, class and other forms of representation in electoral politics; namely, if democratic institutions are supposed to be represented by people who "look like us," why is there such race, ethnic, gender, and class homogeneity in politics, as literature on the power elite suggests? Viewers can be encouraged to critically weigh the potential advantages and disadvantages of a government determined by sortition. See The Common Lot's website for additional information and resources.
Submitted By: Common Lot Productions
Tags: abortion/reproduction, discourse/language, gender, government/the state, inequality, contraception, feminism, fertility, slut-shaming, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: In this clip of Seth Meyers and Amy Poehler's classic sketch called "Really!?! with Seth & Amy," the comedic duo rails against the rash of recent politicos, who seek to restrict the ability of women to control their own fertility. Seth and Amy refer to the hearings held by a House Oversight Committee on religious liberty and insurance coverage for contraception on February 16th. In the hearings, representatives Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) accused Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) of manipulating committee rules to block women from testifying as witnesses. Seth and Amy also mention Foster Friess (a major donor to the super PAC backing Rick Santorum's presidential campaign), who recently joked in an interview on MSNBC about contraception. "Back in my days," Friess remarked, "The gals put [Bayer aspirin] between their knees, and it wasn't that costly." Not mentioned by Seth and Amy is Georgetown law student, Sandra Fluke's recent testimony before Congress in favor of contraceptive coverage. Political commentator, Rush Limbaugh, responded by calling Fluke a "slut" and a "prostitute," and he made her the following proposition: "So Miss Fluke, and the rest of you Feminazis, here’s the deal. If we are going to pay for your contraceptives, and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch." These recent news stories, many of which are touched on in Seth and Amy's comedy, illustrate the ambitions of men to continue to exercise power over the reproductive lives of women. In the first congressional hearing, the experiences of women were formally excluded from the congressional record. The remarks from Friess and Limbaugh, in contrast, amount to slut-shaming, which is a discourse that similarly attempts to control women's sexual lives. While the above comedy sketch may not be intellectually rich on its own, it works well as a means of broaching a discussion about why contraception is a feminist issue, and how formally controlling women's sexual behavior through law works in concert with informal controls, such as slut-shaming.
Submitted By: Lester Andrist
Tags: abortion/reproduction, historical sociology, government/the state, politics/election/voting, theory, violence, weber, civil liberties, democracy, melissa harris-perry, social contract theory, states rights, thomas hobbes, 11 to 20 mins
Summary: The social contract refers to the individual's acceptance of some social rules and limitations in exchange for the protections and benefits from the state. The concept was initially developed in the philosophies of Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau; however, sociologist Max Weber further specified the social contract as it relates to violence by highlighting how all forms of political organization including democracy, entrust "the state" (e.g. government at all levels) as the only social institution that can legitimately use physical force. In this video, political scientist and pundit Melissa Harris-Perry applies this Weberian approach by arguing that the State of Virginia failed to force women to undergo an invasive procedure, known as a transvaginal sonogram, prior to having an abortion because social consensus concluded it was not a legitimate use of force (or even violence) by the government. In other words, the state was in breach of the social contract. For a similar discussion on the same political issue, Rachel Maddow explores the fringe pro-life movement’s use of illegitimate violence against abortion doctors in her full-length documentary, The Assassination of Dr. Tiller.
Submitted By: Jason Eastman
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