Tags: culture, discourse/language, knowledge, media, prejudice/discrimination, race/ethnicity, science/technology, politics of representation, symbolic representation, stereotypes, 11 to 20 mins
Summary: In this insightful gem of a clip, Thomas Cech, president of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, interviews world-renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and asks him to recount the greatest obstacle he has faced while pursuing his career. Tyson begins by mentioning that while his parents were generally supportive of his ambitions, he couldn't necessarily count on the same enthusiasm and support from his peers, who were concerned that he apply his impressive intellect toward a profession that would allow him to advance the cause of the African American community. Specifically, Tyson recounts the story of a black Rhodes scholar in economics, who upon hearing that Tyson's chosen major was physics, replied, "The black community cannot afford the luxury of someone with your intellect to spend it on that subject." Tyson carried this nagging judgement around with him, and then while a graduate student at Columbia University, he was interviewed on air by the local news station regarding a recent explosion on the surface of the sun. Tyson explains in this clip that as he watched himself on television that evening, he realized it was the first time he had ever seen an interview with a black person that had nothing to do with being black. The clip works well as a foray into a broader discussion about what Stuart Hall calls the politics of representation, which draws attention to fact that how one imagines a people to exist in the world—how they are represented in discourse—holds consequences for the power and resources those people are able to control and wield. Neil deGrasse Tyson's story underscores Hall's thinking on the issue. Namely, "events, relations, structures do have conditions of existence and real effects, outside the sphere of the discursive; but that it is only within the discursive...[that] they can be constructed with meaning...how things are represented and the 'machineries' and regimes of representation in a culture do play a constitutive, and not merely a reflexive, after-the-event, role" (444). Thus, Tyson's answer to the Rhode's scholar is that his visible position as a black astrophysicist constitutes an important intervention in the discourse that attempts to construct black men as unqualified for the role of scientific expert.
Submitted By: Lester Andrist
Tags: discourse/language, environment, foucault, health/medicine, knowledge, science/technology, social construction, climate change, creationism, evolution, tobacco, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: This video from The Climate Reality Project entitled "Doubt" illustrates how knowledge and power are tightly interwoven. Using two case studies—the "tobacco is good for you campaign" and the "climate change denial movement"—the clip depicts how science can be used as a mechanism of legitimation by powerful others in ways that best serves status quo interests. Michel Foucault discussed this phenomenon in his extensive work on how the discourse of science (and knowledge) is also a discourse of power. As illustrated in the video, despite the scientific evidence showing tobacco's deadly effects and climate change's dangerous outcomes, powerful interests suppressed this knowledge by introducing doubt into the discourse around tobacco use and climate change, which they backed up using a discourse of science. These powerful interests created the illusion that a scientific debate was taking place when, in reality, there wasn't. An iteration of this phenomenon recently unfolded in the media-hyped debate between Bill "the Science Guy" Nye and creationist Ken Ham. Here, the case of evolution was presented as a scientific debate, thereby suggesting that a lack of consensus surrounds the scientific evidence around evolution. This tactic of using a discourse of science to create the illusion of uncertainty around evolution was echoed by Michael Schulson in his article for The Daily Beast, in which he writes: "Ham’s argument, essentially, was that there are two kinds of science—observational, concerned-only-with-what-we-can-touch-and-see science, on which, Ham said, we all happily agree; and historical science, on which we don’t. This is bullshit, of course. We can use evidence from the present to extrapolate about the past." Yet, like the case of tobacco and climate change, by creating doubt about the earth's origins, the public's access to scientific knowledge is suppressed. This video would complement a discussion around the sociology of knowledge, science, and power, and would pair well with portions of the This American Life radio episode, "Fake Science," and with sociologist Zuleyka Zevallos's article, "The Sociology of Why People Don’t Believe Science." Viewers can be encouraged to think about: Whose interests are served in each of the fake science cases of tobacco, climate change, and evolution? What is the role of the media in perpetuating fake science? How has fake science shaped social policy? Other videos from The Climate Change Project can be found here.
Submitted By: Valerie Chepp
Tags: culture, discourse/language, knowledge, marketing/brands, media, race/ethnicity, charity, stereotypes, subtitles/CC, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: This clip comes from the creators of Radi-Aid, which is a group that seeks to draw attention to the problematic ways charity media campaigns often represent aid recipients from Africa. As was vividly Illustrated by Invisible Children's Kony 2012 campaign, many charity and relief organizations manufacture images of Africa that foreground extreme instances of poverty and dependency. Images of malnourished children and primitive housing are propped up as the monolithic representations of the entire African continent, and more often than not, a white Western aid worker is shown interacting with black, African children, delivering her compassion with a warm embrace. The above video begins with what seems to be a poor black child walking along a rural dirt road, At first, it appears to be just another fundraising video, but then a director yells "Cut!" The child is revealed as an actor, and soon it becomes clear the video is actually a spoof of the fundraising campaigns aimed at a saving Africa. All joking aside, the video works quite well as a means of drawing attention to the fact that when well-meaning charity campaigns deploy stereotypical imagery to gain the sympathy of Western audiences, they may be doing more harm than good to the African communities they depict. Organizations like Invisible Children claim to be concerned about the well being of millions of Africans, but it is arguably just as important to consider the message these campaigns promote to millions of people in the West. To be blunt, the images of starving and dependent Africans in these fundraising campaigns may trigger sympathy and donations, but the campaigns do not cast the Africans they claim to represent in a dignified light and leave viewers with a lasting impression that Africans lack agency. In contrast, whites are depicted in the campaigns as compassionate saviors, and as I wrote in an earlier post, it is truly an unearned privilege for Western whites "to be able to wade through the media pool each day, soaked by the various incarnations of this narrative, a day full of subtle reminders of one's intrinsic goodness and extraordinary abilities."
Submitted By: Lester Andrist
Tags: art/music, bodies, consumption/consumerism, culture, disability, discourse/language, inequality, knowledge, disability porn, stereotypes, subtitles/CC, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: In this four minute video from the Swiss company Pro Infirmis, five people with visible disabilities arrive at an artist's studio. After introductions, the artist begins measuring the dimensions of each person's body. His team then begins sawing into a collection of store mannequins, and once dismembered, the mannequins are reconstructed so they more closely resemble the body designs of the artist's new models. After some polish, the new mannequins are unveiled and eventually displayed in stores along one of Zurich's main streets, just in time for the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. The project's title is a rhetorical question and a command, "Because Who Is Perfect? Get Closer." Indeed, no one is perfectly able-bodied. Whether visible or invisible, on some level it is true that all bodies can be said to have "malfunctions," but the deeper reason no one is perfect is because the idea of what constitutes perfection is itself elusive. Yet, most people go about their daily lives seduced by the illusion that distinguishing "able-bodied" people from "disabled" people is as straightforward as distinguishing apples from oranges. For instance, there is a Thor fandom that celebrates Chris Hemsworth's shirtless body as the epitome of perfection. Mall shoppers too routinely evaluate clothing for themselves and others by first seeing it draped over what is supposed to be a mold of a perfect body. Capitalist institutions, from the Hollywood film industry to clothing retailers, routinely place the able-bodied ideal on a pedestal, implicitly exalting a particular type of body as the standard by which all bodies must be evaluated, and it is on this point that the Pro Infirmis video is both refreshing and subversive, for it takes what are assumed to be imperfect bodies and places them in a space typically reserved for perfect bodies. These new mannequins of unfamiliar proportions stop passersby in their tracks and encourage them to reconsider the types of bodies that belong in storefronts, but while the video captures a useful disruption in the usual discourse on bodies, in my view it fails to truly provoke onlookers to reassess their casual assumptions about bodies as either working or broken, and as either worthy or unworthy of representation. No, the video leaves this binary cultural logic unscathed. For instance, one finds in the video that "able-bodied" mannequins are the clean slate from which "disabled" mannequins are born. There is a manufacturing montage that puts to rest any radical doubts as to whether these two species of mannequin have anything in common. Finally, when displayed in the Zurich storefronts, the altered mannequins remain almost hermetically sealed from the original mannequins, which have been scuttled away for the event. To truly "get closer," as the video commands us to do, I think it is important to collapse this casual, Manichean distinction between the able-bodied and the disabled. A truly radical video might instead show the old mannequins displayed alongside the new ones, and the displays would be left in place long after the International Day of Persons with Disabilities was over.
Submitted By: Lester Andrist
Tags: discourse/language, gender, knowledge, lgbtq, sex/sexuality, gender ambiguity, gender neutral pronouns, 00 to 05 mins
Access: Yahoo Screen
Summary: What is it, exactly, about gender ambiguity that is presumed to be so funny? Referencing the now classic Saturday Night Live sketch comedy "It's Pat," I pose this question to students when teaching about the deeply embedded ways that gender structures our society. Not to be conflated with genital ambiguity (which focuses on sex characteristics), gender ambiguity refers to a type of gender presentation in which a person's gender (e.g., man or woman) is unclear. In this clip (season 17, episode 3), coworkers throw the androgynous fictional character Pat O'Neil Riley (played by Julia Sweeney) a surprise birthday party. As with all segments in the series, people's interactions with Pat center around trying to decipher Pat's gender; overwhelmingly, Pat's indeterminate gender is framed to be a source of deep confusion for others, to the point where the social interaction is compromised, thus resulting in a presumably comedic scenario. Throughout the skit, co-workers search for clues that might give insight into Pat's gender, as they are unsure how to behave around Pat without this knowledge. For example, a male co-worker doesn't know whether putting his arm around Pat's shoulders is an appropriate form of consoling. Similarly, in this clip (as well as others in the series), Pat's acquaintances ask questions that might reveal the gender of Pat's romantic affection, assuming that the romantic partner would be of the "opposite" gender (this assumption illustrates the concept of heteronormativity). The fact that something so simple as not knowing one's gender can compromise entire social interactions, and that we have culturally defined this as "funny," illustrates how profoundly this social construction organizes society. Specifically, viewers can see the demand that language imposes on knowing one's gender, as co-workers don't know whether to use terms like mother, father, sister, brother, son, daughter, or fellow, and they struggle to substitute gender neutral terms like child, sibling, and person. While the skit's theme song aims to "humorously" represent the limitations of language, it resorts to the offensive notion that individuals with an ambiguous gender are an "it" or a "that." In addition to illustrating the limits of language, this clip is useful for introducing students to the utility and importance of gender neutral pronouns in our lexicon, such as ze, hir, and xem.
Submitted By: Valerie Chepp
Tags: crime/law/deviance, knowledge, media, psychology/social psychology, violence, cultivation theory, terrorism, tsa, subtitles/CC, 00 to 05 mins
Access: The Colbert Report
Summary: Neuroscientist Steven Pinker shares his book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. This video explains (without mentioning it) cultivation theory, which is the idea that the more you watch the news, the more you have a tendency to overestimate the crime rate. Specifically, the video discusses terrorism, and Americans' fixation on it as a source of danger, when more mundane sources like flammable pajamas and peanut allergies cause far more deaths. This video works well as a means of introducing cultivation theory, but it is also a good starting point for a more general conversation about how the media misleads the public about how dangerous the world is and from where dangers come. Note that The Sociological Cinema has previously explored the way media is used as a tool for dispersing propaganda in a democratic political system (here), and also as a supplicant to the demands of corporate power (here).
Submitted By: Nickie Michaud Wild
Tags: capitalism, corporations, knowledge, marx/marxism, media, political economy, theory, censorship, fox, ideology, monsanto, news, 00 to 05 mins, 06 to 10 mins
Year: 2003; 1999
Length: 10:20; 4:17
Access: YouTube (clip from The Corporation)
YouTube (clip from The Insider)
Summary: This pair of excerpts exposes corporate censorship of the news via a documentary (The Corporation) and through a Hollywood film (The Insider). In recent years, the news media has become increasingly concentrated and controlled by corporations. The implications of this is that corporations are responsible to shareholders and must earn high profits. This concentration of corporate news has led to conflicts of interests when a news source wants to air a story that could hurt their advertisers or their shareholders. The first clip from The Corporation shows this process. In 1997, investigative journalists Steve Wilson and Jane Akre of Fox News, had prepared a story about Monsanto and the negative impacts of their bovine growth hormones (e.g. their milk was potentially carcinogenic to humans). Monsanto was an advertiser for the Fox News channel, and the company threatened to both sue Fox and pull their ads. Because this would have cost Fox News significant advertising revenues, Fox decided to edit the news story so Monsanto would not pull their ads. The clip describes the process of 83 rewrites that either removed or minimized any negative effects of the hormone, until the journalists were ultimately fired and the story never aired. The second clip, from The Insider, features Al Pacino arguing how a story at 60 Minutes was being censored because of financial interests. The film is based on a true story about a whistle blower who worked for Big Tobacco and CBS was hesitant to air the interview on 60 Minutes because it might jeopardize the sale of CBS to Westinghouse Electric. Both clips illustrate the political economy of news media and Marx's concept of ideology, in which ideas and knowledge reflect the interest of the ruling class. Marx argues that the class having the means of material production (e.g. technology, money, labor, tools, etc.) also has control over the means of intellectual production (newspapers, schools, books, broadcast media, etc). One can see Marx’s claim come to life with the influence that Monsanto had over Fox News. Corporate interests shaped what news was aired, and a Fox executive later told the journalists "the news is what we say it is"; when the journalists used the courts to fight back, a Florida appeals court ruled that falsifying the news is not against the law. In both cases, financial interests shaped what constituted the news, and how it was presented--ultimately shaping knowledge in the interest of the dominant class.
Submitted By: Avery Winston and Paul Dean
An illustration of economic inequality in the United States
Tags: capitalism, class, economic sociology, inequality, knowledge, class analysis, ideology, wealth, 06 to 10 mins
Summary: With an impressive suite of illustrations, this viral video takes viewers through the findings of a 2011 study conducted by Dan Ariely and Michael Norton, who asked respondents two basic questions. First, they asked people to report what they thought the ideal distribution of wealth in the United States should be, then they asked them how they thought wealth was actually distributed. The results suggest that, on average, Americans believe economic inequality is greater than what is ideal—i.e., the wealth gap is too large. The researchers then presented the actual distribution of wealth in the United States and compared it with both the ideal distribution and respondents' estimate of the actual distribution, and based on this comparison, it seems reasonably clear that while Americans may believe the wealth gap is too large, they are tragically misinformed about just how large it actually is. How is it that Americans are unaware of the magnitude of this inequality? Ariely and Norton do not provide an answer, but the question is worth pursuing. Consider the fact that publics have long proven a capacity to know about a wide range of phenomena that is effectively invisible. For instance, most people in the United States know about the dwarf planet Pluto, despite never seeing it with their own eyes. Thanks in large part to the mainstream media and the reverberations of social media, people in New Mexico and Montana know about the recent Boston Marathon bombings and can even recount vivid details about the event, even if they have never been to Boston and have no intention of ever visiting. But unlike Pluto and the tragedies of distant cities, the telltale signs of inequality are everywhere. In Boston, New Mexico, Montana, and virtually every other point on the map, one can find poverty within a few miles or blocks of obscene wealth; yet the true magnitude of U.S. inequality eludes most Americans. This video is not merely useful for wrapping one's head around the extent of inequality in the United States—that the top 1% holds 40% of the nation's wealth—it is also a useful segue into a discussion that connects the material facts of economic inequality to the ideological forces that ensure it remains uninterrogated. Explaining how a system of economic inequality persists requires more than simply identifying the disparities; it also requires an explanation about how publics remain relatively unaware of these disparities. For a similar analysis in a PBS clip, see here.
Submitted By: Lester Andrist
Tags: class, inequality, knowledge, marx/marxism, theory, class consciousness, privilege, subtitles/CC, 00 to 05 mins
Length: 1:51 (00:00-01:51)
Summary: In his famous work The German Ideology, Karl Marx talks about class consciousness in the context of the proletariat (working class) and the bourgeoisie (ruling class). Class consciousness is the state of being aware of one's own social or economic rank in society, and privilege is "a special advantage or immunity or benefit not enjoyed by all." The American animated sitcom South Park is well-known for its humor, satire, and social commentary. In this clip, after Butters, Cartman, and Token present their science projects to the class, their teacher gives them each a grade for their projects. Butters receives a "check" for his fake volcano, Cartman receives a "check minus" for his taped together pen and pencil, and Token receives a "check plus" for his computer animated weather pattern predictor program that he showed from his laptop. After Token gets his grade, Cartman protests, criticizing Token's grade specifically and the check system as a whole. Cartman argues that, because Token is rich, he has access to more resources, enabling him to make a more sophisticated science project compared to the other kids in the class. The rest of the students agree with Cartman, knowing that their own lack of resources will inhibit them from getting ahead in the class. Aware that their socioeconomic status is holding them back, the students demonstrate class consciousness. Token is confused when his classmates call him rich, who cite the size of Token's home and Token's name brand clothes as evidence of his high class status. Token's confusion shows that he is unaware of his privilege, unable to see the numerous ways he has benefited from his socioeconomic status in society.
Submitted By: Avery Winston
Tags: culture, discourse/language, inequality, knowledge, media, race/ethnicity, colonialism, neocolonialism, postcolonialism, privilege, rule of colonial difference, white savior industrial complex, subtitles/CC, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: The broad claim that certain groups have power over others—that racism, sexism, and classism exist—is hardly controversial. Yet mention privilege and tempers flare. But privilege is simply the other side of the power coin. Just as some racial groups are systematically oppressed and marginalized, other racial groups are systematically privileged, and just as forms of oppression vary, so too do forms of privilege. For instance, a white privilege might simply be living in a world where one can count on being paid more on average than Blacks or Latinos. While pay gaps may be easily quantified, forms of privilege that are less amenable to statistical analysis exist as well. Consider the male privilege of being immersed in a media environment that consistently depicts men as important and powerful. Or consider the white privilege of living in a media environment that assures audiences that white heroes are nearly always capable of transcending adversity. The above clip is from "Africa for Norway" and parodies the narrative typically deployed by Western charity organizations in their campaigns to secure funds and drum up support. It draws attention to a kind of Western privilege, a privilege both forged from and bound up with the experience of colonialism, the application of the rule of colonial difference (i.e., representing the 'other' as inferior and radically different), and Western racism. Whether it is the Kony 2012 campaign or the 1985 song "We Are the World," the story being peddled to publics is of a compassionate West saving the 'other' from unbearable poverty or some other grave injustice. Author Teju Cole famously named this dominant cultural narrative and the practices it calls forth the white savior industrial complex. While the components of the narrative can be spotted in the viral videos of these NGOs, Cole points out that it can also be found in countless Hollywood films, such as Out of Africa and The Constant Gardener. Time and again, moviegoers and YouTubers are asked to consider a rather narrowly defined hero. He's a compassionate white westerner, who stands apart in his uncommon ability to recognize the basic humanity of the many black and brown foreigners he has encountered while on his journey through an unfamiliar land; and against the advice of civilization, he heroically commits himself to the mission of saving these people from their plight. Although the perception that it is a criticism against charity will likely be a point of contention with viewers, the real critique, which is aimed at neocolonialism and the privileges it supports is incisive. It is a peculiar kind of Western privilege to be able to wade through the media pool each day, soaked by the various incarnations of this narrative, a day full of subtle reminders of one's intrinsic goodness and extraordinary abilities.
Submitted By: Lester Andrist
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