The group of people behind the new, viral Instagram account, @brosbeingbasic, set out to answer one question: “What if guys acted like girls on Instagram?” Guys began by posting pictures of themselves (mostly selfies) with a plethora of hashtags commonly associated with “basic white girls” – think: ALLTHEPUMPKINSPICETHINGS, wine, Ugg boots, and leggings for days. The public has loved it with the account gaining over 100,000 followers in the first week. From a sociological standpoint, though, the phenomenon is a perfect example of how we perform gender. In this post, Kim Cochran Kiesewetter will be examining how Bros Being Basic can help explain the social performance of gender.
A man with both tattoos and a goatee stares up at the camera sleepily from his bed, his lips slightly parted, paired with the hashtags #iwokeuplikethis and #longhairdontcare… Another post shows a guy eating cheesecake and drinking wine next to the caption, “Calories don’t count on #Thanksgiving lmao!!! #CheatDay #PumpkinCheesecake #SpinClassTomorrow #LoveMyMerlot”… Yet another has a guy taking a bubble bath with a glass of wine, candles, and a face mask while reading The Help. The posts are catchy and humorous at first glance, but as a sociologist, it was hard not to stop and think about why this was so funny. From a sociological standpoint, one way of understanding gender is through the lens of social constructionism, which is the idea that we create “reality” through our social interactions with one another.
If White Americans are the targets of racial prejudice and discrimination, then that’s reverse racism, right? Well, while many people might agree with this logic, in this post Kim Cochran Kiesewetter discusses the differences between individual and institutional racism to help explain reverse racism from a sociological point of view.
I still remember sitting in my first sociology course in college – Race and Ethnic Relations – and hearing the professor introduce the discussion of racism. Immediately, my mind flew to an experience I had as a child where I had felt attacked for being White while staying with my grandmother in a neighborhood composed predominantly of families from minority racial backgrounds. As I shared my story with the class, the professor interjected that, even though I had felt discriminated against, I hadn’t been the victim of racism since I was White. A look of confusion crossed my face moments before I realized I was incredibly offended. How in the world could this person be telling me I couldn’t have experienced being the victim of racism?!
As a sociology teacher myself now, I regularly encounter the same conversation I had with my professor when I myself was a student… except now I am the professor trying to use that conversation as a gentle move into the discussion of individual versus institutional racism.
Learning to think sociologically takes time because, for many of us, it’s a dynamically different way of looking at the world. Sociologists look at trends for large groups of people to examine how a variety of social forces can influence the ways in which we experience life. This means that we don’t use individual, singular experiences as representative of whole populations. Instead, we have to look at the proverbial big picture. Aamer Rahman, an Australian comedian, does a great job of using humor to explain how to view racism in a “big picture” manner, versus as an individual experience.
High school sex ed, popular TV shows, and national PSAs would all have us believe that becoming a parent as a teenager (especially if you’re a girl) will cause tragic outcomes for both you and your child. In this post, Kim Cochran Kiesewetter helps explore the difference between causation and correlation to help in understanding how addressing social problems like teen pregnancy can get really complicated, really quickly.
“You’re supposed to be changing the world… not changing diapers.” “I never thought I would be a statistic.” These sayings, paired with pictures of coyly posed celebrities, are the crux of the Candie’s Foundation’s most recent campaign to prevent teen pregnancy. NYC’s approach is similar, replacing the celebrity photos with images of crying children beside tag lines like, “I’m twice as likely not to graduate high school because you had me as a teen.”
Coupled with images from popular shows like MTV’s 16 & Pregnant and Teen Mom, at this point most Americans would take for granted that being a teen parent is the cause of a long list of poor social outcomes from dropping out of high school to living in poverty to raising kids who have their own set of problems. However, social researchers would caution that just because a relationship exists between teen parenting and negative social outcomes doesn’t mean that one is necessarily causing the other. As we’re about to explore, proving that something caused something else isn’t as simple as it may seem at face value….
Heteronormativity is the belief that heterosexuality is the only acceptable sexual orientation. This attitude leads people to value only traditional gender roles and heterosexual relationships while rejecting all gender, sex, and sexual behaviors that fall outside of this narrow box. Heteronormativity contributes to the creation of a society that is unwelcoming and even dangerous for people who do not conform to this norm. By using the popular MTV show, Catfish, Kim Cochran Kiesewetter explores some of the consequences of living in a heteronormative culture.
My partner and I do not typically like the same TV shows. It’s almost impossible for us to find things we both want to watch together. One lazy evening, we stumbled upon a documentary released in 2010 called Catfish that detailed a young man’s journey to meet a girl he fell in love with online, only to discover that, in reality, not all was what it seemed to have been online. We were enthralled… and, apparently, we weren’t alone.
The popularity of the film led MTV to create a show based on the same premise (aptly named Catfish: The TV Show) where host Nev Schulman helps individuals from around the country meet their online loves for the first time. In a nutshell: it’s typically a train-wreck. The anonymity of online communication allows people to present themselves in ways that differ dramatically from how they appear in real life, also known now as “catfishing” in popular culture. People can catfish others online by creating false personas that may involve fake careers, false geographic locations, and the borrowing of someone else’s photographs. (Catfishing, the verb, probably reached it’s critical mass when Notre Dame star football player Manti Te’o admitted in January that he’d been a victim of the hoax)….
American society is composed hundreds of millions of people. While most of us would be hard-pressed to avoid the influence of over-arching American cultural values (think, individualism and consumerism), many of us also partake in subcultures, which are smaller groups within society that have their own unique values, symbols, and practices separate from larger culture. In this post, Kim Cochran Kiesewetter uses the music festival, Bonnaroo, as an example of a subculture in the US.
My day-to-day life is pretty normal by US’ standards for a working adult: I get up, I shower, I go to work, and tuck myself in with a book well before midnight every weekday (and full disclosure… most weekends, too). I’m not extreme by any definition of the word and do my best to adhere to most social norm expectations. But once a year, I throw off convention. I pile into an RV with friends, drive hundreds of miles to the middle of Tennessee where, for four days, I shower only by dumping bottles of water over my head and stay up most of the night dancing while wearing accessories like glow stick headbands. Welcome to Bonnaroo, middle Tennessee’s answer to popular, large-scale music festivals like Coachella that have been attracting music-lovers from around both the country and globe for over a decade. Bonnaroo is my chance once a year to blend into a subculture, while deviating from mainstream American culture.
Culture v. Subculture
Culture, in a nutshell, is everything that is not nature. Culture is the common beliefs, values, traditions, symbols, and behaviors a group of people in a given society share. If you grew up in the United States, you learned culture from people around you to keep you from sticking out too much in a crowd. You learned when you talked to your friend you shouldn’t do so three inches away from her face. You learned when you get on the elevator at the mall you shouldn’t face to the back unless you want to be considered a creeper. You learned an incredibly long list of behaviors, values, and beliefs from those around you as a sort of invisible guidebook to fitting in to mainstream culture. By high school, you were likely very conscious of what you needed to do to fit in and what you could do to stand out.
The journey of studying sociology always begins with the concept of the “sociological imagination”, a term coined by C. Wright Mills. This concept is challenging when it is first presented, but by using the film, The Matrix, Kim Cochran Kiesewetter explores the concept of developing a sociological imagination and the decision all students must make in a sociology class at some point during the semester: do you take the red pill or the blue one?
The camera pans across the dark, dank-looking room where two men sit, facing each other, after pacing pointedly around the space. The man in the dark sunglasses, Morpheus, is talking in a deep, calm voice to Neo, “…Let me tell you why you’re here. You’re here because you know something. What you know you can’t explain, but you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life, that there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad. It is this feeling that has brought you to me. Do you know what I am talking about?” Neo does, indeed, know of this feeling that Morpheus speaks of.
Morpheus then presents a question as he holds out two pills to Neo – one red, one blue. “This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.”
The Sociological Imagination: What Is It?
The Matrix came out long before I even knew what sociology was, but I remember watching it again in college at some point and being struck by the whole movie in relation to the sociological imagination. The sociological imagination is a fancy term for the ability to connect and individual to their larger social institutions that invisibly influence their behaviors and opportunities. So many of us experience our own personal life story as something we are totally in control of and solely responsible for, but this is not the whole story. Throughout your entire life your individual actions and choices were heavily influenced by the people and institutions around you.
What does a high-school chemistry teacher who begins manufacturing meth to pay for his cancer treatment, a widowed suburban housewife who begins dealing pot to save her family financially, and a CIA agent who allows her sister to secretly treat her for bi-polar in order to keep her job all have in common? Well, other than being main characters in popular American TV shows, they are all what Robert Merton would call “innovators”. In this post, Kim Cochran Kiesewetter explores our cultural fascination with deviance innovation through the lens of Merton’s strain theory.
Between MTV’s Cribs, My Super Sweet Sixteen, and the Real Housewives of various cities, is it safe to say that as a society we want to be financially successful? Would it be fair to assume that most people in the US admire the wealthy? While social movements like Occupy Wall Street have been critical of the super rich, the abundance of rich people in television suggests that many of us still want to live their lifestyle.
Now what would you think of me if I had a house nice enough to be on Cribs, spent more on lavish parties than most Americans make in a year, and never left the house except in designer clothing? Now what if I told you that I had earned my money by “cooking and slanging “crystal meth?
Before you answer, let me bring in some sociology that may help you. Robert Merton was interested in what motivates some people to break the mold or even the law. He argues that there is a difference between the goals in a culture and people’s ability to equally achieve them. That is, in our culture almost everyone wants to be financially successful. It’s the carrot that is dangled in front of us to motivate us through schooling, work, and life. However, not everyone has access to the same resources and opportunities required to achieve this goal.