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Social Control and the Hunger Games (Part 2)

In part two of this series, Sarah Michele Ford continues to look at the ways in which social control plays out in Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy, focusing on the second half of Catching Fire and the third book in the series, Mockingjay. The second half of the trilogy allows us to compare the types of social control that are used in multiple socio-political contexts. As with the previous post, SPOILER ALERT!

At the end of our previous examination of social control in Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy , Katniss Everdeen had just learned that she would be going back into the arena for the third “quarter quell” – the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Hunger Games. As in the previous year, she is joined in the arena by Peeta, but this time the stakes are higher. Katniss knows that she’s the symbol of the resistance and knows that her performance during the Victory Tour has failed to quell that resistance. She knows that President Snow feels more than ever that the Games are a necessary display of social control and that he also will be planning to eliminate her as a symbol of the rebellion, hopefully quashing it altogether.

As with the previous Games, though, things don’t quite go according to Snow’s plan. As it turns out, the new Head Gamemaker, Plutarch Heavensbee, has been involved in the resistance movement and the Games end when Katniss and several of the other tributes are broken out of the arena. After the breakout, they are whisked away to District 13, which the Capitol had supposedly destroyed during the previous rebellion. It had long been rumored, though, that the population of Thirteen had simply been driven underground, which turns out to be true.

Upon learning that she has been rescued by Thirteen, Katniss asks why they rescued her but not all of the other tributes (including Peeta). Heavensbee tells her, “We had to save you because you’re the mockingjay, Katniss… While you live, the revolution lives” (Catching Fire, p. 386). Shortly after her arrival in Thirteen, Katniss insists on visiting her old home in Twelve, which the Capitol had bombed into oblivion immediately after the escape from the arena. While there, she discovers what she knows to be a message from President Snow – a white rose in her bedroom in Victor’s Village. He knows she’s alive; knows that she’s in District Thirteen, and continues to threaten her even once she’s out of his direct control….

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Operationalizing Homicide

Are all homicides the same? In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explains why it is important to understand how variables are operationalized in order to understand how not all homicides are the same when it comes to reporting them. 

Homicide Scene

One step in the research process is operationalizing your variables. Operationalization means defining what your variables actual mean and what they are actually measuring.

While operationalization is critical to a research project, a consumer of research also needs to understand its importance. How variables are defined limits how research results can be interpreted.

Let’s look a bit closer at homicide rates. Some cities are reporting an increase in homicide rates, while other cities are reporting a decline in the 2013 homicide rate for their city.

Alex Tabarrock reports that there is a 25% difference between the lowest and highest reported homicide rates for 2010. He points out that the statistics come from three different reporting agencies (FBI, Bureau of Justice Statistics, and CDC) and that each of these agencies defines (i.e., operationalizes) homicide differently.

While Tabarrock gives a brief explanation of the difference in definitions, I was curious as to how exactly homicide is defined by each agency.

I began my quest by going to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) website and typing in the word “homicide” into the search bar. I decided the results “FASTSTATS” would be the best place to start. As I scrolled down the page, there it was, the link I needed: “Injury Definitions and Methods.” But alas, there still was not a clear explanation of how homicide is operationalized by the CDC. The best I can gather is that for the CDC, homicide exists within the category of death from injuries. Death from injuries includes “accidents (unintentional injuries), intentional self-harm (suicide), and assault (homicide)” (here, p. 166)….

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Normalizing TSA Groping with the Pillsbury Doughboy

Geico Insurance has come out with a number of “Happier Than…” commercials which compare very happy characters, like the Hump Day Camel on Wednesdays, with the happiness of changing to Geico Insurance. In a recent advertisement, the happy character is none other than the Pillsbury Doughboy. In this post, Ami Stearns argues that the Pillsbury Doughboy’s happiness at being poked and prodded by TSA serves to normalize the invasive practice of being touched during the airport experience.

His high-pitched giggle is instantly recognizable. His plump body calls to mind warm, fluffy biscuits just out of the oven. Pillsbury’s famous mascot, the Pillsbury Doughboy, represents the comforting family kitchen. We’re so used to the Doughboy that he’s become as much of the American cultural landscape as a Norman Rockwell painting. The sound of his giggle makes us salivate for crescent rolls like Pavlov’s dog. The Doughboy’s successful association with the typical family home environment has normalized, for example, the purchase of packaged, mass-produced, ready-to-bake biscuits, cookies, and pie crusts.

Normalizing is a societal process where certain desired behaviors are made to appear very normal or so everyday that they come to be taken for granted. Who desires certain behaviors? Well, everyone from governments to educational systems to the military to corporations. Television commercials play a huge role in normalizing behaviors, for example, buying a new car before the old one breaks down, shampooing your hair daily, feeding your entire family through a drive-through window, and drinking diet soda.

The Pillsbury Doughboy is quite familiar to American audiences. In fact, the Doughboy as a corporate mascot is second only in popularity to those little talking M&M’s. The Doughboy been seen everywhere from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade to the children’s toy aisle, in addition to starring in hundreds of Pillsbury commercials. Lately, though, the pudgy mascot has been seen backing a different type of product: insurance. Geico Insurance’s series of popular “Happier than…” ads recently featured the Doughboy giggling uncontrollably while an airport TSA agent pokes him as he’s going through security.

An entire post could be written about the novel concept of cross-advertising auto insurance with unbaked cookies, but let’s concentrate on the details of the commercial itself while thinking about the normalization of monitoring and surveillance in our society. In the commercial, a TSA agent repeatedly tries to poke the Pillsbury Doughboy while the mascot’s giggling increasingly gets out of control. The announcers ask, “How happy are people who switch to Geico?” and volunteer the answer, “Happier than the Pillsbury Doughboy on his way to a baking convention.”…

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Affluenza & The Inequality of Life Chances

A 16 year old boy in Texas gets drunk, drives his truck 70 mph on a 40 mph road and kills four people who were stopped on the side of road fixing a flat tire, but the boy doesn’t go to prison. In this post Nathan Palmer uses the concept of the inequality of life chances to try to understand this mind-boggling sentence.

Injustice

What I remember about the fights I saw in junior high school was the standing around waiting for something to happen. Word would spread through the school that so-and-so was going to fight so-and-so right after school ended. I’m not proud of it, but every time I heard about a fight, I’d rush over to the spot it was supposed to happen as soon as the last bell rang; I just couldn’t keep myself from seeing it, like when you drive by a car accident. However most times the fight never happened. We’d stand around and listen to two scared boys puff their chests out and do their best tough guy impersonation.

The only fight I can vividly remember seeing was brutal. The two boys beat each other mercilessly and I remember feeling I’d done something wrong by watching and feeling sure someone was going to get in big trouble for the fight.

I hadn’t even got into the school the next morning when I heard the news. One of the boys had been suspended and he might be expelled at a hearing of sorts later that day. I was floored. First at the thought that someone I knew might get expelled and second because why wasn’t the other boy also suspended?

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Preventing Men’s Violence Against Women: A Zealand Case

Remember the Steubenville travesty that occurred in mid-2012 but didn’t start making headlines until months later? If you don’t recall, the case involved teenage males sexually assaulting a heavily intoxicated younger female, bragging of their exploits online, as various parties looked the other way or covered up the males’ actions. In the aftermath, certain mainstream media outlets were more sympathetic to the adjudicated males than to the female survivor. In this post, David Mayeda covers a strikingly similar case that has made headlines in New Zealand.

TRIGGER WARNING: This article discusses sexual assault.

A while ago I began writing a few SIF articles focused on “preventing violence against women.” I discussed the Steubenville case, as well as the tragedy in New Delhi, India and in different form, examples from Pakistan. In retrospect, I should have recalled how Jackson Katz frames the issue by naming it “men’s violence against women,” highlighting men’s responsibility in gendered violence.

This past month, I was reminded how correct Katz is when 3News in New Zealand exposed a group of older teenage males from West Auckland called the Roast Busters. As reported by The New Zealand Herald, “The Roast Busters caused outrage by bragging on their Facebook page about getting underage girls drunk and having sex with them…. The Roast Busters Facebook page and the profile pages of some members – who are said to have targeted girls as young as 13 – have been taken down since news of their activities broke.”

Since this story broke, members of New Zealand’s mainstream and alternative media have provided excellent commentary critiquing the Roast Busters and a broader rape culture in New Zealand that “systematically trivializes, normalizes, or endorses sexual assault.”

Unfortunately, following the Roast Busters’ exposure, a number of other disturbing events emerged that exemplify how rape culture operates in a patriarchal society, where men’s privilege is embedded across society’s institutions. Take for instance the male-dominated institution of law enforcement. Police initially stated they could not take action on the Roast Busters because no victim had formally come forward to complain.

However, the public quickly learned that “police had received a complaint from a 13-year-old girl as far back as 2011.” Demonstrating how police blamed the very young victim instead of taking action against accused male perpetrators, it was later revealed, “The girl…told 3News she was upset by the line of questioning used when she was interviewed by police in 2011, including about what she was wearing” (see also here)….

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Breaking Bad: Reclaiming Masculinity in a Perilous Political Economy

AMC recently aired its final episode of Breaking Bad. With the series now completed, one might wonder how so many viewers could maintain loyalty to protagonist, “Water White,” the dorky low-level crystal methamphetamine producer, turned vicious kingpin, who over five seasons inflicted unbridled violence on a slew of characters. Even Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan expressed a sociologically-driven curiosity with Walt’s ability to emit public sympathy: “I have kind of lost sympathy for Walt along the way…I find it interesting, this sociological phenomenon, that people still root for Walt. Perhaps it says something about the nature of fiction, that viewers have to identify on some level with the protagonist of the show, or maybe he’s just interesting because he is good at what he does.” In this post, David Mayeda breaks down Breaking Bad’s success, accounting for reclaimed masculinity in a failed political economy.

For the few of you out there unfamiliar with AMC’s fictional drama, Breaking Bad tells the story of fumbling high school chemistry teacher with a PhD – Walter White (played by Bryan Cranston) – who “breaks bad” by ditching his conventional teaching gig to produce and eventually traffic crystal methamphetamine across New Mexico and the greater American Southwest. Key in the series’ storyline is that Walt is a conventional family man, deeply in love with his pregnant wife, Skyler, and teenage son, Walt Jr., who suffers from cerebral palsy. That’s a lot of financial responsibility for any high school teacher. To make matters seemingly impossible, Walt is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Hence Walt works in tandem with former pupil, Jesse Pinkman, to start cooking meth in hopes of making enough money for his family’s long-term future.

Over the course of five seasons, Walter White transforms from a dorky, emasculated high school chemistry teacher who cannot provide for his family, to badass drug kingpin, steeped in money and power. With nothing to lose, Walt’s ascent stems from an incessantly growing cunningness, elite intellectual acumen, and at times, departure from his once conventional moral compass. Viewers have watched Walt kill rival drug dealers, associates and kingpins, stand idly by while Jesse’s love interest dies; we even know Walt poisoned a young child. Despite these departures from conventional morality, a substantial portion of Breaking Bads viewers still sympathize with, even cheer for Walt. How can this be?

Sociologically speaking, the answer lies in Walt’s ability to establish a kind of hegemonic masculinity under dreadful circumstances that on a different level, also impacted so many Breaking Bad fans….

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Analyzing Tragic Mass Shootings As A Sociologist, Part 2

Sociologists focus on our world today. Recently we have seen tragic news of shootings at a mall in Nairobi, a park in Chicago, and a Navy Yard in Washington D.C., all within the week. This devastating loss of innocent lives has impacted families, friends, and community members, and left many questions in our minds. As sociologists, we use three theoretical perspectives (think of them as three pairs of glasses with different lenses) to analyze society. One method that can be used for analyzing mass shootings such as the heartbreaking Navy Yard shooting in Washington D.C., is symbolic interaction. In this post, Bridget Welch describes symbolic interaction and how this sociological perspective can be used.

Last week Mediha Din analyzed mass shootings from a structural functionalist position. Today we will look at the same phenomenon, but from a different set of lenses — symbolic interaction (SI).

What is the meaning of light? Of fly? Breaking up? It all depends on the meaning that we have learned through interacting with others that helps us think through the possible menu of interpretations and choose our reactions. Because of our ability to interpret, we are capable of understanding the social world in a wide variety of creative and unique ways, and still capable of understanding each other. From this basic formula, we get three core principles of SI that I will explain using the example of mass shootings and the media.

Core Principle 1. People act towards things in terms of the meanings that they hold about those things.

When you think about a mass shooting, what do you think of? Sandy Hook Elementary school? The Aurora shooting at the movie theater showing Batman? Perhaps the mass shooting instance at the Sikh Temple in Wisconsin?

We tend to think of the spectacular, or awesome (not that it’s good, but that it is awe inspiring); large scale shootings that grab national attention and keep it in a vice grip….

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Analyzing Tragic Mass Shootings As A Sociologist, Part 1

Sociologists focus on our world today. Today we have seen tragic news of shootings at a mall in Nairobi, a park in Chicago, and a Navy Yard in Washington D.C., all within the week. This devastating loss of innocent lives has impacted families, friends, and community members, and left many questions in our minds. As sociologists, we use three theoretical perspectives (think of them as three pairs of glasses with different lenses) to analyze society. One method that can be used for analyzing mass shootings such as the heartbreaking Navy Yard shooting in Washington D.C., is structural functionalism. In this post, Mediha Din describes structural functionalism and how this sociological perspective can be used.

How can we analyze society from the point of view of structural functionalism? Think of the morning cup of joe.

Do you drink coffee? Does it help you wake up? Focus? Give you an energy boost? These are some functions (purposes) of caffeine. Or do you avoid it because of the energy crash, acidity, or jitteriness it causes you? These are some dysfunctions of caffeine.

Looking at society from a functionalist point of view includes examining how something is functional (useful) and dysfunctional (not useful).

The structural functionalist point of view sees society as a complex system whose parts work together to promote stability. The human body is often used as an analogy for structural functionalism. Many different parts (heart, liver, brain, lungs) work together in order for the body to work.

Human Body

Functionalism is also focused on maintaining harmony in society, just as your body works to maintain harmony (if you are cold, your body shivers to warm you up, if you are hot, your body produces sweat to cool you down).

When we look at terrible occurrences such as the mass shooting in D.C., we will immediately see many dysfunctions caused by this horrendous crime. Families have lost a loved one, provider, and support mechanism. Our Navy has lost valuable members of their workforce, and many surviving members may suffer from depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. The members of society as a whole feel disheartened, fearful, and confused by these horrific acts of violence. Looking at the negative consequences of a behavior is part of structural functionalism.

Functionalism also analyzes how criminal acts can provide some functions in society. (This does not mean justifying atrocious acts of violence against innocent people in any way). Crime can have a role in society, and some positive outcomes can be seen coming out of extremely negative circumstances.

How can crime be functional for society? A few ways:…

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Shark Week & the Thrill of Deviant Behavior

Discovery Channel’s popular Shark Week has spawned legions of fans, shark-themed cocktails, merchandise, and watch parties. Why is Shark Week so popular with everyone from hipsters to environmentalists to Nascar fans? The answer may be found in society’s taste for thrills. In this post, Ami Stearns argues that the popularity of the Discovery Channel’s annual phenomenon can be used to illustrate Jack Katz’s criminological theory laid out in the “Seduction of Crime.”

Great White Shark

If you have never watched a Shark Week episode on the Discovery Channel, surely you have heard of it, or at least been annoyed by the shark picture uploads on Facebook or the hashtags on Twitter when the first episode aired this summer. When Shark Week first debuted in 1988, it doubled the network’s ratings. The 2013 season was the most watched, tweeted, and Facebooked event yet. What can possibly explain our fascination with a week-long, science-based series that frequently re-hashes previous years’ episodes and is so singularly focused on one animal? How did Shark Week become an anticipated cultural event where even celebrities are compelled to tweet their thoughts? The answer may lie in the thrill-seeking desire most of us possess.

In 1988, sociologist Jack Katz wrote a book called The Seduction of Crime. Katz theorized that people engage in risky behavior because of the recreational aspect involved. Purse-snatching, pocketing unpaid-for goods, or mugging someone produces the same physiological effects as riding a roller coaster. Thrill-seeking levels vary among members of the population, as do appropriate and inappropriate outlets for thrill-seeking behavior. Society does not condone thrill-seeking behaviors like robbery, muggings, and murder, but it celebrates thrill-seeking behaviors like riding roller coasters, bungee jumping, and skydiving. Watching events like car races can appropriately fulfill the desire for thrill, as can attending boxing matches, viewing horror movies, or tuning in to Discovery Channel’s Shark Week….

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Egypt, Social Control, & Social Cohesion

What happens when people realize the police aren’t coming? What happens when people decide that their political leaders are unjust and must be removed from power? What happens when you realize that there is no formal authority that you can count on to keep you safe? In this piece Nathan Palmer uses the current crisis in Egypt to try and answer these questions and discuss the concepts of social control and social cohesion.

Damietta Protests
Protests on July 5th in Egypt

As I write this Egypt is in conflict. On July 3rd the democratically elected president of Egypt, Mohamed Morsi, was removed from power and jailed by the Egyptian military. Since then Morsi’s supporters and supporters of the military’s forced change in leadership have been having fighting. Hundreds of Egyptians who support Morsi have been killed in clashes with the military and much of the rest of the country is in disarray. There are multiple reports of bands of vigilantes turning violent across the country and multiple Coptic Christian churches have been destroyed.

Egypt gives us a window into what happens when a nation-state partially loses it’s formal authoritative control. While it would be wrong to use one anecdotal case to make a broad generalization about all societies, this one case does suggest that in the absence of rock solid formalized authority violence, death and destruction can emerge. The crisis in Egypt brings up many sociological questions, but I’d like to focus on just one of them today: What are the social structures that keep a society from falling into violence and chaos? To answer this question, we will need to discuss the concepts of social control and social cohesion.

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