The Sociology of MMA: A Masculine Culture of Lack

If you’ve ever seen something you wanted to purchase that was advertised in a way that made you feel inadequate, I have a feeling you will relate to this post. Advertisers have a way of tapping into our emotions and sense of insecurities that influence us to build emotional relationships with products. This is all part of living in a society where ongoing production of goods and services is reliant on the population’s incessant craving for consumption. In this post, David Mayeda discusses a magazine’s presentation of mixed martial arts legend (MMA), Randy Couture, and how that presentation feeds into a “culture of lack.”

Randy Courture on Magazine

A few weeks ago I was working at the Auckland City public library. While strolling through the magazine section, I saw an issue of Muscle & Fitness with MMA legend, Randy Couture, on the cover. You may know Couture from his more recent acting career; he starred alongside Sly and company in The Expendables. But Couture’s stardom began as a combat sport athlete, first as a four-time Olympic alternate in Greco-Roman wrestling, and then winning Ultimate Fighting Championship titles five times in two different weight classes (heavyweight and light heavyweight), throughout his 30s and 40s. Now retired from professional fighting, Couture is approaching age 50.

Despite his seemingly ageless athleticism, Couture’s photo on the Muscle & Fitness cover made me do a double take. Could a near 50-year-old really look like this (see top photo)? Damn that “old man” is massive, and ripped! And if Couture can showcase such musculature, presenting an idealized version of physical masculinity at nearly age 50, why shouldn’t I?

Okay, I didn’t exactly go that far in my line of thought. Not only have I seen Couture fight on television a bunch of times, but I met and interviewed him back in 2007 (see picture, below).

The fact is, despite being a big and extremely athletic individual, Couture is not overwhelmingly massive. I’m about 5’8″ tall, around 175 pounds. The picture above of Couture and me is a bit misleading since I’m closer to the camera, but you can tell his actual physique is nowhere near that presented on the magazine cover….

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The Meaning of Helicopters: Unequal Access to Trauma Centers

In rural areas, helicopters come to symbolize unequal access to trauma centers. In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explains how the meaning of helicopters varies depending on whether you are in an urban or a rural area. 

Life Flight Helicopter

When I lived in the city, helicopters meant one of two things: the media or the police. The news crews were either providing overhead footage of weather or traffic conditions. The police were looking for someone, most likely, an alleged criminal. These helicopters were things I learned to ignore.

When I moved back to a small town, helicopters took on a whole new meaning. Helicopters are rarely seen or heard in a small town and when they are, it means someone is on their way to a trauma center. Now when I see a helicopter, I know that they are typically transporting a patient to a trauma center. Helicopters remind me just how far rural people, including myself, are from trauma centers.

Around here you can buy a membership for about $60 a year to an air ambulance company that provides coverage for helicopter transport provided it is from their company. The first time I saw my parent’s sticker indicating this coverage (on the back of their cars in case of a car accident and on a window by the front door of their house in case the problem starts at home), I thought they had been scammed. “What a waste of money,” I thought. Then it dawned on me….

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Preventing Violence Against Women & Girls: New Delhi

Violence against women comes in many forms, existing in varying degrees across all cultures and countries. Among other ways, violence against women happens through intimate partner violence, rape and sexual coercion, human trafficking, and infanticide (for a broad review, see Watts and Zimmerman, 2002). In this post, David Mayeda begins a 3-part series examining cases of violence against women from 2012 that happened in India, Pakistan, and the United States. First off, the tragic case of the 23-year-old female physiotherapy student who was recently sexually assaulted and killed by six male suspects in India’s Capital City, New Delhi.

Protests in Bangalore

On 16 December 2012, a 23-year-old female physiotherapy student from New Delhi, India was riding home with her fiance after seeing The Life of Pi when she was sexually assaulted on a bus by six male suspects. The assailants beat her and her fiancée, leaving them for dead. Reports vary, but some suggest the police wasted valuable time arguing over jurisdictional responsibility before helping the young woman. Roughly a week after the assault occurred, the young woman was flown to Singapore to receive further medical care. Unfortunately, the assault was so brutal and her organs so damaged, she passed away in late December. The suspects now face murder charges and the streets of India are alive with fervent protests:

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The Sick Role Conflict

What are the norms of sickness? Are their certain expectations of people who are sick compared to those who are healthy? In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explains what the sick role can teach us about other aspects of role theory.

Mother Taking Temperature Of Sick Daughter

Talcott Parsons identified the concept of the sick role in 1951. The sick role was developed out of role theory. Though the sick role may be outliving its original usefulness, it still can help illuminate the concepts of roles, role conflict, and role strain. Let me explain these concepts and then we’ll get back to the sick role.

Roles refer to the expectations associated with a particular status. For example, as a college professor, I am expected to come to class on time and teach my subject matter, that is, sociology. I am not expected to walk in late or not show up at all, nor am I expected to be able to answer questions related to physics.

Role conflict occurs when the expectations of different roles conflict with one another. For example, a working mother with a sick child. The expectations of the worker is that they go to work. The expectations of the mother is to care for the sick child. The expectations of the worker role and the the expectations of the mother of a sick child role conflict with one another. What is a working mother with a sick child to do? (Of course, someone else could take care of the sick child. But the reality, is that it often falls on the mother.)…

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Contemporary Slavery: Connections to Thailand’s War on Drugs

Slavery and other exploitive systems do not exist in a social vacuum. Rather, they are deeply connected with other institutions in society, materialising in ways that intensify existing social disparities. In this post, David Mayeda continues his series on contemporary slavery, based on an August trip that examined the issue in Thailand. Specifically, this post discusses the Thai government’s 2003 war on drugs and its influences on minority group members.

rice patties in Thailand
Laboring in the rice patties - one of the few alternatives to excessive labor exploitation in northern Thailand.

As noted in this series’ first post, the two social groups most severely impacted by Thailand’s policies surrounding statehood are (1) an ethnically diverse range of rural hill tribe Thai, and (2) Burmese migrants, many of whom are refugees. Given these groups’ exclusion from formal citizenry rights and in turn from mainstreamed education and health care systems, they are all the more vulnerable to being exploited as labor, even ensnared in slave-based settings. However, worker exploitation is not the only way in which these groups are systemically mistreated. Broad-based governmental policies directed towards other social issues often have unintended deleterious consequences. Given the extreme power imbalances existing in Thailand, it is unsurprising that minority groups feel the brunt of these wayward policies.

In the 1970s and 80s, the United States and United Nations funded efforts leading to the widespread eradication of opium in Thailand and other countries. As is the common pattern in society, when governmental forces eliminate the production and distribution of one drug without altering the root causes of demand, another drug simply replaces the old one. Thus, the basic drug trafficking system stays in place, only with a different product permeating the market, which is what happened in Thailand. While opium production, distribution, and use still occurs in and around Thailand, between 1993 and 2001, various forms of methamphetamine replaced opium, becoming the more popular drug across Thailand (Wong & Wongtongson, 2006, p. 131)….

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Can Sociologists Hurt People?

Researching humans is what social scientists do, but what happens when they want to conduct research that would harm the people in their study? In 1993 a team of researchers in Baltimore Maryland wanted to find out which method of lead paint removal was most effective. Their study allowed predominately African American families with small children to live in homes they knew were contaminated with lead. In this piece Nathan Palmer discusses three key aspects of ethical research and how if followed they protect human subjects.

Researchers in Baltimore, who wanted to find the best method for removing lead paint from old houses, watched as children suffered from lead poisoning for years. These are the charges brought by two parents who are now suing the research team. The parents argue that while they knew that their home had lead paint in it, the researchers gave them a “false sense of security” from test results that only showed low levels of contamination. The research conducted from 1993 to 1999 enrolled 108 low income African American families many of whom were already living in the contaminated homes.

The first two judges to hear this case dismissed it, but later a judge upheld the case arguing that it was very similar to a modern day Tuskegee Experiment. During this experiment African American men in Alabama who suffered from syphilis were monitored by the U.S. Public Health Service from 1932–1972. The men were not told they had syphilis, but rather only that they had “bad blood”. Worse yet, when penicillin became the widely available cure for syphilis, the researchers decided it was more scientifically valuable to document how the men would die from the disease than to give them treatment. While this is beyond tragic in it’s own right, these men also unknowingly passed the disease to their wives and partners and many of their children were born with congenital syphilis.

“What it going on here? Can researchers really do stuff like this?” are the first two questions many of my students have. And the answer is, no.

Because of incidents like the Tuskegee experiments, federal research ethics and regulations have been established. Before a researcher can carry out a study on human subjects they must, if they receive federal funding, have their methods reviewed by an independent panel to verify their safety. These panels, often called an Institutional Review Board (IRB)[1], are guided by the three pillars of ethical research: 1. Do No Harm, 2. Informed Consent, 3. Voluntary Participation.

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The DSM-IV & The Medicalization of Behavior

The American Psychological Association is revising the DSM-IV. In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explores why changes to the DSM-IV are of interest to sociologists.

Grieving Woman

The American Psychological Association is revising the DSM-IV (Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). The DSM-IV is the manual psychologists (and other medical professionals) use to diagnose mental disorders. This manual provides the parameters for distinguishing unproblematic sadness from problematic depression.

If a condition is listed as a mental illness in the DSM, then an insurance company is more likely to cover some of the treatment costs. The government may use the manual to determine if an individual should qualify for government services. For example, children may qualify for accommodations in schools due to a diagnosis based on the DSM.

Why might a sociologist be interested in this revision?

As a sociologist, this revision process illuminates the medicalization of human behavior….

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Congrats! You’re Sort-of-Pregnant

Have you ever heard a woman say, “she just knew” when she was pregnant, well she was wrong. According to a new Arizona Law, pregnancy occurs two weeks before conception. In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath discusses how this redefinition affects women and what it means for the social construction of pregnancy.

Did you know you can be sort-of-pregnant?

Pregnancy Test with Question Marks

Arizona’s House and Senate have passed a bill that redefines pregnancy as occurring two weeks before conception.

No longer are women simply pregnant or not. This law frames women as in a constant sort-of-pregnant state. If women are always sort-of-pregnant, then should we all expect they “behave as pregnant women should” just to be safe?…

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I am a Slut: The Gender Politics of Birth Control

Married for 11 years to one man, I woke to the realization this weekend that I am a slut. In this post, Bridget Welch explores the current birth control controversy and comes to terms with being a prostitute.

“Your body is a wrapped lollipop. When you have sex with a man, he unwraps your lollipop and sucks on it. It may feel great at the time, but, unfortunately, when he’s done with you, all you have left for your next partner is a poorly wrapped, saliva-fouled sucker.” -Darren Washington, an abstinence educator (as quoted in The Purity Myth by Jessica Valenti).

Washington is not alone in these inventive descriptions of virginity. Lee Ann Finch, a proponent of school-based sex education, use the idea of a gold wrapped package which kissing and heavy petting tore to such destruction it could never be repaired. “Shaking her head, she said in a voice full of regret, “This is never going to look like it did originally… Is this the gift you want to hand your spouse on your wedding night?” The youth answered with the only response Finch’s presentation allowed – a resounding “no.”

In Risky LessonsJessica Fields points out that the educator “invoked a well-established and gendered romantic script in which women and girls, not men and boys, trade their sexual virtue for love. According to this standard narrative, girls remain valuable and desirable as long as their hymens remain intact and their bodies remain virginal.”

Let’s examine this idea a little. A girl is in charge of protecting her sexual purity. Of keeping their proverbial lollipop wrapped. This is an idea that has been around a long time and that is currently is running rampant in today’s political environment. With the change of many state legislatures from democrat to republican in 2010 and the increase in numbers of GOP representatives in Congress, reproductive rights have come under fire. This extends from an attempt to redefine rape (rape has long been justification to allow for abortion coverage from governmental plans like Medicaid) to forcing women to have medically unnecessary and invasive ultrasounds before abortion is allowed.

Republican presidential candidates and their supporters have made waves with comments that highlight the cultural belief that women need to protect their purity. Underlying this argument is that birth control should not be provided by the government because giving women birth control gives them the license to GO WILD!…

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What New Year’s Resolutions Teach Us about American Values

Did you make any New Year’s resolutions? Were they along the lines of losing weight, being healthier, saving money, getting organized, or learning something new? What can popular New Year’s resolutions teach us about American Values? In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explains how popular New Year’s resolutions reflect American values.

New Year 2012

In the exciting world of a parenting a toddler, New Year’s Eve for me involves staying up just late enough to watch the ball in Times Square. It aired live, so I watched it drop at 11 p.m. Central Standard Time and then went to bed. By the time the clock struck midnight at my house, I was asleep.

Before the ball in Times Square had even dropped the diet and exercise equipment advertisements were already airing. Many Americans declare New Year resolutions revolving around bodily self-improvement. We resolve to lose weight, get in shape, eat healthy, drink less alcohol, and quit smoking in the New Year. We might even get really specific. I’ve resolved to run 500 miles in 2012. [1. I ran close to 300 miles in 2011, so 500 miles seems attainable.] Bodily self-improvement may benefit a person’s health and add years to a person’s life. Regardless, these resolutions conform to American values of achievement and success.

Bodily Self-Improvement in the Name of Health

Values are a society’s ideas about what is good or bad. Smoking is bad and will kill us. Most Americans are ok with high taxes on cigarettes and there is rather minor resistance to most public smoking bans. Too much alcohol is considered unhealthy, but the right amount of red wine (whatever “right” means) can be good for our heart. We live in the era of an obesity epidemic and everyone is afraid of catching this disease [2. Last time I checked, you do not catch obesity. It is not the same as a cold or the flu. So why is our terminology the same? That’s for another day.]. We see smoking, excessive drinking, and obesity as bad. Limiting or better yet eliminating these things as good. In other words, Americans value health. The classic list of core American values identified by Robin Williams in 1970does not include health, but it does include achievement and success and activity and work. Most health-related resolutions would fit under one or both of these American values….

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