Sociology Focus

Sounds like Teen Spirit: Bieber, Black, & the Protestant Ethic

Haters gonna hate, but when it comes to Justin Bieber and Rebecca Black the hating has reached epic proportions. Both teen singing sensations’ music videos continue to attract the highest number of “dislikes” on YouTube. So what gives? Why is hating on J. Bieber and Ms. Black so popular? In this piece, Ami Stearns argues that the answer to this question lies in our understanding of Weber’s Protestant work ethic.

Rebecca Black told reporters she cried when YouTube viewers attacked her song, “Friday,” and music critics called it the “Worst Song Ever.” Justin Bieber’s music videos compete among themselves to fill the majority of top slots for the most disliked videos. These two teen singers seem to have been singled out by YouTube viewers as especially deserving of “dislikes.”

As of January 17, 2013, Bieber’s “Baby” registered a whopping 3,310,479 dislikes on YouTube, while dislikes for Black’s “Friday” has 940,073 dislikes. In comparison, other top videos popular during Bieber and Black’s 2011 releases like Britney Spears’ “Hold It Against Me” currently register 48,324 dislikes, Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” has 32,859 dislikes, and the Enrique Iglesias video for “Tonight” shows a paltry 3,499 dislikes. Taking into consideration the number of overall views, the dislikes racked up against Bieber and Black are still disproportional to the number of times they’ve been viewed. What causes viewers to dislike Bieber and Black’s videos so much?

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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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Posted by David Mayeda

Subculture: The Example of Bonnaroo

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.

Bonnaroo Logo

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.

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Lance Armstrong, PEDs, & “Controlling The Narrative”

Lance Armstrong finally came clean to Oprah this week about his use of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). Armstrong admitted to playing the media, manipulating those close to him, and every other trick in the book to “control the narrative” surround his image. In this piece Nathan Palmer discusses how Armstrong’s “controlling the narrative” is an example of the social construction of reality and asks us to think about how we socially construct PEDs.

Lance Armstrong

Last week was a huge one for ESPN and the entire sports journalism complex. Oprah Winfrey announced that Lance Armstrong, the famous cyclist and seven time Tour De France champion, would finally admit to using steroids and other performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). This was a complete 180 for Armstrong who had vigorously defended himself against such accusations in the past; going so far as to sue his former friends for saying he doped. As Armstrong said himself to Winfrey he was a Bully who was trying to “control the narrative” surrounding his success and it’s integrity. Built on top of his house of lies, Armstrong personally made millions, became a world renowned philanthropist raising millions for cancer research through his LiveStrong charity, and a mega celebrity.

So who is the real Lance Armstrong? Is he the hero many of you reading this thought he was when you were rocking that yellow LiveStrong bracelet? Is he the villain that the sports media is painting him out to be now? Just who is he?

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The Power Behind “Illegal Immigration”

How do we collectively decide what we call a social problem? How do we decide who is at fault or to blame for the problem? In this article Nathan Palmer uses conflict theory to discuss how those with social power often use it to define social problems as the fault of the least powerful in society.

Stop what you’re doing and think of the word most commonly used in the United States to describe when people from other countries come to the U.S. without the appropriate legal paper work. What do we tend to call that? I ask my students this question during the first week each semester and the answer they always give is, “illegal immigration”. Now you may be thinking, “yeah, so what. Big deal”, but stay with me. Why do we call it “illegal immigration”[1]?

Think of the industries that undocumented immigrants work in most often. Many undocumented immigrants work in low wage manual labor in agriculture, manufacturing, and in the service industry. So here’ s my question: do you think any of the products or services you’ve purchased were cheaper because the workers who produced it weren’t paid a fair wage or given proper benefits? How much higher would your grocery bill be if we paid the workers who produced the food that fills your cart a fair living wage? Probably a lot, right? So that means that you personally are the direct beneficiary of what is commonly called “illegal immigration”. You have more money in your pocket because of the undocumented workers in the United States. Or put more simply, consumers and corporations in the U.S. benefit from exploiting undocumented immigrant labor.

Conflict theory, one of the main theoretical camps of sociology, argues that those in power, use their power to ensure that they stay in power. To this end, conflict theorists argue, those in power use it to define social problems as the fault of the least powerful in society. With this in mind let’s go back to our original question: why do we often call it “illegal immigration”.

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Stratification on the Dance Floor: Prom Night in America

Prom may be a right of passage, but it is also a place where stratification is observed. In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explains how stratification related to race and sexual identity are reproduced on prom night.

Group Of Teenage Friends Dressed For Prom

Prom night is big business, but also holds important meaning to individual participants and American culture overall. This right of passage makes regular appearances in film. Consider the importance of prom in movies like Grease, CarrieAmerican Pie, and more recently, Prom.

In my own life, I devoted the night before taking my ACT, not to preparing or resting for the exam, but instead had a friend over who practiced styling my hair for the big night.

We can think of prom night as a fun, expensive evening in formal wear, but this is not the only way to think about prom. As sociologists we can see so much more going on; and most clearly we can see a lot of stratification.

By stratification, sociologists mean inequality. A strata is a group within a hierarchy of groups. Think of a ladder where the space between each set of rungs is a strata. The higher up you go the more privilege, opportunities, and resources you have at your disposal. So why don’t sociologists just call stratification inequality? Good question. The answer is, stratification describes how inequality is structured in a society.

In the book, Prom Night (2000) by sociologist Amy Best, she points out how racial divides are recreated at the dance through decisions made regarding the music played during the dance and in more extreme cases, holding racially segregated proms. More recently, Morgan Freeman paid for a Mississippi high school’s first racially integrated prom as documented in the film Prom Night in Mississippi (watch the movie’s trailer below), while other communities continue to hold racially segregated proms. Continue reading

Paris Hilton or Death: You Decide

Words matter. Or to put it more sociologically framing matters. The words, symbols, and ideas we use to describe something have a profound affect on how we come to view it. In this piece Nathan Palmer talks about what symbolic interactionists might think about the death tax, that is the Paris Hilton Tax, er… that is the estate tax.

Did you ever do something bad? Did your parents ever have to come to school for a meeting with your principal? I did something like that. Twice even. One time in 3rd grade another boy and I reenacted wrestling moves we saw Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior do and my teacher thought we were fighting. Another time, I was riding my skate board near the large glass double doors at the front of the school when I fell on my butt launching my skateboard into one of the floor to ceiling glass panes. If you couldn’t already tell, I was one bad ass kid. [1]

The difference between getting expelled and getting off the hook can be determined by which label gets used to describe you and your actions. Are you a “good kid who made a mistake” or are you a “menace to society that has to be stopped”? Sociologists use the term labels most often to refer language, symbols, and imagery we use to frame an individual’s behavior. But today I want to talk to you about labeling’s cousin discursive frames.

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Religion, Mourning Rituals, and Football

After tragedies like the mass shootings in Aurora, CO and at Sandy Hook elementary, you might think that a football stadium would be the last place you’d find a ritual to mourn the loss of life. However, it’s not uncommon at all. In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath illuminates how sports are like religion by considering mourning rituals, which are present in both.

A social institution is an abstract concept used by sociologists to describe how certain things get done in a society. Social institutions include education, economy, politics, medicine, religion, and more.

Social institutions persist over time and perform various functions in society. Consider education. It seems to simply exist whether I am personally involved in it or not. My life is intertwined quite extensively with  education. I spent many years as a student, now work as a college instructor, and will soon be the parent of a kindergartner. Education serves several functions: passing on skills and knowledge to the next generation, creating jobs, and providing childcare.

Now let’s turn to religion as a social institution, which many of you will also be familiar with. Continue reading

Girls Like Robots, But Hate Nerds

“Daddy brings home the bacon and mama fries it up in the pan,” this old and in so many ways outdated saying is actually a handy way to remember the sociologist Talcott Parsons complementary sex role theory. In this piece Nathan Palmer takes a look back at Parsons’s theories and shows us how a recent iPhone game called Girls Like Robots seems like it could have been designed by Parsons himself.

The world is a more stable place when women focus on taking care of children and maintaining the household. Wait! Wait! Don’t go! Before you write me an ALL CAPS email calling me a sexist, let me tell you that what I just said is actually the belief of one of the most prominent sociologists ever, Talcott Parsons. I personally disagree with Parsons, but it’s important that any student of sociology know about such a important historical figure in sociology. But before we talk about Parsons, let me tell you about Structural Functionalism.

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