Sociology Focus

Coming Soon Transformers 16: Rise of The Unending Sequels

The Hangover Part 2

Been to a movie recently? Did you see the Hangover part 2, Paranormal Activity 3, Pirates of the Caribbean 4, X-men 5 (subtly retitled “First Class”), Planet of the Apes 7, or maybe you saw Harry Potter 8. In all, there are set to be 27 sequels this year and 14 of those are the 4th, 5th, 7th, or 8ths in their franchise. An alien looking down on the United States would think we hate original movies, but a sociologist would say that this is the McDonaldization of Society at work.

Sociologist George Ritzer suggests that the principles of McDonalds (i.e. efficiency, predictability, uniformity, and control) have become the principles behind how we run society as a whole.[1] He is not arguing that McDonald’s food is affecting society. He is arguing that society is becoming like a McDonalds. The flood of movie sequels is a prime example of the McDonaldization principle of predictability.

Stop for a minute and think about what a McDonald’s hamburger bun tastes like. Can you think of it? You probably can because all of McDonald’s food tastes almost exactly the same anywhere you eat it. Doesn’t that strike you as odd? I want you to go home and make a burger and fries for five nights in a row and tell me if they taste identical. Now imagine you had to make burgers and fries at the millions of McDonald’s located all across the country, could you make them taste identical? Continue reading

Your Presence is Requested at Our Divorce Party

Are divorce parties just another excuse to throw a party? A Hallmark created celebration? Or just another example of celebrity excess? Stephanie Medley-Rath explains how a divorce party may be an opportunity for a couple to transition into their future roles as ex-husband and ex-wife.

The arrival of a wedding invitation may be exciting, but not out of the ordinary. The arrival of a divorce party invitation, well, that’s another story.

This summer—during the height of wedding season—Jack White, of the rock band the White Stripes, and his model-wife Karen Elson invited close friends and family to a party to celebrate both their 6th wedding anniversary and upcoming divorce.

Don’t believe me? Check out the invitation here.

Why on earth would a couple choose to celebrate both their wedding anniversary and divorce at the same party? While it may be difficult to wrap our head around celebrating these two events at the same party, let’s focus on the divorce part of the event.

It would be very easy brush off a divorce party as just the kind of thing that celebrities do, but there are divorce party planners and divorce party suppliers. Even Hallmark offers cards recognizing the newly divorced. We may never know which came first—the business supporting divorce parties or divorce parties themselves, so let’s get back to my main focus:

Why would anyone want to celebrate their divorce—especially together?

Divorce like marriage denotes a change in a person’s achieved status. Status refers to the honor or prestige attached to a position in society and can be achieved or ascribed. An achieved status is just what it sounds like: something one achieves, like graduating from high school. An ascribed status is something we are born with, such as race or something that occurs naturally, such as aging.

Marriage transforms statuses, men into husbands and women into wives, which is something that is seen as an achievement and to be celebrated. American women are still likely to take on the Mrs. title and change their last name denoting their new status and roles as wives. In other words, marriage is seen as transformative and something to be celebrated.

Divorce, however, turns men into ex-husbands and women into ex-wives. This change in status could be seen by the individual as achieved (if they wanted the divorce) or ascribed (if they did not want the divorce). Divorce could even be something in-between because a person may wish to remain married, but not under the current circumstances. Even if individuals in the former couple want to celebrate their divorce, to do so together is somewhat perplexing. Or is it?

In the case of Karen Elson and Jack White, it appears that they intend to remain close and continue raising their children together. Elson and White are doing divorce differently, but perhaps in the future more couples will see divorce as something to celebrate together as well. Perhaps they view a happy divorce as a way to continue a happy parenting relationship even if their marital relationship has ended.

Another issue in a divorce is what sociologists call role exit.  If statuses are the titles we hold, then roles are the behaviors expected of a person with a given status.  So as a husband Jack White may have been expected to be monogamous, a romantic partner, and confidant.1  Now that they are divorced there is work that each will have to do to inform everyone of their new status and communicate to the world that they will be behaving differently.  When we leave a status behind, the work we have to do to change society’s view of us is a key part of role exit.

What does this mean for us non-celebrity types? It’s possible that divorce parties are a result of changes in marital patterns. Couples today are getting married for the first time at an older age than in the past, they are more likely to cohabitate prior to marriage (or instead of marriage0, and con tray to popular belief, they are less likely to get divorced.

Perhaps divorcing couples (especially those with children), are attempting to have a “good” divorce to limit the negative consequences divorces can cause to children. How divorce happens, impacts children differently. A divorce that is rather peaceful is going to harm children less (if at all) than a divorce that pits parent against parent. High parental conflict—married or not—is not good for children. Having a divorce party, especially when children are involved, reaffirms the couple’s commitment to the children while ending their commitment to each other. In this way, the divorce may be reframed as positive event and helps solidify the goals of the divorcing couple for the family overall.

Of course, a cynic might consider divorce parties just a result of good marketing. Perhaps no one ever considered a divorce party until they learned of businesses catering to celebrating divorce. So it really could just be Hallmark’s fault.

Now the most important question of all: Do I get the wedding gift I gave a divorcing couple back at their divorce party?

Dig Deeper:

  1. Why might divorcing couples decide to have a party to celebrate their divorce?
  2. What are the implications of divorce parties on society? To families?
  3. How has divorce impacted your life? Do you think a divorce party would have made things better, worse, or the same? Explain.
  4. There are plenty of negative examples of divorce in popular culture. Can you find any positive portrayals of divorce in popular culture? How does it differ from negative portrayals?

A Good Man is Hard to Find.

A good man is hard to find, as Alexa Megna finds out in this piece.  In recruitment for her thesis about heterosexual men in LGBTQ activism programs, Alexa struggles to understand reactions and reasons why heterosexual men in these programs are so hard to find. 

I’m desperately seeking allies. I’m on the verge of sitting outside the mall with a cardboard sign that reads, “Sociologist seeks heterosexual males who support the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) community.” I am just looking for straight dudes who support sexual equlity for everyone.

Being in my last year of my Master’s program I get the privilege (or horror) to conduct my own research and write a thesis. I decided I would conduct a qualitative study on heterosexual men who participate in LGBTQ activism programs, like Parents, Friends, and Family of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), Gay-Straight Alliances (GSA’s) and other pro-LGBTQ programs.  Interesting, right? Sounds simple, no? Continue reading

Posted by Alexa Megna

Social Movements and State Violence

From the Arab Spring to the international “Occupy Movement,” we have recently witnessed how state govenments clash with disgruntled citizens who are fed up with their lack of life chances for upward social mobility. In this post, David Mayeda examines how Max Weber’s theoretical positions on authority, power, and violence apply to the recent disturbances in and around London, England, and Davis, California.

Have you ever felt unfairly treated by a parent, boss, coach, or another authority figure? After being mistreated, did you feel like that authority figure shouldn’t be granted so much power over you? No doubt this is a situation most, if not all of us, have probably experienced a number of times in our lives. We can expand this social dynamic beyond the interpersonal level to understand broader social movements.

Max Weber, a founding figure in sociology, argued that authority is the use of power that is perceived as legitimate by the rest of society. Weber said that authority could be divided into three types: traditional, charismatic, and legal-rational. Previously my colleague discussed charismatic authority, but in this post I will focus on legal-rational authority, where authority is formally institutionalized.

This may occur in workplaces (a superior has authority over a subordinate), on sports teams (a coach has authority over athletes), in state governments (a politician can vote on laws impacting citizens), and in state roles (a police officer has authority over the average citizen). Legal-rational authority is accepted by the greater society (or at least the majority of it) because it has been formally built into the society’s political system.

On Friday police on the campus of University of California Davis were video taped using pepper spray at point blank range on protestors who were sitting on the ground. (see video, below):

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Posted by David Mayeda

Girls Direct to You! FREE Dipping Sauce!

When women are advertised, ordered, and delivered, they sound a lot like pizza, don’t they? It isn’t that far of a stretch to compare women to pizza when we understand that sexually objectifying women transforms them into things that exist to satisfy consumers  (i.e., heterosexual men).  In this post, Sarah Nell compares the advertising strategies of escort services in Las Vegas to ads and coupons for pizza, to illustrate the process and consequences of the sexual objectification of women.

Several ad-flyers for prostitutes hang on a metal fence

Photo by Kylie Parrotta

Wait. What? What are you selling here, girls or pizza? In Vegas, it’s hard to tell the difference at first.  “Girls for sale” (or rent, I suppose) are advertised, ordered, and delivered just like pizza. I was bombarded by people – mostly men – on the street who aggressively passed out flyers telling me I could “get a girl direct to my room within 20 minutes.” What?! A pizza usually takes 30-45 minutes! Continue reading

We Schedule Weddings around Deer Season

Deer hunters are an often misunderstood and even vilified subculture. This reaction provides an illustration of culture shock. When we come across a new culture we can either judge it with our own beliefs and values (Sociologists call this ethnocentrism) or we can understand a new culture using the beliefs and values of the culture we are observing (we call this cultural relativism. In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explores the subculture of deer hunting from a cultural relativist perspective.

The author, age 15, with an 8-point buck.

In my neck of the woods, deer season (aka shotgun season) is fast approaching. Around here, people schedule weddings around deer season. In other parts of the country, people schedule weddings around college football. Deer hunters make up a subculture that is typically vilified and often misunderstood by outsiders. This reaction provides an illustration of culture shock.

Culture shock refers to the reaction we tend to experience when encountering a culture different from our own. All of us have a tendency to judge foreign cultures based on our own understanding of the world. Sociologists call this ethnocentrism because we are judging other cultures with our own values as though they were superior or morally right. However, we could look at new cultures and judge them based on their own values and moral structures. This would allow us to see other cultures as they see themselves; a process sociologists call cultural relativism. After all, who are we to judge?

In my home town, deer hunting is considered important enough that students can get excused absences to go hunt. When I was in high school, I actually skipped school to deer hunt. Ok, I only officially skipped school once and it was because I didn’t realize that if I had obtained approval by a certain date, deer hunting would be an excused absence. The next year, I had a preapproved excused absence.

But why skip school to hunt in the first place? What do people get out of deer hunting? I mean, I don’t have to hunt in order to eat, so why bother hunting? Let’s explore this subculture in more detail and find out how deer hunting is intertwined with social bonding, competition, and food. Continue reading

Is Your Professor a Hypocrite? Gender Inequality in Occupations

Even in 2011, 50 years after the second wave of the feminist movement, there exist dramatic gender inequalities in the workplace. At this point, women and men participate roughly equally in paid labor, but the types of work men and women do are dramatically different. In this piece Sarah Michele Ford explores gender inequality in the workforce and asks are sociologists any better?

The feminists have won! 50 years after the second wave of the feminist movement, women make up just under 50% of the workforce!

Wait… does this necessarily mean that we have reached a point of equality in employment? Sadly, the answer is no. Across the board, men who are employed full time earn 17.6% more than women who are doing comparable work (Bureau of Labor Statistics); these differences are even more pronounced when we start taking into account differences across racial/ethnic lines.


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Our Town Lacks Racial Diversity “Because there are No Jobs”

Have you ever heard of a sundown town? Have you ever wondered about the racial diversity in your hometown? In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explains how her hometown lacked racial diversity by design, not chance.

When I was growing up, I had been told that there used to be sign on the edge of town that essentially told African Americans they were unwelcome after sundown. It made sense to me because there were no Black people living in my town of 6,000. There was very little racial diversity. But I still didn’t have any confirmation that my home town really had such a sign or was what is called a sundown town.

Then I found the book, Sundown Towns. I was browsing the book store at the American Sociological Association’s Annual Meetings in Montreal and saw the cover. I picked it up and reviewed the table of contents. And then I opened the index. There was not one but several pages where my hometown was mentioned. Here was confirmation that the the sign more than likely existed. I bought the book and came back during the scheduled time the author, James Loewen was to be at the booth. He signed my book and I told him where I was from. We talked for a few minutes and then I moved on and read the book in my spare time over the next year. Continue reading

Juiceheads, Meatballs, and Grenades. OH MY!

Tight Clothes, Tanned Skin, and Big Muscles. Millions of hours a week are getting lost to Jersey Shore. In this post, Bridget Welch explores how Jersey Shore can help us understand sociology and makes a plea that us viewing this show is as far as we go.

Two hours of my life I will never get back. I offered them up to the teaching gods in order to better communicate the concepts of culture and subcultures to my students. Yet, as much as I hold sacred the education of my students, nothing was worth what I endured for those two hours. I wanted to claw open my head and scrub the memory of the experience off of my brain. And my eyes… oh, my poor eyes. I found myself momentarily madly jealous of the blind that would never have to witness the utter insanity of …

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