234 posts categorized "Popular Culture and Consumption"

July 03, 2017

Sociological Superheroes

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman (illustrations by Terence Moronta)

The world needs some sociological superheroes. Don’t get me wrong. I have great appreciation and admiration for Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman, Spiderman, The Flash, The Hulk, and the rest of our favorite crime-fighting idols. With their awesome strength and special powers these comic book creations help keep our world safe from evil villains and wrongdoers.

But the problem with these traditional superheroes is that that they are only equipped to deal with problems after they occur. They always enter a scene to stop some wicked scoundrel from carrying out a nefarious plan. When they become aware of danger or sense that someone is up to no good, they quickly appear to thwart the dastardly plot and save the day.

What we really need are superheroes that have the power to stop evildoers from concocting these plans in the first place. Instead of tirelessly running around the globe trying to extinguish or contain so many fires, wouldn’t it be great if we had superheroes who had the power to prevent these villains from setting fires in the first place?

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June 05, 2017

The Brumble

WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

As a professor at a large northeastern university, I spend a fair amount of time listening to students talk. Particularly before class, as I do some last minute shuffling of my notes or plugging in my PowerPoint, I’ll overhear conversations. There’s a common—but assuredly not universal—male speech pattern I’ve noticed. It’s a kind of low, back-of-the-throat mumble I started to call a brumble (i.e., bro + mumble).

Two years ago, there was quite the uptick in interest on how some women speak with a kind of rasp or “creaky voice”—an example is Zooey Deschanel’s character on New Girl--and the term “vocal fry” became quite popular. This corresponded with other supposed concerns over how women speak, like using “uptalk” or, more technically, “high rising terminal” (i.e., ending every sentence with a high note, implying a question) and, like, dropping “like” in a sentence. The idea of vocal fry becoming problematized as a characteristic of young women’s speech was seen as pervasive enough that even feminists like Naomi Wolf spoke out to say that women should drop vocal fry and “reclaim their strong female voices.”

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May 22, 2017

A Decade of Everyday Sociology

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Our Everyday Sociology blog turns ten this month! In this time, we have posted over 900 blog posts, received more than 8,000 comments, and have had nearly 6 million visitors.

It’s a good point to take a moment to reflect on this project: how have we succeeded in starting a sociological conversation, and what still needs to be accomplished?

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May 01, 2017

Habermas is on Twitter

WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

Have you ever argued with a stranger on Twitter? I recently published a Washington Post op-ed based on my research of the corporate consolidation of music festivals, and was drawn into a Twitter argument with an employee of the second largest corporate entertainment conglomerate in the world. (We ended up agreeing!)

The conversation made me reconsider how technology shapes and informs our discourse. A sociologist who is rarely taught in undergraduate courses, Jürgen Habermas, can help us understand this. (His theories are complex, and his books are not really geared toward American students’ tastes.)

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April 03, 2017

Get Out and Du Bois: Sociology at the Cinema

WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

If you haven’t had a chance to see Jordan Peele’s thinky-horror blockbuster, Get Out, you should. It’s the story of a young black photographer named Chris and his new girlfriend, Rose. Things start getting really uncomfortable when they visit her white, suburban liberal family. And then things get really crazy.

Get Out pays homage to many of the usual tropes of the horror genre that kept me on the edge of my seat, but it’s the biting social commentary that kept my sociological imagination on high alert. It is a fun film, but it’s also an unflinching allegory for race in America that doesn’t let the white liberals in the audience off easily. You should not read any further until you see it, so go ahead. I’ll wait…

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March 06, 2017

The Uses of Outrage

WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

There is a hard-right provocateur who has made a name for himself as being willing to say just about anything to get attention, whom I’ll refer to by his initials: M.Y.. He does his best to poke and jab at convention, offend and even hurt those he disagrees with, all while claiming that what he says is protected as free speech. He attacks the left with particular relish, since being shut down by them reveals a certain hypocrisy, in his mind: the left and universities are supposed to be bastions of free speech, yet, M.Y.’s speech at University of California, Berkeley sparked a riot and his talk was canceled over the ensuing brouhaha. (Here’s a riveting account of the event from a journalist who was traveling with this person and his entourage.)

How can we explain outrage in a sociological way?

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January 16, 2017

Sociology, Science, and Fake News

WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

Little gets me more riled up than the proliferation of fake news in an age where we can get quality information with ease. It just gets my goat.

My nearly perfect mother-in-law forwarded an email to me recently. Just looking at it caused trepidation. It was forwarded multiple times as evidenced by the four vertical lines along the left side of the email. The big font text was bright blue and red with a lot of CAPITAL AND BOLDED AND UNDERLINED LETTERS. These are markers for concern. It cites the reputable Mayo Clinic, and a Dr. Virend Somers. It starts with a provocative title “MAYO CLINIC - DRINKING WATER.” Then it follows: “A cardiologist determined that heart attacks can be triggered by dehydration. Good Thing To Know. From The Mayo Clinic. How many folks do you know…” It ends with a plea: “Do forward this message. It may save lives! "Life is a one time gift" (Let's forward and hope this will help save some!!!)”

A quick Google search took me to the Mayo Clinic’s website which, unsurprisingly to me, issued a statement discounting the circulated email, noting that it was “inaccurate and potentially harmful.”

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January 09, 2017

Sociology and the Culture of Sex on Campus

Thumbnail_Press - Lisa Wade (c) Babs Evangelista_300dpiBy Lisa Wade

Associate Professor of Sociology, Occidental College

When new students move into their residence halls to start their first year of college, they become a part of an institution. In many ways, it is a “total institution” in the tradition of the sociologist Erving Goffman: an organization that collects large numbers of like individuals, cuts them off from the wider society, and provides for all their needs. Prisons, mental hospitals, army barracks, and nursing homes are total institutions. So are cruise ships, cults, convents, and summer camps. Behemoths of order, they swallow up their constituents and structure their lives.

Many colleges are total institutions, too. Being a part of the institution means that students’ educational options are dictated, of course, but colleges also have a substantial amount of control over when students eat, where they sleep, how they exercise, with whom they socialize and, pertinent to our topic today, whether and under what conditions they have sex.

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November 23, 2016

Meaning Drift: The Season of “Giving”

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Sociology teaches us to think critically about how we ascribe meaning to all aspects of social life, particularly how reality is socially constructed. The holiday season is a great example of how we ascribe meaning to events, and how our actions reinforce and reproduce these meanings.

Take the idea that the end of the year is a season of giving. In reality, this has come to mean a season of shopping and consumption. True, much of what we buy is presumably to give to others, but whether we give away what we buy is secondary to the act of buying itself. (Are you really going to buy that special someone on your list a new refrigerator or washing machine? Probably not, but all sorts of goods are marketed as holiday specials.) Retailers begin holiday-themed advertising in late October, hoping to create excitement for year-end shopping, which has become tied into the meaning of the holiday season.

The practice tells us more about our current economic and social context, where consumer spending accounts for a large proportion of economic growth, than it does about a shared past. Retailers look to “Black Friday” spending as important economic indicators, which the public regularly hears about as a barometer on our national economic health.

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September 02, 2016

Colin Kaepernick and our Collective Ignorance of Social and Political Activism

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

When San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick decided not to stand for the national anthem, he joined a relatively small group of professional athletes who have used their stature to bring attention to a pressing social issue. Employing language that was reminiscent of Muhammad Ali’s protest against the Vietnam War, Kaepernick explained that he was “not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”

Kaepernick went on to explain that his protest was in response to the persistent racism and brutality that black people experience—whether it be from the police or from the inactions of the government:

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