277 posts categorized "Popular Culture and Consumption"

August 03, 2020

Empty Pedestals, Monumental Culture

Jonathan Wynn author photoBy Jonathan Wynn

A non-trivial aspect of the wave of protests over the last few months has been focused on public monuments.

The Theodore Roosevelt statue at the National History Museum will be replaced because of its representation of racism and colonialism. Controversial former Philadelphia mayor Frank Rizzo’s statue has been removed. Statues of Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and other confederates are being removed on Richmond’s Monument Ave. Christopher Columbus statues are also being brought down in several states. This movement didn’t start weeks ago, however. The University of Texas Austin campus removed its statues of Jefferson Davis and Woodrow Wilson in 2016.

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July 06, 2020

YouTube, Upward Mobility, and Inequality

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

These days, much of my “television” watching is on YouTube. I’m not unique—according to Google’s CEO (Google’s parent company owns YouTube), about 2 billion logged-in users use the site each month. As of 2018, there were an estimated 23 million channels. All this got me thinking about how news of YouTube fortunes may make many of us think that our financial future is online, especially during tough economic times.

The channels I watch most feature what seem to be ordinary people who have somehow found a way to monetize their skills: a fitness channel I use to work out has more than 6 million subscribers; two channels I am using to learn German have over a half million subscribers each, and one of the creators had been traveling the world and made her videos from wherever she happened to be at the time. I watch a lot of travel videos as well, including some by people who had been able to travel full time, thanks to YouTube success and sponsorship deals.

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June 22, 2020

Putting the “Diplo” in Diplomacy: Music as Soft Power

Jonathan Wynn author photoBy Jonathan Wynn

This summer, I’ve been obsessing over Wind of Change—a podcast about the CIA’s possible involvement in the titular 1990s global mega hit by the German rock band, The Scorpions. The story unravels the sometimes-shadowy threads between music and foreign policy, and gets us to think about how culture is used.

I absolutely remember ”Wind of Change,” but didn’t think it was as big a hit as ”Rock You Like A Hurricane,” a song U.S. readers might recognize from a commercial. But “Wind of Change” was a theme song for the revolutions behind the Iron Curtain, culminating in the end of the cold war, and I was shocked to learn that it is the fifteenth most purchased song in history, outranking any Beatles song. The podcast is a fantastic journey into how the U.S. government has secretly used American music, from jazz to hard rock, to further its own interests overseas.

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June 03, 2020

A Sociological Celebration of Baseball

Todd SchoepflinBy Todd Schoepflin

I love baseball. It’s always been in my life. In childhood it was playing Little League baseball, watching Major League Baseball games, and playing the All Star Baseball board game. As I got older it became attending minor league and major league games. Now, as a parent, it’s playing catch with my kids and watching one of them play on a team. While my 12-year-old is drawn to soccer, my 9-year-old has a passion for baseball. In any other spring, he’d be busy with baseball practice and starting a season of games. But in this spring and summer, we don’t know if he’ll get to play baseball, as COVID-19 has interrupted life as we know it. We’re still playing catch at home, and his brother tosses wiffle balls to him in the backyard, but there’s no way to replicate playing the game.

As I reflect on our pause from baseball, I’m sad for all that he’s missing. First and foremost, I think of time missed with his teammates. If we remember not to take youth sports too seriously, we appreciate it as a form of play. If we don’t get caught up in wins and losses, we see value in the simple act of kids playing together. They socialize. They laugh. They fool around. They run around and burn energy. They get dirty. They have fun.

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February 03, 2020

What’s in a Name?

Jonathan Wynn (1)By Jonathan Wynn

I’ve thought a lot about names since reading a chapter in Freakonomics called “A Roshanda by any other name,” over a decade ago. (Here’s an update in podcast form.) Perhaps some of you have had the paralyzing struggle of having to name a child (or being a parent) while also trying to think about sociology. It’s tough. Sociologist Dalton Conley, somewhat famously, named his daughter E and his son Yo Xing Heyno Augustus Eisner Alexander Weiser Knuckles Jeremijenko-Conley.

Names can say a lot. What were the reasons behind your name? Was your name popular? Is your name one you share with other family members? Do your professors do a terrible job pronouncing it? As Karen Sternheimer notes, it’s important to know someone’s name in class. But let’s lend some sociological insight onto the topic.

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January 26, 2020

Lizzo and Sociocultural Constructions of the Body

author photoBy Angelique Harris

Anyone listening to the radio or pop or hip-hop streaming stations lately certainly were aware that 2019 was the summer of rapper, singer, songwriter, and flutist, Lizzo. Born Melissa Vivianne Jefferson in the late 1980s, Lizzo had been writing and producing music for several years before her music began topping the charts over the past year.

One of the key aspects of Lizzo’s work is the focus on acceptance and diversity. Her songs promote confidence (“Truth Hurts”) while celebrating race (“My Skin”) and diverse bodies (“Tempo”). For many, her frank and open discussion of her body, sexuality, and her overall musical abilities has led her to have an immense following. Her fans, dubbed “Lizzbians” include former Malcom in the Middle actor, Frankie Muniz, who tweeted a request to Lizzo, asking her to make him her “purse.”

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January 13, 2020

The Social Life of Physical Fitness

author photoBy Jonathan Wynn

I’m not what you would call a health nut. I only started going to the gym after I threw out my back. To be honest, I mostly hate it. I need to have Netflix on my phone (which is why a disproportionate number of my posts are about Netflix shows), have a few other televisions on ESPN, CNN, and HGTV above the mirrors, and a room full of people to watch. It’s then, and only then, that I can press the awareness of physical exercise out of my mind and run a few miles. Blah.

But it seems like most folks really like that kind of thing. If you think of health is a big deal right now, you’d be right. According to Forbes, the fitness industry is a $30 billion business—growing at an annual rate of 3-4% since 2010. If hashtags are a more meaningful metric for you, how about this: the Harvard Business Review, asking “How Did Self Care Become So Much Work?” noted that the hashtag #selfcare exploded on Instagram between mid-2018 to mid-2019, from 5 to 17 million posts.

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December 30, 2019

Afrofuturism Can Save us All

Myron strongBy Myron Strong

“The world of ‘what is’ can be supplanted by the world of what never was or what could be.”

I spoke these words to an audience of college students during a presentation on pop culture and Afrofuturism this past spring. As I explained Afrofuturism, I shared the story about the many times I stargazed as a kid, but how this one time in particular that my mom and I actually saw a UFO. My memory of the experience isn’t as clear now, but I do know that it triggered my imagination.

Immediately after my presentation, students came up to me and I began to further connect the ideas between black people and science fiction and sociology. That experience left me thinking about ways to integrate Afrofuturism into my classes as a way to both reach students and to complicate the many long held canonical teaching beliefs.

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December 23, 2019

Fear and Fire

author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

Twice in a period of eight days, people in my zip code were affected by brush fires. While I have been fortunate and haven’t had to evacuate, I live in a community surrounded by a state park and therefore by lots of trees, so fire is always a threat here.

Needless to say, seeing plumes of smoke and having helicopters swirl overhead is a scary experience. Fire reminds us that we are not completely in control of our environment, or our lives, for that matter.

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December 16, 2019

Thinking Like a Sociologist: Is Minimalism a Social Movement?

author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

Minimalism” seems to be everywhere, with advice on decluttering, living in tiny houses, or the promise of early retirement through frugal living seemingly endless online. Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up was first published in 2014 and has sold more than 10 million copies worldwide, making the Japanese consultant a one-woman industry with her own Netflix series.

I confess that I have never read Kondo’s book, but am still drawn to the idea of simplifying and decluttering (but not living in a tiny house, although the HGTV series can be fun to watch). I spend less time online or watching television; I try to minimize mental clutter as much as physical clutter. I like going through my closet and donating little-used items, which also reminds me that I can do with less. I rarely go shopping. When I do, I try to be very conscientious about whether this is something I need. I prefer not to exchange gifts during the holiday season, especially because receiving stuff I don’t want or need from family and friends is awkward. My spouse and I decided a few years ago not to mark special occasions with gifts but rather with fun experiences like travel; when we travel I challenge myself to travel light.

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