292 posts categorized "Popular Culture and Consumption"

January 30, 2023

Ideology and the Prince

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

While I haven’t read it yet, Prince Harry’s book Spare has been receiving a lot of coverage. (A search of the terms “Spare Prince Harry” yields 135 million hits.) The coverage of this book teaches us a lot about the concept of ideology, or ways of seeing that appear normal and natural. How people view this tell-all book reflect differing ideological perspectives, shaped by social context.

I watched Anderson Cooper’s interview of the prince on 60 Minutes, as well as Stephen Colbert’s Late Show interview, both offering sympathetic coverage that focused on the trauma of losing his mother when he was twelve. Both interviewers have shared their own struggles with grief after losing their fathers as children, so perhaps this focus was not a surprise.

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December 19, 2022

Restrooms in Cultural Context

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

Several years ago, I visited the Mauna Kea Observatory on the Big Island of Hawai’i. I was surprised and amused by a sign I saw in the visitor’s bathroom, instructing users how to, um, use the facilities. I had previously taken this action as self-evident once one was old enough to regulate one’s bathroom activities. But this turned into one of many important lessons that travel can offer:  It helps us learn about cultural practices that we might take for granted.

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November 21, 2022

Branding Racism

Jenny Enos author photoBy Jenny Enos

In Sociology, we often talk about how race is a social construct. Rather than being a fixed system of classification rooted in biological difference, racial difference is (and has always been) created through social interactions, policy, and cultural meaning-making. Who is included in specific racial categories is fluid and context-dependent, constantly shifting over time. Medical and biological scientists are increasingly beginning to agree with this sociological understanding of race.  For something allegedly rooted so firmly in genetics, there is surprisingly little evidence to suggest that race is a good measure for genetic heterogeneity.

When we contend that race is a social construct, we can start noticing the ways in which race and racial difference are constantly being negotiated, (re)defined, and solidified by social processes and institutions. How corporations brand and advertise their products is a particularly interesting way in which meaning-making happens around racial difference. As they market their products to consumers through advertising, corporations attach social meanings to their products. For example, a shoe brand doesn’t sell shoes just because people need shoes; rather, the brand sells shoes because they convince consumers that there is a desirable lifestyle associated with the shoes (e.g., a life of being active, free, “cool”, or rebellious). In this sense, brands both reflect our cultural marketplace and influence what we think is desirable and how we create meaning.

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November 14, 2022

Monetizing the Natural World

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

I had the privilege of taking a vacation to the French and Swiss Alps this past summer. It was a trip I had wanted to take for several years, and even with all the anticipation, the experience lived up to my expectations. The natural beauty, delicious food, and the chance to be a temporary local in a new location are all things I relish.

Being a sociologist, I bring my sociological imagination with me wherever I go, whether it is on an airplane, where I'm staying, or even just planning a vacation. I find having a sociological imagination enhances rather than interferes with my experiences. One of my observations on this trip was how the natural world is monetized and commodified, a process I participated in and though I experienced it through critical lenses, I still enjoyed.

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August 01, 2022

Sociological Songs

Todd SchoepflinBy Todd Schoepflin

When I listen to music, I always have an ear out for sociological themes in songs. I also like to reference song lyrics and show music videos in class to highlight sociological ideas. What are your favorite sociological songs? Here are some of mine.

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June 20, 2022

What Can Comedy Teach us about Sociology?

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

While preparing for take-off on a recent flight, a man in the row in front of me made a “joke” to his teenaged kids. After an announcement to take your seat and fasten your seatbelts, he said rather loudly, “Yeah, like seatbelts are really going to make a difference in a plane crash!”

He eagerly looked for a positive reaction to his comment. His kids didn’t appear to laugh, and those of us in the surrounding rows seemed to share a moment of nervous discomfort. Isn’t it an unwritten rule that you don’t mention plane crashes—even in jest—on an airplane?

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January 24, 2022

Me and My 70,000 Friends: Tailgating and Togetherness

Todd SchoepflinBy Todd Schoepflin

I’ve always enjoyed going to Buffalo Bills games. I like watching football live and being part of a crowd. I’ve written before about the tailgate scene which adds fun and unpredictability. I’ve attended three games this year and have been reflecting on why I’ve been enjoying these games in person more than usual.

In one sense, I think it’s a simple matter of escapism. If watching sports normally feels like a break from the regular routine of life, I would say that watching a football game in a stressful and ongoing pandemic definitely feels like an escape for me. It’s a full day of not thinking and worrying about pandemic ills.

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December 22, 2021

Rituals, Rites, and Habits

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

What distinguishes a ritual from a habit? This is a question that I return to at the end of each calendar year as many seasonal traditions play out privately and publicly. How is a ritual more than just a shared habit?

If a habit is an individual behavior that results in some sort of reward, a ritual is a shared pattern of behaviors; we might think of habits as residing within the realm of psychology and rituals within sociology. Both habits and rituals can be meaningful to those who perform them and bring a range of rewards, or they might be automatic and something we don’t give much thought to either way.

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September 06, 2021

Eating in Everyday Life

Todd SchoepflinBy Todd Schoepflin

My 13-year-old has suddenly stopped eating meat. This came as a surprise to my wife and me, considering his voracious appetite and penchant for eating a variety of meats. It wasn’t long ago he was eager to participate in the chicken sandwich wars, comparing offerings from popular fast-food establishments. We live in Buffalo, which I consider a meat-centric place. After all, this is home of the chicken wing, and lesser-known meat treats that Western New Yorkers are proud to be associated with, like beef on weck sandwiches. Many a fund raiser in our region rely on chicken dinners sold in the parking lots of churches, schools, and fire halls.

My wife and I both come from meat and potato families. In my childhood, dinner was usually comprised of meat, a starch, and a vegetable. I remember eating pork chops, chicken, beef tacos, steak, and subs with cold cuts. My mom’s family is Italian. Our family Sunday dinners were pasta with meatballs and sausage. My kids have grown up eating breaded chicken cutlets that my dad makes, and my mom’s meatballs. Growing up Catholic, meat was only something to avoid only on Ash Wednesday and Fridays during Lent. What family traditions have shaped the way you eat? What religious customs can you think of that influence how people eat?

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August 30, 2021

“The Right Look”: Emotional and Aesthetic Labor in Ballet

Jenny Enos author photoBy Jenny Enos

It is no secret that jobs are not what they used to be. While Karl Marx’s disturbing depiction of alienated and lifeless factory workers in the mid nineteenth century may still ring true to some, our working conditions have arguably only gotten worse. The so-called “gig economy,” in which steady jobs are replaced with task-based independent contract work, has taken a strong hold in our society. Corporations like Uber, Lyft, and Instacart are making immense profits by hiring only independent contract workers (rather than employees), who are ineligible for benefits and exempt from minimum wage requirements – no matter how many hours these independent contractors actually work. Their argument, of course, is that limiting independent contract work would decrease flexibility and jeopardize the quirks of modernity we all hold near and dear – like ride sharing or food delivery .  

As our economy has expanded and morphed, so has scholars’ understanding of what “labor” actually means. In 1983, Arlie Hochschild famously published The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling in which she details the advent of “emotional labor” in the growing service economy. According to Hochschild, emotional labor is the work we do (usually daily, on the job) to “induce or suppress feeling in order to sustain the outward countenance that produces the proper state of mind in others” (20).

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