262 posts categorized "Popular Culture and Consumption"

February 13, 2019

Nipplegate 2.0: Privilege and the Construction of the Body

author photoBy Angelique Harris

I can’t believe that I am discussing nipples, privilege, and the Super Bowl Halftime Show for the second year in a row, but here we are. While performing during the Halftime Show for Super Bowl LIII, Adam Levine, lead singer of Maroon 5 took off his top, exposing his bare-chest, and not one, but both of his nipples. Remembering Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” in 2004 during the Super Bowl XXXVIII’s halftime show, there was a quick and immediate backlash to the obvious double standard that allowed Levine to expose his nipples, while penalizing Jackson when it was Justin Timberlake, her guest performer, who ripped off part of her costume exposing her breast.

This begs the question, why was Levin able to expose his nipples while Jackson was not? Although a relatively simple question, the response is pretty complicated and is rooted in the ways in which we as a society construct the body and the privileges associated with these constructions. However, it’s important to note that this wasn’t just any Super Bowl halftime show, before Maroon 5 even took stage, their performance was steeped in controversy.

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January 21, 2019

Online Media Dystopia

Colby (1)By Colby King

Concerned about online misinformation and fake news, I made a few revisions to the syllabi for my Introduction to Sociology courses before the start of the semester this past fall. I created an information literacy assignment based on the ongoing debate about the “marshmallow test.” But, I also made space to discuss Zeynep Tufekci’s research, particularly her analyses of how digital platforms and their algorithms shape how we collect information, share ideas, and interact with each other. Many students responded enthusiastically to these topics. And, while most were not surprised by the various concerning issues that Tufekci raises about digital platforms, many did report that understanding her research was causing them to reconsider the ways in which they engage online.

Zeynep Tufekci is an Associate Professor at the University of North Carolina in the School of Information and Library Science with an affiliate position in UNC’s Department of Sociology. Her book Twitter and Tear Gas, provides a vivid analysis of the ways in which social media supported social movements including the Arab Spring and the Occupy Movement, while also describing the challenges created by these same platforms.

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November 19, 2018

Taking Sociology to the Circus

Colby (1)By Colby King

Did you know that before any U.S. city had a system of electric street lighting, Americans could see electric lighting at the circus? In 1878, James Bailey lit his circus with electricity, and as a result a large proportion of American saw electricity for the first time at the circus. Bailey even sold tickets for tours of the generator.

I learned this and a lot more from the recently aired documentary The Circus, from American Experience and PBS. The documentary illustrates the vibrant and problematic history of the circus, and underscored how the traveling circuses of the late 1800s and early 1900s were a quintessential part of U.S. society.

As someone who studies urban sociology, I was struck by the ways in which the circus functioned as a sort of traveling city. The film quotes one attendee describing the circus as:

a city that folds itself up like an umbrella. Quietly and swiftly every night it… [picks] up in its magician’s arms theatre, hotel, schoolroom, barracks, home, whisking them all miles away, and setting them down before sunrise in a new place.

Just as cities of the industrial era brought new patterns of social life, the circus brought culture and diversity, opportunities, and exploitation to the places it visited.

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October 15, 2018

The Behavior of Buffalo Bills Fans: A Mini-Ethnography

Todd SchoepflinBy Todd Schoepflin

Buffalo Bills fans have a reputation. As seen in this Deadspin video, they are known for wild antics that take place at home games. Last season, in his role as an analyst, former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher acknowledged Bills tailgaters by breaking a table during a CBS pregame show. The so-called Bills Mafia arrives several hours before kickoff for tailgate parties.

I’ve attended many Bills games in my life and have fond memories of partying with my peer group in the parking lots surrounding the stadium. We did most of our tailgate partying in our 20s, and I can recall cracking open the first beer during breakfast. Our partying consisted of drinking, eating chili (our gatherings usually occurred in winter), and playing catch with a football. I have no recollection of people jumping through tables in those days. I decided to conduct a mini ethnography to see if this reputation reflected the experiences of fans, at least in my presence.

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October 08, 2018

Language and Culture

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Have you studied a foreign language? If you have and are in the U.S., you may be in the minority, according to a recent report from the Pew Research Center. According to the report, about 20 percent of K-12 students in the U.S. were enrolled in a foreign language course in 2017. By contrast, 92 percent of European students were learning a foreign language during this time frame.

Wide disparities exist regarding foreign language study within the U.S. according the report, ranging from 51 percent of New Jersey students to just 9 percent in Arizona, Arkansas, and New Mexico. These disparities largely stem from differing state requirements; just ten states and the District of Columbia have a foreign language requirement for high school graduation.

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October 01, 2018

Clue: A Center of Knowledge, 15 Letters

Jonathan Wynn (1)By Jonathan Wynn

This weekend I carved out a little time to do The New York Times crossword. I love puzzling over the clues, watching a quadrant emerge, and the satisfaction of finishing. As I sipped my coffee, I thought about how social life is a lot like a crossword puzzle.

Here is one clue from the July 28 puzzle: “What you might charge for a ride.” My mind cast about for a five-letter word. It couldn’t be TOKEN or TICKET. But then I remembered that puzzle masters love word play, and realized that “charge” has multiple meanings. The answer was TESLA—the name for Elon Musk’s electric car.

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August 27, 2018

Shopping Malls and Social Change

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

When I was a teen in the 1980s, the shopping mall was the center of social life. It was a regular gathering place for people my age; it was one of the few places to go that was free (unless you decided to buy something), parents generally felt like it was safe, and we might see other kids our age there. Remember, there was no email, no Internet, and no social media, so aside from the telephone, hanging out was the only way to socialize.

Malls were also a site of aspirational consumption. While I could occasionally buy clothes, records (on vinyl or cassette), food, or other goods, mostly the mall was the place of imagination of what I would buy if I could. My friends and I could try on clothes to see what styles were flattering for occasions we might someday need an outfit for. This was not just a way to pass the time, but to bond with friends. Memorialized in movies like Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), Valley Girl (1983), and Mall Rats (1995) to name a few, malls were center stage for middle-class American teens living in the suburbs.

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May 14, 2018

Careers and Side Hustles in Creative Work

Jonathan Wynn (1)By Jonathan Wynn

In an article titled “Institutional Office and the Person” one of the great mid-century sociologists, Everett C. Hughes, wrote that a career is “the moving perspective in which the person sees his life as a whole and interprets the meaning of his various attributes, actions, and things which happen to him” and that any self-appraisal was dependent on how that person moves through an organization, as a kind of sequence of roles. What if we don’t really work in institutions anymore?

Careers, particularly in the creative world, don’t match Hughes’ model. People are not moving through any one organization, or even any one career, but several and, at times, concurrently. When you graduate you might not have one career, but two or three. (It is likely, in fact, that the average graduate will have three or four career changes, and four job changes by age 32.) Millennial workers will likely have to work more than one job to make ends meet. You will, quite possibly, have to make ends meet with what are called “boundaryless” jobs and careers.

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April 30, 2018

Hobbies, Ghost Work, and Identity


Jonathan Wynn (1)By Jonathan Wynn

Work and occupations occupy a dominant position in our lives and, perhaps correspondingly, in our sociological scholarship. For good reason, of course. Work is a central component of our lives. Work fills our days (or nights) and pays the bills.

Work is also a resource for who we are, as what we do is often a central part of our identities. Although you may still be a college student, and if so, you’re probably only working a part time job. (70% of students work while in school and 25% of students work full time.) Eventually, however, you will graduate and have a job doing something. And at some point not too far down the road, you’ll be at a party and someone will ask you: “So, what do you do for a living?” Is it a lazy question, or should our work provide a key insight into who we are?

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April 02, 2018

Dove Body Wash, Colorism, and Skin Bleaching

12_01446By Angelique Harris

This past October, Dove, the personal care brand, released an advertisement that garnered quite a bit of negative press. This body wash ad featured a two to three second video of a Black woman wearing a brown shirt. She removes the shirt, revealing a White woman in a light beige shirt, who then takes it off to reveal another woman with a light skin tone.

A Facebook user was the first to post about this ad on her page and simply wrote: “So I’m scrolling through Facebook and this is the #dove ad that comes up… ok so what am I looking at.” This Facebook user also included four screenshots that showed the Black woman in the ad removing her shirt to reveal the White woman. Although these screenshots reveal only part of the ad and the Black woman portrayed in the ad, Lola Ogunyemi, wrote an op-ed defending the intentions behind the ad, many still believed that Dove implied that darker skin was dirty and the ad was widely panned as offensive and racist.

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