Wednesday, December 31, 2014

news censorship and the Koch brothers

This post was contributed by Rene Gonzalez from this fall's undergrad social stratification class. This post was later cross-posted to The Sociological Cinema.

While watching an episode of the HBO series, The Newsroom, I was impressed by a scene which effectively captured how people in high-ranking institutional positions may exercise their incredibly great power (the display video is limited to a lead-in joke, see the whole scene here). The clip illustrates how raw power serving vested interests can affect what is communicated to the masses as news. In this case, the owner of the media corporation (Leona played by Jane Fonda) is demanding that news division president, Charlie (Sam Waterston), straighten out the lead anchor, Will (played by Jeff Daniels), because of Will's efforts to report how big business has taken over the Tea Party. She specifically threatens to fire Will if he continues to follow the story.

Art often imitates life, and notice that Leona references the Koch brothers in her tirade, and indeed they were targets of Will in this episode and another during 2012 (see this Wall Street Journal piece for criticism of the show's "Koch-kicking," and this AFL-CIO story for an opposite take). Also see how life imitates art as evident in this article detailing the Koch brothers' efforts to censor public television programming. (Plans to produce a full-length documentary, Citizen Corp, which in part critically examined their political activities, were scrapped after the brothers threatened to withhold major funding from PBS. Nevertheless, the filmmakers were still able to raise enough money to complete the film, and then distribute it as Citizen Koch through theaters.)

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

gentrification in east Austin

This post was contributed by Rene Gonzalez from this fall's undergrad social stratification class. This post was later cross-posted to The Sociological Cinema.

Gentrification radically transformed my neighborhood. Growing up in and around east Austin, I have experienced first-hand the changes that can occur within an area over a mere decade. As a child, I visited family members throughout east Austin. All of us are Latino, and everybody not only knew everyone else, but also where they lived. Now as the city rapidly grows, many in my family are being forced by rising property taxes to sell their homes. These homes are primarily being bought up by young, affluent, white real-estate developers, who are scrapping such dwellings and doing complete renovations in order to attract young, affluent, white occupants

I have seen Boyz N the Hood many times, but the scene featured above really stood out to me after our class discussion. Furious Styles (Laurence Fishburne) takes his son, Trey, and a friend to a nearby neighborhood where a billboard has just been put up offering to buy-up homes. Furious explains the specifics of how the property values in a neighborhood are brought down, while the land is bought out and sold for big profit. He also notes that this could be prevented if residents maintained solidarity by retaining black ownership.

Placing gentrification into a larger historical context, this clip from the Broadway play, Clybourne Park  features a mix of humorous scenes that collectively illustrate salient attitudes and behaviors accompanying neighborhood succession over time: residential areas that were once white and middle class in composition transformed through white flight into those with predominately black working-class and poor populations, and then ultimately with gentrification, back into white upscale neighborhoods. See also this recent piece featuring Spike Lee, arguing that gentrification reveals government racism in the provision of far better public facilities and services to an area once it is gentrified. 

Sunday, December 28, 2014

prestige in pink

This post was contributed by Jackie Davila from this fall's undergrad social stratification course. This post was later cross-posted to The Sociological Cinema. 

The movie Pretty in Pink centers on a budding romance between Andie and Blane. Andie is from the “wrong side of the tracks,” and lives with her father, a down-and-out kind of guy whom she continually urges to get a decent job. However, she is a refreshing, free-spirit counterpoint to Blane, a “richie” who drives a fancy car, throws cool parties, dates the popular girls, and lives in a big house with well-manicured lawn. Her social status is obviously inferior to his, making this intimate teen encounter one that is complicated by not only social inequality, but by social exclusion and rejection, as well.

At school, Blane takes a shine to Andie. But given that both are expected to hang out with their own kind, they soon encounter resistance from friends and associates. In this scene, Andie confronts Blane on his denying to others that they are a dating couple. Andie knows he is embarrassed to be seen with her, but she nevertheless confronts him openly in the hallway during the school day. Although the scene suggests that all is over for the couple, they soon rekindle their romance when they later cross paths at the prom.

Interestingly, the book upon which the movie is based had Andie winding up at the prom with a selfless, working-class boy who had loved Andie all along. However, according to the movie's wikipedia entry, the ending for the movie was changed to reflect test-audience preference for Andie with Blane, underlining the cultural ideal that "true love conquers all."  

Love thwarted by prestige differences resonates strongly as a trope in contemporary popular culture as is evident in movies such as Pretty Woman, and in one of my favorites, The Notebook, wherein the rich guy/poor gal is reversed as Noah, a simple country boy, falls hard for heiress, Allie. Showing the above clip from Pretty in Pink, or one from The Notebook (e.g. this scene) would work well as a discussion-starter in any course that addresses the social context of intimate relationships.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

life cycles of inequity series

Colorlines has recently distributed a series of short docs examining the consequences of the intersection of structure and culture on the lives of young black men.

According to series editor, Kai Wright:
Each month, from May to November, we are publishing a package of content focused on a life stage or event that for black men in the United States is uniquely confined by broad, societal inequities.  We certainly won’t cover the breadth of the black male experience; we won’t even exhaust the range of inequities that impact our lives. Rather, we’ve focused our efforts primarily on places where existing data shows a profound relationship between poor outcomes and being a black man. We hope simply to join a broader dialogue about these inequities, and help inform a public conversation about solutions.  

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

from Jose to Joe = job search success

The following post was contributed by Laurie Gleason, student in my Fall, 2014 Social Stratification class.                                               
With the ongoing concern over illegal immigration, Hispanics still find themselves routinely overlooked for decent jobs, regardless of their citizenship status. Many Americans feel immigrants serve a "worthwhile" purpose by taking unskilled labor positions like field work or housekeeping--backbreaking, under-compensated work which most Americans feel is beneath them.

Cate Matthews in a recent Huffington Post article describes José Zamora's futile attempts to obtain gainful employment until he Americanized his name. As José, he claims he did not receive a single inquiry, despite placing as many as 100 applications per day. However, "Joe," sporting the same résumé, received job offers from the exact same companies shortly after he applied. 

In this modern age, where applications are submitted online, does a person's name become the simple key for unlocking the door to a decent job? The video "Jose vs. Joe" clearly relates to the larger question of the continuing role of status ascription as critical for achievement in societies, such as ours, that purport to be meritocracies. 

Students interested in exploring this issue further should address research that has been done in this area, such as the Bertrand and Mullainathan study conducted over a decade ago that is now a classic.   

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

teeth: the great class divide

Consider teeth as a significant marker of class division in the U.S. We have a dental system that provides excellent care and treatment, but only if you have money or insurance. Preventive-care coverage is available to poor children through Medicaid, but such coverage, as well as dental disease treatment, is largely inaccessible to the balance of low-income Americans. 

Read these anecdotal stories about teeth and social class:
The Shame of Poor Teeth in a Rich World 
What Pennsatucky's Teeth Tell Us about Class in America

For a scientific assessment of role of class and race, read Social Class and Dental Health 

PS - FYI for OITNB non-watchers: Pennsatucky only received dentures after suffering a prison beating. 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

critiques of labels

This post was contributed by Ayanna Allen,student in my Fall, 2014, Social Stratification class. This post was later cross-posted to The Sociological Cinema.

I had to watch Stayceyann Chin’s video several times before her message began resonating within me. She critiques the notion that we must side with one group over another, arguing that we need to have a sense of understanding about each other that transcends differences. She does a phenomenal job in challenging the common claim that "if you are not for us, you are against us.” She well articulates that we miss the beauty of our being by living in fear of ridicule, and when "people get scared enough, they pick a team" that may satisfy others, but not themselves. Our need to box-in and stereotype what we cannot understand or agree with only limits our ability to see each other as common creatures.

Child star, Raven Symone makes a similar point in her adamant denial about the personal relevance of labels ( Oprah warns her during the interview that she will get push-back for doing this, and she indeed did receive significant adverse publicity in claiming the she is neither lesbian nor black/African-American. Such reactions to a pronouncement from a person who seems before her time, from a generation that believes they are ahead of their time, indicate how uncomfortable people are when group labels are deemed irrelevant for establishing personal identity. It also suggests associated questions, including: What is wrong about failing to identify as either black/African-American or lesbian? Does it betray those who are otherwise like her, but who do see themselves as belonging to such categories? Moreover, are we truly free to be individuals, even in a society held to promote the value of individual autonomy?

Of course, Stayceyann and Raven are not the first to renounce labels, and they will certainly not be the last. And it may well be impossible to rid ourselves of labels, but in my opinion it is not ridiculous to believe that every person has a basic right to define themselves and where they want to fit into society without being persecuted.

I wanted to share these videos because they strongly challenge the substance of what much of social stratification seems to be about. They offer the refreshing counterpoint that humans are dynamic, evolving beings, rather than “social types” who can be easily defined, sorted into categories, and kept in “their place.”

Friday, September 19, 2014

Facebook for Rich

"Netropolitan: The online country club for people with more money than time" is being offered for a first-year membership fee of $9,000 ($3,000 annual renewal thereafter) as a Facebook of sorts for the rich.

Why should you join? As noted on website:
 Netropolitan is:
- Worldwide: Meet like-minded individuals from across the globe who share your lifestyle and interests
- Private and Secure: The entire service is inaccessible from the public Internet, including search engines. All member transmissions to and from Netropolitan are encrypted
- Ad-Free: Absolutely no third-party or display advertising is sold or shown, and the service pushes no paid promotions to its members. (However, we do allow businesses to create groups and members to advertise to each other, under strict guidelines)
- Moderated: The Netropolitan community is continually monitored by the company’s own professional moderators, ensuring readily-available help and a pleasant and courteous experience for all
- Always available: In addition to polished desktop and laptop interfaces, members can connect via special versions for tablets and mobile web browsers and also via apps (coming soon) for Android and iOS phones You can use The Netropolitan Club for any purpose – personal, business, professional.

Netropolitan is what you make it. Welcome to The Club.

Further details are available at Also see this CNN story:

Monday, August 18, 2014

what happens at The Bohemian Grove?

Is this where the rich and powerful engage in conspiracy? This recent video examines The Bohemian Grove, a summer playground in northern California for members of America's power elite. The secretive nature of the Bohemian Club's annual 16-day July meeting is further addressed in this Washington Post article and in this Spy Magazine expose mentioned in the clip. For sociological treatment of the retreat's role as a nexus for fostering social relationships, aligning views, and setting political agendas, see this detailed study by G.William Domhoff.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

the science of inequality

Check out the special May 23 issue of Science devoted to examining the science of inequality. According to editors, Chin and Culotta:
This special issue uses...  fresh waves of data to explore the origins, impact, and future of inequality around the world. Archaeological and ethnographic data are revealing how inequality got its start in our ancestors (see pp. 822 and 824). New surveys of emerging economies offer more reliable estimates of people's incomes and how they change as countries develop (see p. 832). And in the past decade in developed capitalist nations, intensive effort and interdisciplinary collaborations have produced large data sets, including the compilation of a century of income data and two centuries of wealth data into the World Top Incomes Database (WTID) (see p. 826 and Piketty and Saez, p.838).
It all makes for great reading, so check to see if your library subscribes to the journal.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

poverty in Japan

This post was contributed by Carol Walden and Earl Venne, students in my undergraduate social stratification class.

Hidefumi Ito was an art gallery director, selling high-priced items to the richest people in the world. The economic recession quickly killed the business and his job. Ito lived in a five-bedroom house and owned two cars, an incredible level of financial wealth in space-starved Japan. He lost his home in months to bankruptcy. Disgraced, his wife divorced him and now his three children won’t speak to him (Lah, 2009).  

Due to his extreme downward mobility, Ito faced several dilemmas including the loss of side bets. He lost his family, his house, and vehicles. Additionally, Ito’s identity stake was challenged; he lost his place in society and is no longer able to convince others that he is who and what he once claimed to be (Schwalbe, 2008).  

Many individuals in Ito’s position reside at night hotels, such as Tsukasa which costs about 20 USD per night. The net rooms are small closet-sized spaces of about 100 square feet. The rooms are designed for the unemployed in the sense of having a computer and an internet connection. Several companies have jumped into the market and are taking advantage of the economic turmoil and the huge profits to be made off them. Net rooms like those of Su Casa are always at maximum capacity.

In today's Japan, staffing agencies are on the rise, and corporations are less likely to employ full-timers than ever before. In an economy where there is a much greater supply of workers than there is demand for them, this type of action by employers no doubt causes employees to fear for their jobs, given the fact they can be quickly replaced by temps. It may also contribute to the lesser likelihood that employees will blow the whistle on unfair or unsafe employment practices. Given the poor job situation, only one-third of college graduates are now able to find work.  

The crash of the economy and resulting downward mobility for many also have exacerbated suicide. Government statistics indicate that 30,707 people committed suicide in Japan in 2009, with the largest numbers between the ages of 45 to 65. The Aokigahara Forest at the base of Mt Fuji has earned the nickname "suicide forest." Another favorite place is the Cliffs of Tojimbo, where volunteers patrol the area to keep people from diving off. The suicide rate is currently 24 per 100,000 people, the second highest in the world. According to public-health researcher Yutaka Motohashi, suicides today are strongly linked to unemployment and bank-loan request rejections. The government has been running campaigns on television to educate people about depression and suicide, but suicide is still seen by many Japanese as the honorable way out (Motohashi, 2012). 


Lah, K. (2009, February 27). Net rooms boom with Japan’s jobless. Retrieved July 7, 2014, from 

Motohashi, Y. (April, 2012). Suicide in Japan. Lancet, 379, 1283. Retrieved from
Schwalbe, M. (2008). Rigging the game: How inequality is reproduced in everyday life. New York: Oxford University Press.

Monday, July 7, 2014

rescuing sex slaves in Houston documentary

Tune in to MSNBC on July 27 9:00-10:00 PM to see a documentary on sex trafficking in Houston. The film features Dottie Laster, an incredible woman totally devoted to rescuing trafficked victims and bringing law enforcement down on the bad guys. Dottie also has been featured in a number of other media stories, including this article in More magazine.
PS - In response to the common question: what can you do with a sociology degree? I always point to Dottie; she graduated from UTSA with a bachelor's degree in sociology in 2003.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

boom towns and hog hunting

While generating windfall fortunes for a few, economic booms typically create a host of dysfunctional consequences for many others. This is certainly the case for those living in the Texas towns just south of San Antonio involved in the current Eagle Ford oilfield "play." This New York Times video documents the efforts of one resident, a former ranch hand now roughneck, to supplement family groceries by hunting feral hogs in the brush country. This related Times article addresses the especially adverse economic effects of the boom for the many poor living the region, while also producing in general, uncontrolled population growth, an upsurge in traffic fatalities, and rampant environmental degradation, among other problems. Note also a recent series of articles appearing in The Texas Monthly about Eagle Ford, including this extensive piece by Brian Mealer on boom-related social issues.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014


In a recent Slate piece, Aisha Harris points to a new College Humor video, coining the term "Columbusing," i.e., what white people do when they "discover" something that already exists as a reality for nonwhites, as in "Columbus discovered America." The video should stimulate class discussion about other ways members of privileged groups often appropriate as their own those things belonging to others.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

slave labor and big retail

This Guardian video describes the involvement of megachain retailers, such as Walmart, in selling shrimp that was produced through slave labor. 
See the entire Guardian series on Modern-Day Slavery at
Also see the Guardian's YouTube playlist at

Thursday, June 19, 2014

rise of the catladies

This post was contributed by Calandra Silvestro, UTSA student in SOC 3013, Social Stratification.

As a child, I remember hearing the term "catlady.” I thought, until recently, this referred to a woman who was an empty-nester; she was alone since her children had left. Today, it appears the word means you never had any children, you just have cats.
Having children is a choice; just like any other choice. Would someone look down on you if you decided never to eat out? That’s also just a normal choice. Sometimes it’s a smart decision to wait and have children when you are more settled and established. Some women don’t want to have children until they are successful. Some may want to finish school and get a decent job that pays the bills and can also take care of a family. Also, children are- very expensive (according to the video, in 2011, the cost of raising a child until the age of 18 was $234,900 on average); they also need to be cared for twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
The article “Check your ‘Cat-Lady’ Preconceptions About Childless Women” suggests new thinking about childless women. It appears more women are choosing not to have children. The birth rate dropped to 8% in 2010. 1 in 5 women, ages 40-45 choose not to have children. This number has doubled since 1976. This article also mentions that some women who decide not to have children have very fulfilling lives. Radhika Jones, the executive editor of Time Magazine says in the video “different opportunities come up and you start to realize that you have different fulfilling and rewarding relationships that maybe don’t involve you being a mother”.
“If you want to be successful in your career, don’t have children”, says Kristen Houghton, in her article “Why (Most) Successful Women are Childless.”.  She addresses both sides: having children and not having children. Houghton says about working, “whether in the corporate, financial, or even artistic realms, to reach the top in your career requires a single-minded drive, dedication and passion.” If you decide to become a mother, you won’t have this drive and passion for working as you would for your children. Houghton also states, “The truth is that most women who have achieved professional success have chosen not to have children”. Houghton references an article titled “In Corporate America, Still a Struggle for Female Execs”. This article mentions several big companies and how many “women on board” and “women named executives” they have.
Women who have children are 44% less likely to be hired and are paid $11,000 less than women without children, according to Kelly Hagan, who wrote the article titled ‘New Study Shows That Childless Women Succeed More Than Mothers in the Workplace”. This study (that found the 44%) was done in 2005 by Cornell University.  Hagan mentions the study in her article. According to Hagan, men’s incomes rise to 75% more than a women’s income 15 years after they finished college, even if they had the same income and worked the same number of hours after finishing college.
I am still not quite sure if having children or not having children affects women’s hiring or not. I understand why some companies would not want to hire a woman with children. Children need care and they take up a lot of time. Some companies might need you to travel and if you have children that might be a problem. Also, most work places don’t want you to take time off. What happens if your child gets sick or has an appointment? You would have to take time off for that. Also, women would have to take maternity leave. I can certainly see both sides. Some women just have that motherly instinct and have always wanted to be a mother and some have passion and drive for a certain career.

Hagan, K. (2010, August 22). New study shows that childless women succeed more than mothers in the workplace. Retrieved June 18, 2014, from ABC website:

Houghton, K. (2013, April 15). Why (most) successful women are childless. Retrieved June 18, 2014, from Huffington Post website:

Mclntyre, D. (2011, August 22). In corporate America, still a struggle for female execs. Retrieved June 18, 2014, from Daily Finance website::

Wallace, K. (2014, June 5). Check your 'cat-lady' preconceptions about childless women. Retrieved June 18, 2014, from CNN website:

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

racial disparities in drowning

This post was written by Stephanie Medley-Rath and originally appeared in Society in Focus.

I’ve swam in ponds, lakes, and creeks. I’ve swam in chlorinated backyard pools, public pools, and hotel pools. As an adult (who has spent most of my life in the landlocked-Midwest), I’ve managed to swim in the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. Swimming has always been a part of my life. As a child, I took swimming lessons for one week each summer. It never failed that the week of my lessons, the weather would be about 70 degrees and overcast (i.e., too cold), but I still went. I was never very good. I like to say, that I knew enough not to drown. That may sound a bit over-confident, but I did know how to swim and learned some basic survival skills.

Little did I know that my access to public swimming spaces, swimming lessons, and risk of drowning had something to do with my race or the legacy of racial discrimination. This is what white privilege looks like. As a child, it was easy for me to assume that most people had similar opportunities as me. As an adult (and trained sociologist), I know that most people did not have similar opportunities as me. I also know that these opportunities differ not only on obvious factors like social class, but also things like race and gender (for this post, we’ll focus just on race).

For the first time, the 2012 U.S. Olympic Swim team had three members of African-American descent (two of which medaled) out of 49 total members. These three swimmers account for 6.12% of the swim team, while African Americans account for 13.1% of the population overall.

While African Americans (and people of African American descent) are underrepresented at the elite levels of American swimming, they (along with American Indians/Alaska Natives) are overrepresented in the number of drowning victims.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that racial disparities persist in risk of drowning:
  • “Among non-Hispanics, the overall drowning rate for American Indians/Alaska Natives (AI/AN) was twice the rate for whites, and the rate for blacks was 1.4 times the rate for whites.”
In other words, there is a statistically significant difference in the likelihood of drowning by race. (Also of note, drowning risk varies by age and setting–pool, bathtub, natural water.) Statistically significant means that this difference is not due to chance, but is correlated with race (along with age and setting). But why? In particular, why are African Americans more likely to drown compared to other racial and ethnic groups?

Part of the answer lies in the history of racial segregation as it relates specifically to swimming. Racial segregation of pools was strengthened about the same time that pools were integrated along gender lines in the 1920s and 1930s because swimming pools are perceived as an intimate space. In a culture that has long feared the intimacy of white women and black men (and has inflicted deadly violence at the thought of it), pools could not be both racially and gender integrated.

During the 1940s and 1950s, pools were racially desegregated, but like other arenas that desegregated, whites fled. Whites chose to build their own pools at home or in private clubs where they could restrict access by blacks. What America is left with is a long history white Americans limiting access to swimming pools by African Americans. Now, think about what you know about socialization. What are the implications of past segregation of swimming pools on present circumstances? If your own parents did not grow up swimming, how likely is it that you are going to grow up a swimmer? Moreover, the legacy of whites fleeing racially-integrated public pools (along with changing priorities) can still be felt in the declining public-support for public swimming pools. In other words, access to public swimming pools is still wanting.

This is the classic sociological lesson. Who you are and what happens to you is often a product of where you are within our social system. That is, if you grow up with parents who know how to swim and in a place with ample opportunities to swim, you are less likely to drown. This is just one of the many examples of how your social location can have impact your life and death.

Dig Deeper: 
  1. Did you learn to swim as a child? If so, ask your parents why they made sure you learned to swim. If you did not, ask your parents why you never learned to swim. What role (if any) did your race, class, or gender play in you learning or not learning to swim as a child?
  2. What opportunities did you have to swim as a child? What role did your race, class, or gender play in your access to swimming? In other words, was there a public or private pool you had access to?
  3. What role did discrimination and prejudice play in limiting the swimming opportunities of African Americans in the past?
  4. What strategies could be used to ensure that a greater percentage of all children learn basic water safety (including swimming lessons)? Read this article on the challenges of increasing access to swimming among low-income children to help develop your strategy.

Friday, May 30, 2014

poverty porn

The phrase poverty porn has become increasingly employed in the UK to describe film medias' growing tendency to exploit poor people for entertainment value (see this recent article in Tonight.) The most popular of this genre based on a reality-show format focuses on residents in a Birmingham neighborhood in the Channel 4 series, Benefits Street.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

invisible homeless

The New York City Rescue Mission recently distributed a video to suggest just how invisible the homeless are--even to presumably well-meaning people. Close relatives, who dressed and posed as homeless, went unnoticed as their loved ones passed by on the street. Their reactions to being informed of their failure to recognize them are most compelling. The video does not suggest how many passers-by actually recognized pretending-to-be-homeless relatives. See the Rescue Mission's project at

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Picketty discussed

See Thomas Picketty's acclaimed Capital in the 21st Century discussed by Picketty and other popular economists at this CUNY event earlier this month. Read an excerpt from his book at the Harvard University Press site. For a list of recent reviews on this book, see this compendium.

monkey injustice

Although this TED Talk clip has been online for over two years and garnered over 2 million views, the reaction of a Capuchin monkey to receiving a food perceived to be inferior to that received by another Capuchin is timeless. The entire Frans de Waal presentation on animal morality is on this TED page, and see the human contexts of similar invidious treatment at

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

turning the tables on everyday sexism...

Leah Green turns the tables on men by playing an in-your-face sexual harasser on the streets of London in this video featured in a recent article in The Guardian. In doing so, she is trying to sensitize men to how it feels to be the object of sexism by simply relating to men in the same ways many men interact with women in public space.

Quoting Green in her article:

As is usual when men make inappropriate sexual remarks to me, I felt embarrassed. This time, at least, there was a slight silver lining, as it was a perfect scenario to recreate for my film, in which I tested out real sexist situations on men. I took tweets from @EverdaySexism, where women (and men) recount sexist incidents and, using hidden cameras, acted these out on unsuspecting members of the public. Since launching the film on the Guardian website on Friday it has garnered more than a million hits and nearly three thousand comments.           

Responses have been varied. Women have said that the film, which uses comedy to make a serious point, highlights perfectly the kind of harassment they receive on a daily basis. Many men have said that the words coming from the mouth of a woman made them realise their weight and impact. However, others felt the film was cruel, and that subjecting innocent men to sexually aggressive comments made me no better than the men who do that, thus completely undermining the feminist message. Those are the criticisms I would like to answer.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

forces driving US inequality for all

This post was written by Lester Andrist and originally appeared in The Sociological Cinema.

In this interview on Moyers & Company, former Secretary of Labor and Professor of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, Robert Reich, discusses economic inequality and the worrisome connection between money and political power. Reich notes that "Of all the developed nations, the US has the most unequal distribution of income," but US society has not always been so unequal. At about the 6:20 mark, the clip features an animated scene from Reich's upcoming documentary, Inequality for All, which illustrates that in 1978 an average male worker could expect to earn $48,302, while an average person in the top 1% earned $393,682. By 2010, however, an average worker was only earning $33,751, while the average person in the top 1% earned $1,101,089. Wealth disparities have also been growing, and here Reich explains that the richest 400 Americans now have more wealth than the bottom 150 million Americans. What happened in the late 1970s to account for the current trend of widening inequality? According to Reich, there are four culprits. First (at about 19:10 min), a powerful corporate lobbying machine successfully lobbied for laws and policies that have allowed wealthy people to become even more wealthy, often at the expense of the poor. Examples include changes to antitrust, bankruptcy, and tax legislation. Second (at 34:00 min), Reich argues that unions and popular labor movements have been on the decline, which means employers have been under less pressure to increase wages over time. Third (at 38:30 min), while globalization hasn't reduced the number of jobs in the US, it has meant that employers often have access to cheaper labor, which has had the effect of driving down wages for American workers. He points out that in the 1970s, meat packers were paid $40,599. Now they earn only about $24,000. Fourth (at 38:30 min), technological changes, such as automation, have had the effect of keeping wages low. He concludes that there is neither equality of opportunity nor equality of outcome in the US, and unless big money can be separated from politics, the US economy is unlikely to free itself from the vicious cycle of widening inequality for all. (Note that a much shorter video featuring Reich's basic argument is also located on The Sociological Cinema.)        

Friday, April 4, 2014

U.S. not so good in terms of social progress

The folks at the Social Progress Imperative recently underlined via hard data what we pretty well already knew about the quality of living in the U.S. While we are doing well in the aggregate on economic indicators such as GDP, their compendium of non-economic indicators presented in the Social Progress Index finds that we are doing rather poorly in meeting a host of basic human needs.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Snickers mocks idea that working-class men can respect women

Post written by Lisa Wade and originally appeared in Sociological Images.

This is one of the most demoralizing ads I’ve seen in a long time. It’s an Australian ad for Snickers in which construction workers on a busy city street yell pro-feminist comments at women, like “I’d like to show you the respect you deserve” and ”You want to hear a filthy word? Gender bias” and “You know what I’d like to see? A society in which the objectification of women makes way for gender neutral interaction free from assumptions and expectations.”
1 (2) - Copy
The construction workers are actors, but the women on the street are (or appear to be) real and their reactions authentic. The first thing women do is get uncomfortable, revealing how a lifetime of experience makes them cringe at the prospect of a man yelling at them.  But, as women realize what’s going on, they’re obviously delighted.  They love the idea of getting support and respect instead of harassment from strange men.
This last woman actually places her hand on her heart and mouths “thank you” to the guys.
And then the commercial ends and it’s all yanked back in the most disgusting way. It ends by claiming that pro-feminist men are clearly unnatural. Men don’t respect women — at least, not this kind of man — they’re just so hungry they can’t think straight.
1 (2)
The twist ending is a genuine “fuck you” to the actual women who happened to walk by and become a part of the commercial.  I wonder, when the producers approached them to get their permission to be used on film, did they tell them how the commercial would end? I suspect not. And, if not, I bet seeing the commercial would feel like a betrayal. These women were (likely) given the impression that it was about respecting women, but instead it was about making fun of the idea that women deserve respect.
What a dick move, Snickers. I hope you’re happy with your misogynist consumer base, because I don’t think I can ever buy a Snickers bar again.  What else does your parent company sell? I’ll make a note.
A petition has been started to register objections to the commercial. Thanks to sociologist and pro-feminist Michael Kimmel for sending in the ad.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

permanently temporary

Permanently Temporary is a documentary series recently produced by VICE News that examines the nature and scope of temporary work in the U.S., how businesses are able to exploit temp workers for profit and gain, and what such work means for these workers in terms of livelihood and their lives. Read Krishna Andavalu's background story on temporary workers here, and see full-length documentary here. (Also see earlier post on part-time work.)

Friday, March 14, 2014

spent: looking for change

Rather ironically, Amex (American Express), the provider of exclusive credit card services, is making a documentary that examines the plight of the millions of Americans excluded from mainstream financial institutions. Scheduled for release this summer, Spent: Looking for Change includes case studies of the unbanked and underbanked--those forced to pay high fees for alternative check cashing and bill paying services, and then proposes low-cost banking solutions through existing online technologies (see Fast Company article).

Sunday, March 9, 2014

high rise

Explore this rich-media digital story about vertical building and living created by The National Film Board of Canada and The New York Times. The full interactive collection includes videos, graphics, games, and articles that allow users to understand the nature, history, and impact of such structures on their developers, occupants, and larger society. Several videos Include insights about the relevance of social stratification.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

mapping poverty

The New York Times recently provided an excellent visualization of the distribution of officially-defined poverty in the U.S. The interactive map allows users to drill down to county and census tract levels to find absolute and relative numbers of poor in area. It was developed with software via Social Explorer.

See additional NYT stories, videos, and interactives related to social stratification and inequality, such as Class Matters and Location Matters.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

War on Poverty: 50th anniversary

Significant news attention in recent weeks has been devoted to the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty, declared by Lyndon B. Johnson during his State of the Union speech, January 8, 1964. The War, the centerpiece of Johnson's Great Society, was spearheaded by a series of programs providing health, food, and education and job training assistance. Although largely dismantled during the Reagan and Clinton administrations, such programs appeared to have modest effects in reducing poverty prevalence over the period.

For coverage examples, see New York Times re articles, graphics, interactive map, and extensive collection of stories at American RadioWorks.