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.