We’re getting light-hearted in these crazy times and introducing you to the sociology of pop culture! In this episode, we use Dr. David Grazian’s work to explore what popular culture is and how it’s different from high culture. Then we make sense of culture’s role in globalization, and show how pop cultural products– like sitcoms, Taylor Swift songs, and anime– can act as forms of soft power. Tune in here to hear Penn and Omar nerd out on the intricacies of Naruto and Studio Ghibli, and to understand just how powerful and important pop culture is to our society!
Mahalo nui loa to Laura Kerr for helping us transcribe this episode! We heart you! Read the full episode here.
Popular culture, society, music, entertainment, globalization, soft power, anime
We’re getting theoretical this week and tackling Orientalism, a concept and book by the fantastic Dr. Edward Said. If you’re taking a higher-level sociology, anthropology, history, or poli sci class, chances are you’re gonna hear “orientalism” thrown around! What is heck is it? (Hint: It ain’t a rug, a fast-food take out place, or the way to describe how someone looks!) What is its connection to imperialism and colonialism? And how has it influenced scholarship and research in the past and present? Tune in to learn more and be sure to give us a rating!
- Edward Said’s book Orientalism (1978)
- Biography of Edward Said
- Biography of Nandita Sharma
- Contrapuntal reading (Oxford Reference)
- An article by Roger Owen (2012) titled, “Edward Said and the Two Critiques of Orientalism” from the Middle East Institute that outlines criticisms that have been levied against Said’s theories
- Interview with Edward Said where he discusses his background, orientalism, the Palestinian conflict and more.
- Edward Said on Charlie Rose (circa 1994)
This week, Ellen and Penn get together to discuss one of their favorite gestures in a breakaway episode: The middle finger! Using work by Jack Katz, they explore why we flip the bird, what a “well-flipped” finger looks like, and the history behind flicking people off. It’s phallic, offensive, and Ellen thinks it’s funny to do in family photos.
Did you know you can reach the sources we cite in each episode at www.thesocialbreakdown.com? Yup, check it out!
culture, emotion, flicking, flipping, jack, katz, middle finger, profanity, sociology, swearing
- Jack Katz, “How Emotions Work” (his section on the well-flipped finger is in Chapter 1)
- BBC article, “When Did the Middle Finger Become Offensive?”
- New York Times article on why we should curse, “The Case for Cursing”
- Article by Richard Stephens, “Swearing Is Actually a Sign of More Intelligence – Not Less – Say Scientists”
Even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, it’s hard to avoid it. Not only is it a day of celebration for Christian religions, but it has become commercialized and commodified for the sake of consumption and capitalism. Christmas also has a strong culture associated with it, full of rituals and traditions–from decorating the tree to gift-giving to singing in groups in front of people’s houses. Join us this week as we discuss these rituals, and get some tips from our amazing sociology gift guide!
Christmas, rituals, traditions, religion, holidays, gift giving, culture, sociology, Emerson, Mauss, norms, Durkheim, Xmas
- The Penguin Definition of Sociology
- Durkheim’s The Elementary Forms of Religious Life
- Japanese bowing guide
- Trump mocked Obama for bowing to a Saudi king. And then he … (Washington Post 2017)
- Contributions To Churches Are Studied (New York Times 1994)
- Christmas Traditions and Customs
- History of Christmas Trees
- Mariah Carey – All I want for Christmas is You
- Chipmunk Christmas playlist
- Marcel Mauss’s (1925) seminal essay on gift giving “The Gift: The form and reason for exchange in archaic societies”
“That when an object is given as a gift, it becomes inextricably tied to the giver. To make a gift of something is to make a present of some part of oneself.”
- Ralph Waldo Emerson’s (1844) essay “Gifts”
- A Sociologist Studied Christmas Gifts, and Here’s What He Learned (The New Republic 2013)
- Gift wrapping in Japan
- Sociology gifts
- Donate to a good organization. Check out some of these websites to make sure your charity is legitimate and effective! Charity Navigator, GiveWell, BBB Wise Giving Alliance, GuideStar, Charity Watch
- Sorry Megyn Kelly, Santa Claus Isn’t White (Huffington Post 2017)
- What Fox News Doesn’t Understand About Santa Claus (Slate 2017)
- While Coca Cola did not create the image of the elderly Santa in his red suit and black belt and jolly smile, the company played a large role in shaping the global perception of Santa through commercialization and ad campaigns.
What’s your favorite brand? Do you believe in retail therapy? What about how ‘a diamond is forever’? Consumer culture surrounds us in every aspect of our social lives, and is virtually impossible to ignore, especially with the development of the internet and new media technologies that bombard us with ads while providing us with the tools to be creative and powerful consumers. But are you, the consumer, being exploited by big name corporations? Join us to find out!
Consumer culture, consumption, prosumption, internet, brand loyalty, exploitation
- Josie and the Pussycats (2001)
- “How Retailers Trick You with Their Amazing Black Friday ‘Discounts'”
- Production, Consumption, Prosumption by George Ritzer and Nathan Jurgenson (2010)
- Justin Knapp, the super Wikipedia prosumer
- Thorstein Veblen on conspicuous consumption
Conspicuous consumption of valuable goods is a means of reputability to the gentleman of leisure. As wealth accumulates on his hands, his own unaided effort will not avail to sufficiently put his opulence in evidence by this method. The aid of friends and competitors is therefore brought in by resorting to the giving of valuable presents and expensive feasts and entertainments.
- Definition of Exploitation from the Blackwell Encyclopedia
Exploitation occurs when someone or something (e.g., a material resource, an opportunity) is used or taken advantage of. Social scientists are chiefly concerned with the exploitation of people and classes, who are generally considered exploited if they are required, by force or by circumstances, to contribute more to some process than they receive in return.
- Lil Yachty’s diamond chain of his own face
- Adam Ruins Everything on the De Beers’ “A Diamond is Forever” marketing scam
- Blood Diamonds (Time Magazine editorial)
- “Escalating Sweatshops Protests Keep Nike Sweating”
- “Life and Death in Apple’s Forbidden City”, an article on Apple’s Foxcon factories
- “Yes, prisoners used to sew lingerie for Victoria’s Secret”
- Juliet Schor’s The Overspent American: Why We Want What We Don’t Need (1999)
- The Tiny House Movement
- The Minimalists on Minimalism
- Keeping up with the Kardashian pregnancies article
Why does Kim K get to “break the internet?” Do celebrities reflect our exaggerated imaginations? Where does all that money go? Why does Woody Allen get to make movies and Ben Rothlisberger get to still play football? In this week’s we tackle Celebrity status and its presence in contemporary society. Trust us, there is no other status with this much power and mystery…let’s break it down.
Disclaimer: We apologize for misgendering Caitlyn Jenner. It’s never our intention to be disrespectful, and we recognize the importance of using the correct pronouns. (08/28/2021)
Status, Celebrity, American Culture, Popular Culture, Entertainment, Celebrity culture
- Short biography on Max Weber, one of the founding fathers of sociology
- Weber on Class, Status, and Power
- Jonathan Turner and Jan Stets’ (2004) The Sociology of Emotions – On Theodore Kemper’s theory on structure and emotions, status, and power.
Within social situations, individuals possess relative power (authority), or the ability to tell others what to do, and status (conceptualized as prestige or honor rather than as a position in a structure).
- Quote from Kurzman et al.’s reading on Celebrity status
“Celebrity is an omnipresent feature of contemporary society, blazing lasting impressions in the memories of all who cross its path. In keeping with Weber’s conception of status, celebrity has come to dominate status “honor,” generate enormous economic benefits, and lay claim to certain legal privileges. Compared with other types of status, however, celebrity is status on speed. It confers honor in days, not generations; it decays over time, rather than accumulating; and it demands a constant supply of new recruits, rather than erecting barriers to entry.”
- Caitlyn Jenner’s coming out
- Ben Rothlisberger’s wikipedia page, if you’re interested in the scandals discussed
- Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List: Season 1
- Neal Gabler’s Life: The Movie: How Entertainment Conquered Reality (2000)- very good critical read on how real life drama (i.e. celebrity lives, reality tv shows) have become our primary form of entertainment
- American Crime Story: The People VS O.J. Simpson
- ESPN’s O.J.: Made in America
- Boston bombing movies – there are already two of them! Patriots Day and Stronger.
- Jennifer Lawrence and the gender pay gap in Hollywood
- Special Envoy Angelina Jolie for UNHCR
- Graeme Turner’s Understanding Celebrity (2013) – Evaluates the many taxonomies of “celebrity” and how the title has evolved with society and technology. He also devotes quite a bit of time to discussing how
“the celebrity industry is one that spends a great deal of its time masking the fact that it exists at all.”
- Here’s a cool illustrated guide to Guy Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle. And here’s the actual text, if you want to dig deeper! (P.S. It’s actually pronounced GEE Debord!).
- Hell’s Kitchen
- Read the script for the “Our Town” play here
- Jay-Z’s website, his book Decoded, his documentary TIME: The Kalief Browder Story, if you want to become like Omar
- Arashi’s wikipedia page and official website, if you want to worship them like Penn
- Forbes 2017 list of “The World’s Highest-Paid Celebrities List”, showing Kim Kardashian made $45.5 million and Jay-Z made $42 million.
- Kim Kardashian-West’s instagram page, if you want to fangirl like Ellen
- The Jay-Z produced documentary on Kalief Browder titled, “Time: The Kalief Browder Story” is on Netflix.
Last week, we talked about culture and the elements that make up culture. We expand on that notion this week by discussing cultural appropriation – something that happens in all aspects of our social life, from music to fashion, and even history. Cultural appropriation, from a sociological perspective, is inherently tied to the notion of profit-making in our capitalist society. But how can we, as everyday individuals, appreciate culture without appropriating it? Join us as we try to tease apart this hairy question!
For the transcript of this episode, click here. Mahalo nui loa to Natalie McNeill for helping with this one!
cultural appropriation, cultural appreciation, society, sociology, bourdieu
- Bari Weiss’ New York Times article, “3 Cheers for Cultural Appropriation”
- Rich Juzwiak’s rebuttal to Weiss on Jezebel, called “Oh Cute, The New York Times is Endorsing Cultural Appropriation”
- Pierre Bourdieu’s Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste (Routledge Classics) (1979)
- Chance the Rapper’s large donation to Chicago-area public schools
- Other rappers discussed in this episode: Kendrick Lamar, Juvenile, Notorious B.I.G.’s “Gimme the Loot”, Jay-Z
- News coverage on dreadlock incident in San Francisco
- The 2013 movie 12 Years A Slave
Have you struggled with this notion of appropriation VS appreciation? How do you navigate such a choice? Let us know in the comments below!
We are now on iTunes and Stitcher!!! Subscribe and follow to get the latest releases. If you like our show, please leave us a review. We’d love to know what you think!
In this episode, we tackle the concept of culture. ‘Culture’ is one of the most complex words in the English language, and every field has its own way of defining it, including sociology. We break down the various elements that make up culture from a sociological perspective, and focus on American culture– which is broad, yet rigid– as our main context. Then, we take a more personal look at how the three hosts have experienced American culture growing up. What do you think it takes to be an ‘American’? Join us as we search for an answer!
Culture, America, sociology
- American Sociological Association’s definition of culture
- The number of languages (and maybe cultures?) in the world
- United States of America’s Declaration of Independence
- Alexis de Tocqueville’s (1840) Democracy in America
- Ideal culture VS Real culture
- If you’re interested in how culture affects emotions, Jonathan H Turner and Jan E. Stets’ (2005) The Sociology of Emotions is a good, academic place to start!
- Ta-Nehisi Coates on Barack Obama – My President Was Black (The Atlantic)
- Jennifer Love Hewitt’s 1998 movie, Can’t Hardly Wait
- Louis C.K.’s bit on Time Travel is Exclusively a White Privilege
Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Twitter for the latest updates, and subscribe to our podcast on iTunes and Stitcher!!