Via Netflix.
Via Netflix.

It’s an exciting day when a sociologist and a comedian write a book together, and even more so when that book turns into a Netflix series. To be clear, Aziz Ansari recently stated that his new series, Master of None (which premiered November 6th on Netflix) is not simply Modern Romance (the book he wrote with sociologist Eric Klinenberg) on the small screen. However, a recent Vogue review highlights how the show incorporates many of the ideas Ansari and Klinenberg present in their book.

Master of None is brilliant, insightful, and hilarious, the perfect vehicle for Ansari to animate the ideas and sociological concepts that he wasn’t quite able to make jump off the page earlier this year.

The show explores the dating world of New York City through the main character Dev, a 30-year-old actor. Readers of Modern Romance will notice overlaps, including when Dev takes a cue from a study cited in the book’s section, “The Effects of Non-Boring-Ass Dates,” by flying a date to Nashville. He confronts questions about monogamy when a woman wants to hook up with him to get back at her husband. And he laments that he is not “just a bubble in a phone” when he is blown off by a potential date.

Read the full article here.

Read a TSP Clipping on Modern Romance.

The 2015 Oscar nominees are announced. Photo by RedCarpetReport via flickr cc.
The 2015 Oscar nominees are announced. Photo by RedCarpetReport via flickr cc.


Following the whitest Academy Awards in nearly 20 years, UCLA’s Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies released its 2015 Hollywood Diversity Report. Sociologist and center Director Darnell Hunt described the findings to The Hollywood Reporter: “Hollywood is not progressing at the same rate as America is diversifying.”

The study, which surveyed the top 200 worldwide box office films and 1,105 television series in 2012 and 2013, found that racial minorities and women were substantially underrepresented in both acting and directing roles. Those films with at least 30% diversity, however, did best in the worldwide box office tallies.

Study co-author Ana-Christina Ramon believes these numbers show that, “audiences, regardless of their race, are clamoring for more diverse content.” So what’s the holdup?

“It’s a high-risk industry,” says Hunt. “People want to surround themselves with collaborators they’re comfortable with, which tends to mean people they’ve networked with—and nine times out of 10, they’ll look similar. It reproduced the same opportunities for the same kind of people: You’re surrounding yourself with a bunch of white men to feel comfortable.”

Hunt suggests that emerging digital platforms like Netflix and Amazon could create more opportunities for on-screen diversity. Still, he is hesitant to make grand claims about progress: “It’s getting better, but it’s not getting better fast enough. And it’s still a big problem.”

A screenshot from a Sesame Street clip about parents in prison.
A screenshot from a Sesame Street clip about parents in prison.

If you happen to be watching Sesame Street, you may notice a new Muppet named Alex. The child’s father is in prison. Many viewers may consider Alex’s incarcerated parent an unusual, heavy topic for the program that has taught generations of kids their ABC’s and 123’s. But children across the country, particularly African-American children, are in Alex’s position.

The Nation consulted sociologists Christopher Wildeman, Sara Wakefield, Kristin Turney, and John Hagan about the effects of parental incarceration on children. They found that children with incarcerated parents had significantly higher rates of aggression, mental-health issues, behavioral problems, and risk of homelessness than peers whose parents had never been to prison. However, although they have identified a key link between parent imprisonment and children’s mental health, researchers like Turney are still figuring out how and why this connection exists. “Is it stigma, attachments, income loss, parents breaking up and relationships not surviving? We don’t know,” Turney reports.

More than a decade ago, Hagan stated that effects on children might be “the least understood and most consequential” results of incarceration. According to Wildeman, 1 in 30 white children and 1 in 4 black children born in 1990 experienced a parent going to prison before turning 14. The surge in incarceration rates disproportionately affects African-American children. Even if their fathers have a college degree, these kids are twice as likely as white children with parents who didn’t finish high school to have a parent in prison. And regardless of whether incarceration rates decline in the next few years, the effects of current imprisonment rates will last for several generations. That means that optimism about any decline in mass incarceration “must therefore be set against the backdrop of the children of the prison boom—a lost generation now coming of age,” according to Wildeman and Wakefield.

Photo by Ed Yourdon via Flickr CC
Photo by Ed Yourdon via Flickr CC

Seven years after the New England Patriots were caught cheating by video taping other NFL teams’ game signals, football fans are wondering if the team intentionally deflated the footballs in the AFC championship game that qualified them for the Super Bowl they went on to win. The controversy brings into question a long-held idea that sports foster teambuilding, hard work, and integrity.

Sociologist Eric Carter tells the Huffington Post that, although sports teach characteristics valued in American society to youth across the country, as the stakes become higher, players are more likely to exhibit unethical behavior. The desire to win at all costs can stem from arrogance or self-importance, but cheating often has less to do with players’ self-perceptions and more to do with the behaviors of others. For instance, when players think other teams cheat, they are more likely to break rules to “stay competitive.” Additionally, coaches who frequently reward star players and emphasize winning over technique and skill create an environment that may push athletes to bend or break the rules.

“The NFL has a great responsibility to check itself,” Carter said. “It’s one of the most powerful entities in American society.” Because millions look to professional football players, NFL stars become role models for young athletes, he explains. If officials turn a blind eye to cheating in the big leagues, high school and college athletes may internalize a culture of dishonesty that runs contrary to the ideals Americans value and believe are built in sports.

Photo via Flickr CC, Slavesalicious. Click for original.
Photo via Flickr CC, Slavesalicious. Click for original.

Early in 2015, the U.S. House of Representatives passed twelve bills aimed at combating sex trafficking. These bills compliment laws signed last year to protect victims of trafficking, particularly children. Thus far, however, legislation has overlooked the causes of trafficking, namely, male perpetrators who engage in sexual violence and abuse and whose patronage makes the crimes profitable.

In a recent Huffington Post article, sociologist Gail Dines offers insight into the “demand side” of sex crimes, citing pornography as an influence:

The biggest sex educator of young men today is pornography, which is increasingly violent and dehumanizing, and it changes the way men view women.

Dines argues that porn teaches men to behave in sexually violent and abusive ways:

We know that trafficking is increasing—which means demand is increasing. This means that men are increasingly willing to have sex with women who are being controlled and abused by pimps and traffickers. There are only two conclusions here: That men are naturally willing to do this to women—biology—or that they are being socialized by the culture to lose all empathy for women. I refuse to accept that men are born rapists, porn users, or johns.

Dine’s controversial topic of study—and its results—casts important questions on a growing, if often “unseen” crime.

Photo by Christopher Pacquette via Flickr CC.
Photo by Christopher Pacquette via Flickr CC.

From OJ Simpson to Casey Anthony, America has no shortage of highly anticipated and hotly discussed trials. At the moment, Boston is a hive of judicial, legal, and media activity surrounding the trials of two infamous, if unrelated defendants: Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and New England Patriots tight-end and homicide suspect Aaron Hernandez. An article from ABCNews by Denise Lavoe uses sociology to explain why some trials can gain so much attention and how that affects the ideal of trial by a jury of peers. In each of the Boston cases, jury pools reached well over 1,100 people until a group of potential jurors who hadn’t already reached a conclusion about the case could be found.

Quoted in the article, Northeastern University sociologist Jack Levin explains that each trial attracts interest and media attention in a specific way. People are interested in the Tsarnaev case because of “a widespread feeling that people have that they are vulnerable.” The fear of terrorism drives public interest rather than the fame of the defendant. The Hernandez case is different, as Levin explains, because the trial of a popular sports figure attracts its own kind of attention. Society, he says, places “tremendous value on athletes, and when one of them commits a serious crime like homicide, it shocks the public.” The trial of a disgraced, once-popular player draws public attention partially because the narrative seems to run so counter to prevailing perceptions of sport and athletes, as well as the gloss of fame. Tsarnaev is felt keenly as a physical threat to everyone, while Hernandez represents a more abstract threat to assumptions and values. Both cases will likely remain front-page news well into the future, but different social processes lay beneath their infamy.

All eyes have been on LeBron James. Despite some predictions, he hasn't---yet---disappointed.
All eyes have been on LeBron James. Despite some predictions, he hasn’t—yet—disappointed.

When ESPN began broadcasting LeBron James’ high school games to a national audience some years ago, basketball fans asked, “Is he the next Michael Jordan?” Last week, James capped off the 2012-2013 NBA season with his fourth MVP award, leading the Miami Heat to a second consecutive championship (he really did “take his talents to South Beach”). It only cause more people to wonder if James could equal—or surpass—Jordan’s legacy.

Michael Eric Dyson, a sociologist at Georgetown University, made a guest appearance on ESPN’s “First Take” to offer his perspective on the similarities and differences between the two basketball greats, both on and off the court.

As Dyson explained, social movements and commercialization combined when Jordan was drafted by the Chicago Bulls in 1984. The Civil Rights Movement had passed; communication technology which could carry photos, highlights, and live games around the planet was improving; and the NBA’s new commissioner, David Stern, was intent on expanding the league’s global footprint. In Michael Jordan, Stern had found a charismatic ambassador for basketball. Dyson notes, “Jordan comes along at a time when people began to celebrate a tall, dark, handsome, physically lethal specimen who also has the ability to commodify… So when you have the marketplace joining the morality of social advance, that’s something that’s incomparable.”

While “King James” follows in Jordan’s footsteps commercially, Dyson argues that they’re different types of players on the court. Jordan was known for his legendary competitive drive and “killer instinct,” while LeBron, particularly since teaming up with fellow stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami, has earned a reputation as a facilitator who works to involve his teammates as much as possible, perhaps even to a fault.

Like MJ before him, LeBron James is now the global face of the NBA—some love him, some hate him, and most basketball fans are fascinated by him. The marketing of and commentary about the two men’s talents, bodies, and identities provide a rich source of study for social scientists interested in race, media, sport, and culture over time.

Soccer player Hope Solo covers Sports Illustrated in 2011
Soccer player Hope Solo covers Sports Illustrated in 2011

Title IX has had 40 years to flex its muscles in helping make sport a less gendered venue, and, indeed, more women are participating in and watching sports than ever before.  Oddly enough, the media representation of sports has not followed suit. A new study from sociologists Jonetta Weber and Robert Carini of the University of Louisville reconfirms a long line of research in media representations of athletes by looking at the covers of every issue of Sports Illustrated from the last decade. In an article for the website Jezebel, Madeleine Davies explains the scholars’ troubling results:

Researchers found that of the 716 SI issues published between 2000 and 2011, a mere 35 of them had covers featuring female athletes. That’s only 4.9%.

It’s extra bizarre since 12.6% of the covers from between 1954 and 1965 featured female athletes. And that’s not even the worst part. Only 18 of the recent covers actually had the female athlete as the primary image on the cover—that’s just 2.5%—and only 11 of the 35 issues showed non-white women on the cover. Despite a marked increase in women’s sport participation, one of the best-known sporting news outlets has been gradually phasing out female athletes and their accomplishments.

For more on SI’s troubled history of representing female athletes, check out The Atlantic’s 2011 piece “9 Ways Women Get on the Cover of ‘Sports Illustrated’.”

A Showtime ad for Gigolos.
A Showtime ad for Gigolos.

Women watch porn and go to strip clubs. They also pay for sex. Sociologist Kassia Wosick from New Mexico State University says this reality is now becoming part of the television canon, making it more “real” for the rest of society. Shows like HBO’s Hung and Showtime’s Gigolos revolve around women as sexual consumers. In an interview with Las Cruces Sun, Wosick explains her motivation:

I wanted to do research like this as opposed to just going out and asking women about their experiences to see the way the media constructs this, because media is essentially supposed to be a reflection of our everyday lives….

Still, we might ask, is this what women want to watch or what they’re given to watch? Through content analysis and focus groups, Wosick has found that women do feel connections with the shows. The racy viewing might be exactly what they need to chip away at a taboo of sexual consumerism and enjoy some the same pleasures that men are allowed—in fact, the images might be empowering and support egalitarianism:

Women participating as sexual consumers challenges traditional notions of gender and sexuality, which I argue is key in equalizing gendered power dynamics within society.

The controversial New York Post cover, cropped so as not to show the victim, nor the word DOOMED (all caps in the original). Image via

On a busy bridge in Detroit during a traffic jam, Deletha Word was pulled from her car by Martell Welch, whose car she had sideswiped. In view of more than forty people, former football-player Welch savagely beat Word, tearing off her clothes. Welch jumped off the bridge to escape her attacker and subsequently drowned. When I heard this story on the evening news back in 1996, I was horrified that not one of the many onlookers attempted to stop Word’s attack or to pull her from the river (she initially survived the fall, but couldn’t swim). I will never forget my first introduction to the “Bystander Effect,” the social phenomenon in which individuals are less likely to intervene to help someone in distress if there are other people nearby.

The Bystander Effect was highlighted again recently as a result of the notoriously-tactless New York Post’s front-page publication of photographs of a man about to be killed by an oncoming New York City subway train. The man had been pushed onto the tracks after an altercation was struggling to get back onto the platform. Facing criticism for photographing the man’s death, rather than helping pull him from the tracks, the photographer has defended himself in the media. He’s said he could not have gotten to the victim in time to save him, but by taking photos—thus causing his camera’s flash to go off and possibly alert the driver of the train—he hoped to help. Plus, many other people were closer to the man, but did nothing to pull him up.

Arguably, social media has exacerbated the Bystander Effect. Tim Knapp, a sociologist at Missouri State University, commented in an article about the NYC incident, “Now everyone can be a journalist and some times, at the expense of being a good Samaritan.” That is, no longer are onlookers passive observers who “do not want to get involved” or risk their own personal safety; now many bystanders film or photograph the incidents in which they fail to intervene.