Tag Archives: art/literature

Clownifying Ads: A Good Laugh at Their Expense

We’re previously featured great examples of resistance to sexist advertising, but this example takes it up a level.  Clownify describes itself as a “street art project to turn everyday ads into ads for clowns.” I’m not sure what political message they intend to send, but what I see is a super easy, I would even say graceful, way of knocking us into consciousness. If advertisements typically occupy our lives as a taken-for-granted source of psychological coercion, this campaign reminds us to (1) actually look at what we’re seeing and (2) remember not to take ads, their messages, or their products too seriously.

Here are four examples, but there are lots more at the site:

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H/t copyranter.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Lady Spanking: From Kiss Me Kate to Comic Books

Lauren McGuire pointed us to a post by Gilligan at Retrospace inspired by a scene in the 1963 Western, McLintock!  The movie included a scene in which George McLintock, played by John Wayne, uses a shovel to spank his estranged wife, played by Maureen O’Hara.

The spanking scene apparent stuck quite the chord, as it was used repeatedly in the promotional materials.

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Gilligan suggests that the spanking of adult women by adult men was a midcentury theme, from Kiss me Kate to comic books:

Here’s an Q&A from the New York Daily Mirror, circa 1950s (thanks to @perstornes):

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Lady spanking is a manifestation of the infantilization of women.  The idea that they are not men’s equals, but are expected to obey them as subordinates and can be punished when they do not behave.  Of course, materials riffing on the spanking adult women today (outside of porn and fetish communities) would probably inspire an outcry, but that leaves open the possibility that the gendered power asymmetry simply manifests in other ways.  Adult women are still infantilized (see posts here, here, and here) and dominance/submission is still sexualized in mainstream materials (consider our post asking what love is supposed to look like).

Originally posted in 2010; re-posted in response to a new example. Images borrowed from here, here, here, here, here.  H/t Retrospace.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Depp’s “Tonto” Costume Based on a Non-Native Artist’s Wild Imagination

Johnny Depp is playing the character of “Tonto” in the movie re-make of The Lone Ranger.  Critics of the original series have observed that Tonto, the American Indian sidekick of the White hero, was a negative racial stereotype.  He was subservient to the Ranger, spoke poor English, and seemed generally dumb (his name translates into “stupid” in Spanish).  Depp has insisted that he wants to play a different kind of Tonto and reinvent the characters’ relationship.

So far so bad, as least according to recently released publicity photos revealing Depp’s costume and make up (coverage suggests that Depp himself is designing the character’s appearance).  Thanks to YetAnotherGirl and Dolores R. for sending in the tip.

Depp’s look was inspired by the art of a man named Kirby Sattler.  That’s Depp on the left; Sattler’s painting is on the right.

Sattler is famous for painting images of Native Americans, but has been criticized for stereotypical representations.  “Indian art” is a contentious issue: many non-Indian artists have made careers painting the “noble savage” and the “young girl with wolf.”  According to Native Appropriations, Sattler “…relies heavily on stereotypes of Native people as mystical-connected-to-nature-ancient-spiritual-creatures, with little regard for any type of historical accuracy.”  Sattler himself has written that his paintings come out of his own imagination or, as Native Appropriations puts it, “he makes these subjects up based on the (heavily stereotyped) images in his own head.”  Here’s a Google image search for the artist’s name:

This, unfortunately, is playing out an all-too-common story.  It goes like this:

  1. There are very few roles for non-White characters in Hollywood.
  2. When we have a non-White character, a White actor is cast into the role (e.g., The Last Airbender and Iron Eyes Cody, the crying Indian).
  3. That actor shows a lack of understanding of the real issues at hand. Depp, for example, has claimed a right to play the role because he has a little bit of Indian in him.  ”Cherokee or maybe Creek,” he says, because he doesn’t actually know.
  4. So, the portrayal is consistent with harmful stereotypes.  In this case, when deciding on a costume, Depp doesn’t choose to represent a tribe as they really were (“are” is out of the question), but instead draws on the work of an artist who admits that he makes up an idea of “the Indian” that appeals to him, a White man with no interest in true-to-life portrayals.

So, there you have it.  Again.

This post originally appeared in May 2012.  For more, see Representations of the “Primitive” Indian and Anachronism and American Indians.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

How Many PhDs are Professors?

When I approached my undergraduate mentors about graduate school in 1996, they warned me that many people who earn PhDs never get jobs in academia.  This is sometimes deliberate, as their are jobs outside of academia for some degree-holders to get, but it’s also sometimes a grave disappointment.  My mentors emphasized the extent of the risk (and frankly scared me quite a lot), but how bad was it?  And is it worse today?

The Atlantic‘s Jordan Weissmann put together the data.  The leftmost bars on his figure show that, on average, under a quarter of PhDs landed a full-time job at a college or university in 1991.  That number had dropped to less than 20% by 2011.  The numbers, however, vary significantly by field:

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See here for more details.

The looming question, of course, is what percentage of PhDs want a full-time academic job, something that certainly varies by field.  In other words, there aren’t a boatload of bitter engineers bad-mouthing the academy while slinging lattes at Starbucks.  Here’s a hint at an answer: A study published in 1999 found that 53% of all new PhDs said they wanted to become professors.  Ten years later, just over half were tenured (54%) and a handful more were tenure-track (7%); a third weren’t in academia at all.

On the one hand, I think these numbers are really depressing. Five to ten years is a long time to train for a career only to discover that, for whatever reason, you won’t be employed in the area of your expertise.  But I have two “on the other hands.”

On one other hand, I wonder how these numbers compare to other occupations?  We accept that certain occupations are highly competitive and include a lot of dumb luck and failure.  Modeling and acting are obvious examples, there are certainly others.  I know someone who’s spent their lifetime trying to become an astronaut.  Where does academia fall in the spectrum of risky job endeavors?

On a second other hand, I’d love to see some research on what happens to academics — especially in the humanities and social sciences — when they don’t get a job in academia or are denied tenure after getting there.  Within academia, this is often framed as THE END OF YOUR LIFE.  But maybe it’s often okay or pretty good.  Honestly, I don’t know.

Interesting and useful data, to be sure, but far from the whole story.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

The Problematics of the Fake Harlem Shake

Cross-posted at Racialicious.1The Harlem Shake is a syncopated dance form that first appeared on the New York hip-hop scene in the early 1980s.  Here is what it looks like:

In 2012 music producer Baueer created an electronic dance tune, unfortunately calling it The Harlem Shake. Baueer’s song inspired an Internet meme in which people rhythmlessly shake their upper bodies and grind their hips in a tasteless perversion of the original dance.  For example:

This fake Harlem Shake meme has become so ubiquitous that it has been “performed” by the English National Ballet, and gone further globally with a video from the Norwegian army, and in Tunisia and Egypt, where the song and imitation dance has become a protest anthem.

The irony of an African-American cultural relic being white-washed to the point where other people of color perform its bastardized version is not lost, and this takes on a whole new level as teams with majority African-American members such as the Miami Heat and Denver Nuggets add to the fake Shake canon. Personally, I’ve been “video bombing” anyone I see incorrectly referring to the new version as the Harlem Shake with this:

A major problematic of this meme is that it takes an already marginalized group in America, one whose history and culture has often been appropriated and co-opted in fetishistic ways by the white majority, and makes a mockery of not just them, but an entire dance tradition.  This is not lost on residents of Harlem, many of whom recognize cultural appropriation and malrepresentation when they see it:

In spite of a number of calls online from African-American writers, artists, scholars and supporters like myself to bring attention to the real Harlem Shake, every day there is instead a new group adding to the misappropriated dance. When you Google “The Harlem Shake” you must scroll through pages before you reach any posts about the actual hip-hop tradition.

This literal erasure of black culture and its replacement with an absurdist movement and meme needs to be considered in light of African-American oppression and institutionalized racism in the United States. Supplanting the sinuous artistry of the Harlem Shake with frenetic styleless arm flailing and hip thrusting is yet another brick in a grand wall of symbolic and structural violence that further relegates an entire culture to the margins, both on and offline.

As the Harlem residents said in response to the meme: “Stop that shit.”

P.S. Here’s how to actually do the Harlem Shake. 

Sezin Koehler is a half-American half-Sri Lankan informal ethnographer and novelist living in Lighthouse Point, Florida.

Even Astrophysicists Notice Gendered AP Study Guides

This week Neil DeGrasse Tyson tweeted the following, along with a photograph of suspiciously gendered AP exam study guide covers:

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I’m going to take this to mean that Tyson is as big a fan of sociology as I am of astrophysics.  Made my day.

Thanks to Jay Livingston for the tip!

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

The Rise of the Dead: Dia de Los Muertos in the U.S.

Amie G. sent along a five minute documentary in which a series of artists and entrepreneurs talk about why the Day of the Dead has become so popular in parts of the United States.

While they don’t discuss issues of cultural appropriation (like at Halloween), they have some interesting things to say about why it is so appealing to a broad audience. A professor of Art History, Ray Hernández Durán, for example, traces it to the growing Latino demographic, the way media has changed, and a history of the U.S. being open to cultural influence.

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Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Hennessy Youngman on Beauty

Hennessy Youngman kicks around the question, should art be beautiful?

If you liked, more from Youngman:

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.