Norton Sociology recently posted an image that illustrate differences in rates of imprisonment in a number of countries. Imprisonment rates are influenced by a number of factors — what is made illegal, how intense law enforcement efforts are, preference for prison time over other options, etc. The U.S. does not compare favorably, with 74.3 per 100,000 10,000 of our population behind bars (click here for a version you can zoom in on, and sorry for the earlier typo!):
Here’s a close-up of the breakdown of the U.S. prison population:
For the last week of December, we’re re-posting some of our favorite posts from 2011.
In Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior, Ori and Rom Brafman discuss a contestant on Qui Veut Gagner des Millions?, the French version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, who asks the audience for help with the question, “Which of these revolves around the Earth?” His options are the sun, the moon, Venus, and Mars. While it might be surprising that he doesn’t know, more shocking is the result of the audience poll — 56% say the sun:
How can we explain this? The easiest answer, and the video’s title, is that French people appear to be stupid, or were never informed about the Copernican Revolution. But the Brafmans have an explanation based on different cultural attitudes toward reality shows and, ultimately, ideas about fairness.
The general outlines of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? are the same regardless of country. But distinct cultural patterns have emerged in how audiences act when asked for help. In the U.S., contestants can count on the audience’s goodwill; regardless of the question asked, audiences appear to do their best to help contestants out and the Brafmans report that data shows the audience is right over 90% of the time. I must admit it had never occurred to me that audiences would do anything other than try to be helpful. Though I don’t watch game shows now, as a kid I regularly watched The Price Is Right, among others, with my family, and we always inherently rooted for the contestant, cringing if they seemed to make a bad choice and rejoicing if they won big. We truly wanted these complete strangers to win.
But not all national audiences are so cooperative. When the show was introduced in Russia, contestants quickly learned to be wary of asking the audience for help because Russian audiences frequently mislead them, intentionally giving the wrong answer. It doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the players or the questions they ask for help on.
In France, audiences seem to fall in the middle. They don’t regularly attempt to trick players, as Russian (and according to my googling, Ukrainian) audiences do. But unlike U.S. audiences, they don’t seem willing to help under any circumstances, either. They appear to intentionally give the wrong answer if the contestant asks for help on a question the audience perceives as too easy. If they think the player ought to know the answer they give the wrong response, apparently thinking the contestant deserves to lose if they’re so stupid. In the video you can hear audience laughter when Henri decides to go with the results of the audience poll.
Ori and Rom Brafman suggest this relates to notions of fairness, which have been shown to vary widely by culture. They say that in the U.S., we think it’s fair for people to win large sums of money even if they seem dumb, while in France, there is more concern about whether the individual deserves to win. They consulted historians of Russian society who suggest audience behavior there results from a general mistrust of those who gain sudden wealth. However, they provide no data to directly connect the audience members’ intentional wrong answers to cultural perceptions of fairness more broadly, so I’m somewhat hesitant about this theoretical leap. If you’re an enterprising grad student looking for a dissertation topic, perhaps you can take this project on and get back to me with your results.
But I think this topic is also interesting for the way it highlights the intersection of globalization and local cultures. Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, like other reality shows such as the various varieties of Idol, are international franchises (Millionaire is owned by Sony), designed to be easily transferable to and implemented in many countries with the same basic blueprint — simply add local talent and you’ve got a successful TV show. But as the variation in Millionaire shows, differences inevitably creep in as a global product or process is used or interpreted on the local level, sometimes in superficial ways but other times to a degree that significantly alters the original product.
As we enter the last frenzied days of Christmas shopping, Dmitriy T.M. thought it was worth looking at international comparisons in spending on the holiday. The Economist posted a graph based on Gallup polls and other data sources about how much individuals in various countries in Europe, plus the U.S. and South Africa, plan to spend on Christmas shopping this year, plotted against national GDP. Overall, Christmas spending correlates with national wealth, with the Netherlands being a noticeable outlier (spending less than we’d expect) and Luxembourg in a spending league of its own:
Skewed sex ratios (which I’ve written about here and here) are in the news, with the publication of Unnatural Selection, by Mara Hvistendahl. The report shows some of the countries with the most skewed sex ratios, reflecting the practice of parents aborting female fetuses (Vietnam and Taiwan should be in there, too). With the exception of Korea, they’ve all gotten more skewed since the 1990s, when ultrasounds became more widely available, allowing parents to find out the sex of the fetus early in the pregnancy.
The most egregious inequality between women of the world is probably in maternal mortality. This chart shows, for example, that the chance of a woman dying during pregnancy or birth is about 100- 39-times higher in Africa than Europe. The chart also shows how many of those deaths are from unsafe abortions.
Finally, I made this one myself, showing women as a percentage of parliament in most of the world’s rich countries (the spreadsheet has the whole list). The USA, with 90 women out of 535 members of Congress, comes in at 17%.
by Guest Blogger Michael Shaughnessy, May 21, 2011, at 10:00 am
I’ve argued that the visual aids used in computer programs designed to help us learn new languages are ethnocentric, generic, and uninformative. Since then, I have been working on an alternative to these images, compiling a database of culturally organized images called the Culturally Authentic Pictorial Lexicon (CAPL).
What strikes me as both a student and a professor of language and culture is that the visual world differs so greatly across cultures and even minor differences are telling in how we organize and perceive our world. Color is one of the easiest ways to find differences in cultures. I have previously discussed the linguistic and cognitive differences of color, but now I want to show some simple examples of color in culture through analysis of various postal systems.
In China, the postal system uses a deep hunter green:
This example of postal systems is an easy way to illustrate how color becomes one of the central ways to communicate and, although the same message is shared across cultures, the path to that message varies through color.
Michael Shaughnessy is an Associate Professor of German and Chair of Modern Languages at Washington & Jefferson College. In addition to German language, literature, and culture, he has a professional interest in educational technology, especially the authenticity of multimedia imagery. His book German Pittsburgh(Arcadia Publishing) highlights the contributions of German speaking immigrants to our area.
We’ve posted a number of posts about cultural appropriation in fashion, particularly when it comes to Native Americans. Kristyn G. sent in a link to a story at the Huffington Post about a recent fashion show in Moscow that brings up questions about cultural appropriation of another group. The show, from St. Bessarion, included female models in hats, sidecurls, and some articles of clothing inspired by things worn by Orthodox Jews, combined with distinctly non-Orthodox items:
It’s not the first time Orthodox-inspired clothing has appeared on the runway. For instance, in 1993 Jean Paul Gaultier put together a men’s line he called Chosen People, which the New York Times says it was the first Judaism-inspired clothing line from a well-known designer. According to an article I found at Racked, “the collection ruffled quite a few feathers in the religious community, many of whom felt that Gaultier had misappropriated elements of religion in a disrespectful, frivolous manner.” It was quite the production:
UPDATE: Just a quick note, since I see some confusion in the comments — the designer who recently made some horrid anti-Semitic remarks was John Galliano, not Jean Paul Gaultier.
Katrin sent us a link to a image at GOOD that illustrates the geopolitics of first-person shooter video games. The image was created by a group at Complex to illustrate the way that the changing actual political landscape can be seen in the nationality of villains in video games. Peter Rubin, of Complex, explains, “Gone are the days of all FPSes being either World War II or sci-fi; in the new milennium, developers are on the hunt for enemies that are speculative but still plausible.”
They looked at 20 FPS games from the past decade (unfortunately, they give no details about how those 20 games were chosen
The selected titles:
Return to Castle Wolfenstein (2001): Germany Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Desert Siege (2002): Ethiopia Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Island Thunder (2003): Cuba Delta Force: Black Hawk Down (2003): Somalia Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Jungle Storm (2004): Colombia Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon 2 (2004): North Korea Joint Operations: Typhoon Rising (2004): Indonesia Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon 2: Summit Strike (2005): Afghanistan Delta Force Xtreme (2005): Chad Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter (2006): Mexico Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (2007): Russia/Afghanistan Army of Two (2008): Somalia/Afghanistan/China/Iraq Frontlines: Fuel of War (2008): Russia/China Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (2009): Russia/Afghanistan/Brazil Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising (2009): China/Russia Singularity (2010): Russia MAG (2010): Russia/China/India Army of Two: The 40th Day (2010): China Homefront (2011): Korea (They don’t specify if it’s North or South Korea) Operation Flashpoint: Red River (2011): China
Anyway, it provides a nice little illustration of the way that global politics seeps into this element of pop culture, as well as a snapshot of nations currently perceived as rivals or even enemies of the U.S. — a mixture of old tensions (Russia, Germany), ongoing anxiety about China, and emerging focal points.
These first two for apples and ginger ale fall into the first category:
But this ad presents the “Esquimaux” as “dull” and Grape Nuts as civilized:
Building on Potter’s collection, Adrienne at Native Appropriations posted some more contemporary uses of the Eskimo.
Eskimo Joe’s (Stillwater, OK) uses an image of an Eskimo looking downright ridiculous and very much like his dog:
Any child of the ’80s probably remembers the Lisa Frank Eskimo girl (which Adrienne points out looks decidely anglo):
And this ad seems to suggest that even decapitated walruses speak better English than Eskimos:
Here’s another example of the childlike Eskimo, tweeted to us by @Matthew_Kneale:
All of these ads turn Eskimos into (cute but inferior) childlike figures or (deficient and inferior) backwards adults, or some combination of the two. For a population with essentially no contact with the Inuit or the Yupik, the idea that they are real human beings can become lost. When real members of a group are invisible, imaginary representatives can be demonized or romanticized as we see fit.
Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.