Inequality by (Interior) Design, a blog by sociologist Tristan Bridges, turned one-year-old last month and it is quickly becoming one of my favorites. In a recent post, Bridges featured a product that reminds us all why history is awesome: the “portable baby cage”:
As I discussed in a previous post, with industrialization came cities and with cities came crowded, cramped living quarters. The baby cage kept infants out of harm’s way and gave the family a bit more space. As Bridges discusses, it also coincided with the idea that babies needed a lot of fresh air to be healthy. The baby cage seemed like the perfect solution.
CollegeHumor posted a set of fake Puritan-themed Valentine’s Day cards. They’re a humorous way of reminding us that our intensive focus on romantic love as a driving force for sex and marriage is, in fact, quite new.
When the Puritans landed on the rocky east coast of America in the 1600s, they brought with them the belief that sex should be restricted to intercourse in marriage, hence the sentiment on the left. All non-marital and non-reproductive sexual activities were forbidden, including pre- and extra-marital sex, homosexual sex, masturbation, and oral or anal sex (even if married). Violations of the rules were punished by fines, whipping, public shaming (yes, with “scarlet letters”), ostracism, or even death.
Alongside religion, there were practical reasons why the Puritans were so darn puritanical. Colonizing the U.S. was a dangerous job; lots of people were dying from exposure, starvation, illness, and war. Babies replenished the labor supply, motivating the Puritans to channel the sex drive towards the one sexual activity that made babies: intercourse. Accordingly, having intercourse with your spouse wasn’t only allowed, it was essential; women could divorce men who had proven impotent.
The Puritans also married primarily to form practical partnerships for bearing children and mutual survival, hence the sentiment in the card on the right.
The idea that love should be the basis for marriage didn’t take hold until the Victorian era, when industrialization was changing the value of children. Useful on the farm, children were suddenly became a burden in expensive and overcrowded lodgings. This gave couples a new reason to limit the number of children they had and, because industrial production had made condoms increasingly cheap and effective, they could. Marital fertility rates dropped precipitously between 1800 and 1900: from 6+ children/woman to 3 1/2 in the U.S., England, and Wales.
In this context, a Puritan sexual ethic that restricted sex to efforts to make babies just didn’t make sense. People needed a new logic to guide sexual activity: the answer was love. Over the course of the 1800s, Victorians slowly abandoned the Puritan idea that sex was only for reproduction, embracing instead the now familiar idea that sex could be an expression of love and a source of pleasure, an idea that still resonates strongly today.
That’s at least part of the story anyway.
Bremer, Francis J., and Tom Webster. 2006. Puritans and Puritanism in Europe and America: A Comprehensive Encyclopedia. SantaBarbara: ABC-CLIO, Inc.
D’Emilio, John & Estelle Freedman. 1997. Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Freedman, Estelle. 1982. Sexuality in Nineteenth Century America: Behavior, Ideology, and Politics. Reviews in American History 10, 4: 196-215.
Hip-hop music is frequently described as violent and anti-law enforcement, with the implication that its artists glorify criminality. A new content analysis subtitled “Hip-Hop Artists’ Perceptions of Criminal Justice“, by criminologists Kevin Steinmetz and Howard Henderson, challenge this conclusion.
After an analysis of a random sample of hip-hop songs released on platinum-selling albums between 2000 and 2010, Steinmetz and Henderson concluded that the main law enforcement-related themes in hip-hop are not pleasure and pride in aggressive and criminal acts, but the unfairness of the criminal justice system and the powerlessness felt by those targeted by it.
Lyrics about law enforcement, for example, frequently portrayed cops as predators exercising an illegitimate power. Imprisonment, likewise, was blamed for weakening familial and community relationships and described a modern method of oppression.
Their analysis refutes the idea that hip-hop performers are embracing negative stereotypes of African American men in order to sell albums. Instead, it suggests that the genre retains the politicized messages that it was born with.
Steinmetz and Henderson offer Tupac’s “Crooked Nigga Too” (2004) as an example of a rap that emphasizes how urban Black men are treated unfairly by police.
Yo, why I got beef with police?
Ain’t that a bitch that motherfuckers got a beef with me
They make it hard for me to sleep
I wake up at the slightest peep, and my sheets are three feet deep.
The authors explain:
Police action perceived as hostile and unfair engenders an equally hostile and indignant response from Tupac, indicating a tremendous amount of disrespect for the police.
Likewise, Jay-Z, in “Pray” (2007), raps about cops who keep drugs confiscated from a dealer, emphasizing a “power dynamic in which the dealer was unfairly taken advantage of but was unable to seek redress”:
The same BM [‘‘big mover’’—a drug dealer] is pulled over by the boys dressed blue
they had their guns drawn screaming, “just move or is there something else you suggest we can do?”
He made his way to the trunk
opened it like, “huh?”
A treasure chest was removed
cops said he’ll be back next monthwhat we call corrupt, he calls payin’ dues
Henderson offers Jay-Z’s “Minority Report” as a great overall example:
Studying up on the literature on gun marketing for a recent interview with the New York Times, I found a 2004 article on the topic with some really interesting findings.
The study — by public health scholar Elizabeth Saylor and two colleagues — asked what tactics marketers use to sell guns in a single month of advertising. In contrast to what you might imagine, only a small minority of gun ads emphasized self-protection (3%) or a Western cowboy lifestyle (5%). Zero percent mentioned protecting one’s family. Only 15% of gun ads linked ownership to patriotism. The most common substantive theme was hunting, but even that was a theme in only 20% of ads.
So what are gun advertisers highlighting in their ads? Technical attributes. The majority of gun ads (91%) emphasize the things that make one gun different from the next. For example, they discuss the quality of the gun (61%), its accuracy (38%) and reliability (35%), and its innovative features (27%) and uniqueness (21%).
Why are gun manufacturers using this marketing strategy?
Here’s where the statistics get really interesting. At the time of the study, 44 million Americans owned firearms. Three-quarters of these owned more than one gun. In fact, 20% of gun owners are in possession of 55% of all guns (excluding law enforcement and military).
In other words, guns are not evenly distributed across the U.S. population, they are concentrated in the hands of a minority. Most people that don’t own a gun are never going to buy one, so the best strategy for gun manufacturers is to convince people that they need lots of guns. Differentiating the technical attributes of one from another is their way of telling the buyer that any given gun will do something different for them than the guns they already have, enticing the gun owner to own a range of guns instead of just one.
Cross-posted at Racialicious. Sociologist Jooyoung Lee is writing what sounds like a truly fascinating book. Titled Blowing Up: Rap Dreams in LA, it follows a series of young Black men who are trying to make it as rappers. ”Together,” Lee writes, “their stories show how rapping — and Hip Hop culture more generally — transform the social worlds of urban poor black youths.”
The video below gives us a taste of his findings. In it, he’s asked why he thinks rappers are “so maligned in our culture.” He explains that it’s because people often “take violent and misogynistic lyrics” literally. Doing so, however, is to misunderstand “how the creative process works.” He goes on to explain how one of the men he studied was pressured by a music label to cultivate an image that conformed to stereotypes of young, urban Black men.
For the last week of December, we’re re-posting some of our favorite posts from 2012.
Pierre Bourdieu was an amazingly influential thinker who, among other things, theorized a concept called “the habitus.” The term refers to our often unconscious bodily knowledges and habits. According to Bourdieu, our habits reflect where and how we grow up. The kid of a rancher, in other words, will have a very different habitus than the kid of a New York finance elite.
I thought of the habitus when I saw this quick video of people in New York, exiting a subway platform, tripping — one after the other — on the same step. Brooklyn Filmmaker Dean Peterson, who recorded this for us, remarks that the step in question is just a fraction of an inch taller than all the others. But that’s all it takes.
What is striking is how perfectly calibrated are bodies are. Most stair heights (correct me if I’m wrong) are standardized and, when we grow up in this environment, our habitus becomes tuned to that standard. We come to learn exactly how high to lift our foot to be able to climb each step, and we learn to lift it no higher. Our habitus allows us, then, to climb stairs throughout each day with minimal effort and without having to individually gauge each step, but it also makes us easy to “trip up.”
Cross-posted at The Huffington Post.In most densely-packed urban cities, one will be able to observe a disturbing phenomenon: wealthy people marching past the homeless, day in and day out. Often, the residents of the street and the residents of the apartments recognize each other and even know each other’s routines. And, yet, familiarity doesn’t breed concern.
Psychologists Lasana Harris and Susan Fiske were able to detect a neurological process behind the ability to get used to seeing others suffer. Using functional MRIs, they exposed individuals to images of the homeless. These images tended to activate parts of the brain associated with disgust. This, they argue, supports the idea that “extreme out-groups may be perceived as less than human…” It is easy to overlook the suffering of the homeless, then, because we dehumanize them.
In an effort to disrupt this cognitive process, documentary film maker Goro Toshima has released a new film, Broken Doors. The 36-minute documentary follows a young homeless couple in Los Angeles, Starr and Rico. Not only does it put faces and names to an otherwise reviled and ignored population, the documentary shows viewers just how difficult it can be to survive on the streets and to get off.
The Census Bureau has created an interactive map that lets you see median household income by county. Median household income for the entire U.S. is $51,914, but of course there is enormous variety around the country. The map lets you select an amount and see which counties have medians below that level.
Three counties — Owsley and Breathitt in Kentucky and Brooks in south Texas — have median household incomes below $20,000 a year (the white spot in Louisiana is water):
So half of households in those areas are living on less than $20,000 a year.
If we go up to $30,000 a year, we see a clear pattern. The counties are particularly concentrated in the South, especially along the Mississippi River, in Appalachia, in southern Texas, a few areas of New Mexico, and several counties in South Dakota that include Native American reservations:
If we look at the $52,000 mark — right at the overall U.S. median — we see, unsurprisingly, a lot of counties on the coasts or that have at least mid-sized cities in them, though there are certainly some counties that don’t fit that pattern:
On the upper end, there are six counties where the median household income is above $100,000 — Hunterdon, in New Jersey; Howard, in Maryland; Los Alamos, New Mexico; and three Virginia counties, Fairfax, Falls Church, and Loudoun:
You can see the Census Bureau’s table of median household income in every county in the U.S. here.