Black Friday shoppers at WalMart
The holiday season is officially upon us as thousands of individuals woke up early on this Black Friday to score the best deals of the season. This time of year brings joy to the hearts of many, but also exposes one of the greatest contradictions in American society. Along with the excitement of holiday shopping and purchasing a 50 inch TV for half-price, this time of year is also supposed to be about giving. From Thanksgiving through Christmas more people volunteer and donate food and/or money than any other time of year. In 2012, to combat the popularity of consumption during Black Friday and Cyber Monday, more and more people are participating in Giving Tuesday (the day after Cyber Monday), a day to give to those in need. While we can certainly see the merits and benefits of giving a toy to a child who has none or a coat to someone who is cold, we should also ask ourselves why charity is needed in the first place and why charity is so intimately linked with consumption. (more…)
The wide world of sports has had a bad week for public relations. First, the Miami Dolphins hazing fiasco occurred, which was analyzed by my colleague Cliff Leak in “Man up: NFL Hazing and Jonathan Martin’s ‘Man Card’.” Next, the Atlanta Braves announced they would be vacating Turner Field, their stadium of 17 years, to move into a new stadium in 2017. The Braves are leaving downtown Atlanta to move North to the suburbs in Cobb County. The Atlanta Braves move is particularly surprising because they are leaving a relatively new stadium and they are taking baseball to the suburbs, making it difficult for the lower class to enjoy a game. But the real issue with the Braves’ move is associated with their reason to move. The Atlanta Braves organization is moving because the city of Atlanta will not provide taxpayer money to upgrade the current stadium. The Atlanta Braves are the latest team, owned by millionaires or billionaires, to threaten to move or actually move if the taxpayer does not provide them with a new home. (more…)
How close are we to the dystopian world outlined in 1984? Following on from my colleague bschaefer’s article ‘Volunteering for surveillance: Consumerism, fear of crime, and the loss of privacy’, this article discusses the latest challenges to our consumer privacy rights.
The concept of surveillance raises significant social questions, especially in relation to how far technologies constitute an unacceptable degree of intrusion into our private lives. This week Tesco announced their plans to introduce targeted advertising through facial recognition technologies to all 450 of its UK based petrol stations. The OptimEyes screen, developed by Lord Alan Sugar’s company Amscreen, scans the eyes of customers to determine specified categories of age and gender before running tailored advertisements. Although most of us in advanced western states are already subject to a vast array of data collection fuelled by the desire to obtain our interconnected life experiences information. This latest attempt to monitor and influence our consumer behaviour automatically sets a number of alarm bells ringing, namely to do with the social issues of surveillance, in particular power relations, spaces, and categorisations. (more…)
The recent contention over the United States budget has pitted the Democrats against Republicans and in doing so has hardened political ideologies for many but has also opened the minds of many to the hypocrisy of Congress. One central narrative in this battle is whether citizens should continue to receive entitlement programs such as Social Security or be allowed to get health care under the Affordable Care Act. The right considers anyone in poverty as lazy and handouts as a disincentive to work. Narratives were abound regarding individuals who are perceived as undeserving of healthcare and that people need to work for a living in order to receive healthcare. Fox News went so far as too post a horrifically misrepresented graph suggesting that more Americans receive benefits than work. Of course the graph is extremely flawed with contradictory measures for those that receive benefits and those that work, and the Y axis makes the difference appear greater than what it is. The notion that Americans can pick themselves up by the boot straps and make something for themselves is a sensationalized myth at this point in time. The reality is that it is difficult to win the economic race when you are not even allowed on the track. The 99% moniker of the Occupy movement is indicative of the gap between the rich and the poor, and the difference between the rich and the poor cannot be whittled down to work ethic. Rather, income inequality is a product of social structures that exploit the working class. (more…)
Source [http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:CTA_orange_line_midway.jpg] via Wikimedia Commons
Chicago has long served as a laboratory for sociologists, from the Chicago School to Wilson, Pattillo, Cronon and others. Chicago is also the center of Sampson’s study on the ecological aspect of social behavior with special focus on community level influence on individuals. By allowing space for the effect of social interaction and looking at the macro and the micro influences that shape individual behavior, Sampson explores how place chooses an individual and constrains individual choice. (more…)
The American farmer is becoming a central figure in the advertisement world and two recent commercials standout for using the image and ethos of the small, hardworking farmer to sell their products. During Super Bowl XLVII, Dodge Truck made a commercial called “god made a farmer.” The commercial shows a series of still shots of American farmers working hard and the narrative describes the hardships associated with an honest day work on the farm. The commercial focuses on the small farmer using his hands, rather than the more common use of mechanized equipment to accomplish farm work. A second commercial created by Chipotle romanticized the movement away from mass farming and towards the small farmer fighting the corporate machine to produce “wholesome” food. The Chipotle commercial critiqued the mass-farming of animals and received backlash for co-opting local food movements. Both commercials speak to the notion of the isolated American farmer attempting to make it on his/her own in a corporate world, placing the value of hard work as an American ethos. The construction of the farmer in this manner is not intended to provide support or to recognize the struggles of small farms, but to sell products. Nor does it allude to the goal of most farmers—to make a living. (more…)
Retrieved from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Silence_Means_Security_-_NARA_-_515419.tif
The chief of the National Security Agency, General Keith Alexander, made his first public comments since Edward Snowden exposed the NSA’s PRISM spying program. The media aftermath of Snowden’s revelation generated multiple narratives surrounding the program. Media coverage focused on privacy concerns, the criminality of Snowden, and the necessity of the program to protect America’s safety. Lost in the production of these various discourses, there were also narratives that did not emerge, that remained silent. The absences of particular narratives are rarely innocent oversights, but a result of presenting controlled narratives. The lack of coverage of certain views can be explained through a framework recognizing the constitutive role of silence in our everyday lives. In particular, a focus on silence can teach us to ask what is not said, for instance, why was the PRISM program classified in the first place? (more…)
The announcement by Apple this week regarding the latest version of the IPhone excited consumers worldwide. Along with any new release comes with anticipation over what new features will be included. The latest installment of the IPhone, the 5S, comes with a fingerprint technology called TouchID that replaces the now “antiquated” password with a biometric scan of the phone user’s fingerprint. Security experts are praising this new function as a way to increase protection for consumers and deter criminals from attempting to steal the phones. The use of fingerprint technology for security is nothing new, but the application to cellphones is part of an ever evolving culture of control in the United States, and is an example of the growth in passive surveillance. The need for improved security in cell phones plays on consumer’s fear of crime. The IPhone 5S may be the first phone to include fingerprint technology and, while as of now it remains optional, the use of biometric data for security purposes will slowly evolve into the industry standard and people will lose their choice to opt out.
Police videotape citizens protesting at the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City. Retrieved from Wikimedia http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:RNC_04_protest_49.jpg
Key components of New York Police Department’s controversial stop-and-frisk strategy were recently struck down by a Federal Judge for violating the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. The controversy surrounding the stop-and-frisk program primarily focused on its racial profiling—over 85 percent of the 4.3 million people stopped since 2003 were minorities. This decision has received considerable attention; however, there was a second component of NYPD’s stop-and-frisk program that was also defeated that received less attention. As part of the stop-and-frisk program, the NYPD made a practice out of permanently recording the person’s name and address in a database that could potentially be used in future investigations. In 2010, New York City passed a law prohibiting the storage of names of individuals whose cases were dismissed, but it took another three years for NYPD to stop this practice after settling a lawsuit filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) in August of 2013. The NYPD agreed to stop storing the names of people in cases that are dismissed or result in a noncriminal violation. This victory by the NYCLU is a rare win for those who challenged the government’s creation of large databases containing citizens’ personal information. (more…)
Scholars of political protest continue to attempt translation of social movements that ostensibly took a new turn in the past few years. Inspired by the Arab Spring, this current wave of contention can be traced through the Indignados and other anti-austerity uprisings, and eventually into efforts to Occupy everywhere. These movements share some characteristics: they are less leader-led than many previous movements, and participants often call for democratization but lack a clear, unified set of demands. A common tactic is the occupation and transformation of public places, as participants claim space in which they can experiment with new social possibilities (Castells 2012). This model has gained popularity with protesters in cities around the globe, its features now common in contemporary protest.