Courtesy of Istvan Takacs
By Rachael Liberman
In a recent article published by the LA Times, titled “Watching TV shortens life span, study finds,” Jeannine Stein reports on a study that “found that each hour a day spent watching TV was linked with an 18% greater risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, an 11% greater risk of all causes of death, and a 9% increased risk of death from cancer.” This particular study, which used participants from the Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle Study, used both television viewing hours and blood sugar levels as variables to determine their results. As Stein reports, “Researchers found a strong connection between TV hours and death from cardiovascular disease, not just among the overweight and obese, but among people who had a healthy weight and exercised.” Further, “People who watched more than four hours a day showed an 80% greater risk of death from cardiovascular disease and a 46% higher risk of all causes of death compared with those who watched fewer than two hours a day, suggesting that being sedentary could have general deleterious effects.”
The rest of Stein’s article includes quotes from Dr. David Dunstan, lead author of the study, and Dr. Prediman K. Shah, director of the cardiology division of the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute, who both comment on “sitting posture,” “long periods of sitting,” “long hours in front of the computer screen,” and “couch potatoes.” (more…)
Who determines what “news” is? Can we define news as “that which gets talked about,” as Katz and Lazarsfeld wrote about in Personal Influence in 1955? Or are there more strict criteria that are (or should be) observed in the modern media environment? Last year, I wrote about “Martin Eisenstadt,” a fake member of a fake think tank who managed to convince the mainstream media that Sarah Palin did not know that Africa was a continent, and not a country. Although this amusing lie was discovered, and the news organizations responsible (like the LA Times and MSNBC) admitted they had been “had,” Sarah Palin’s campaign for Vice President spent a lot of time and energy trying to disavow the accusations.
News hoaxing was again in the media this month with the now-infamous “balloon boy” hoax, wherein the major cable news networks covered a story that turned out to be a mere publicity stunt. They even cut to the chase of the balloon in the air in lieu of covering the President speaking in New Orleans. The need for constant “breaking news” and the need to fill air time make it even more likely that media-savvy publicity hounds and hoaxsters will use these things to their advantage. In fact, one of the main reasons law enforcement and the public became suspicious that the balloon stunt was a hoax in the first place was because the father, Richard Heene, called the news media before the police to report that his son was missing, and presumed sailing through the air.
The major mistake that these people made was their hoax involved the use of government and police resources, and interrupted commercial aviation traffic at the nearby airport. Additionally, public opinion was turned against them due to the fact that they compelled their child to lie to further the deception. However, if this was not the case, it may have been regarded as a highly
successful use of news reporting practices for their own gain. We can expect to see more of this. People will learn from the Heenes’ mistakes, and continue to use media routines like breaking news to their advantage.
“Rumor” by Pascal Froissart
A recent article in Time magazine entitled “Jay Leno is the Future of TV. Seriously” utilizes NBC’s “gamble” on Jay Leno’s primetime talk show as a backdrop to explore the recent history and current state of American television. The article touches upon many of the issues currently being discussed in the academic literature on mass media and is a must read for media sociologists.
What makes social movement activity “authentic”? Recently in American politics, there has been a lot of discussion about “astroturfing”: protests at and disruptions of town hall meetings held by members of Congress that appear to be grassroots activity, but which are sponsored and organized by corporations and PACs (Political Action Committees). Two of the recent major players in this controversy are FreedomWorks, conservative anti-taxation PAC chaired by former U.S. Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey, and LarouchePac, organized by controversial fascist/anti-Semitic political figure Lyndon LaRouche. The former group is responsible for the many signs that popped up at town hall meetings of President Obama with a Hitler moustache.
Liberal-leaning political talk show commentators have worked to expose this activity as not grassroots, but coordinated by enemies of the President’s agenda. These critics regard this as not “real” social movement activity. Another interesting development is the usage of stock photos to represent “real” people. FACES of Coal is a pro-coal mining corporate sponsored-group which bought pictures from istockphoto.com to represent its “real” people who are pro-coal. Another example is the usage of a stock photo, purchased from the above site, that appeared on a fake profile on FaceBook of an attractive, young, blonde, Caucasian girl named “Erin Perkins,” in an attempt to promote the agendas of the Republican party and Ron Paul.
Critics of astroturfing (such as MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, in the above clip) argue that the corporations and PACs that sponsor these actions are trying to make up for the fact that the people do not of their own accord support their positions, hence the contrast between the “grassroots” movements and the fake “astroturf.” But as corporations are increasingly given more autonomy, and as de-regulation has increased corporate power, the colonization of social movements by business is a natural development in itself.
Resources and Social Movement Mobilization by Bob Edwards and John D. McCarthy
Is racist language still acceptable in the United States? As with most things in social science, the answer depends on the situation and people involved. Recently, the television program on the CBS network “Big Brother” self-censored an episode where two contestants used a derogatory term to describe fellow contestants who were of Mexican descent, as well as making anti-gay remarks. Compare this incident with former Georgia Senator and Governor Zell Miller’s statement that President Obama should be prevented from making trips abroad by fixing him in place using “Gorilla Glue.” Quoting Miller:
“Our globe-trotting president needs to stop and take a break and quit gallivanting all around. I think (chief of staff) Rahm Emanuel ought to get some Gorilla Glue and put it in that chair in the Oval Office and say ‘Sit here awhile.’”
This is a real product, but the racial overtones are hard to ignore. Some have questioned Miller’s use of this terminology (instead of using the more traditional reference to “Krazy Glue”). Clearly, racial slurs, whether overt or covert, are still used frequently. But they seem to be much more likely to get negative attention than ever before. Sociologist Eileen O’Brien explores this issue and writes on why people choose to adopt “antiracist” stances.
From Antiracism to Antiracisms by Eileen O’Brien
A decade after teenagers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 12 students, one teacher, and wounded 23 at their high school in Colorado, academic writers in different fields still debate the source of their rage. Why Kids Kill: Inside the Minds of School Shooters by Langman is a new book offering a psychological evaluation of the incident, which argues that sociocultural factors have been overemphasized. He writes that certain children are predisposed to violence through schizophrenia or psychopathic personality disorders. It is largely a response to an anthropological work by Newman, et al, called Rampage: The Social Roots Of School Shootings, which argues that oversimplifications about violent television and video games are not good explanations for such actions. The only way to prevent shootings is to pay close attention to the school environment – bullying, threats, and the socially isolated.
A more sociological perspective can be found in Comprehending Columbine by Larkin. He argues that structural factors, such as the normalization of extreme bullying by athletic elites and a general state of hegemonic religious intolerance that ostracized all outsiders, combined to make Harris and Klebold try to seek revenge. Interestingly, the book exposes as an outright lie that the shooters targeted victims based on their religious beliefs, and that this claim only obscured the deeper meanings of extreme school violence in our society.
Review of Comprehending Columbine by Ralph W. Larkin
There is a long tradition of using gender and sexual dualism as marketing strategies in industries from technology to entertainment. Discourses in advertisements are often framed as “targeting at” whether male or female consumers. Products are also packaged in ways that are gendered according to certain sets of binary codes. Such dichotomous gender representations not only reproduce the existing social and cultural structures of gender segregation, but also inform individual and collective activities which oftentimes are responses to these existing structures. Disney’s recent production strategy could be read as a manifestation of how individuals — in this case children — interact with the gender meaning structure. Sociologist and gender theorist, Barrie Thorne noted in her study about children how boys and girls respond to gender dualism through “borderworking.” As Thorne points out, school boys and girls interact with each other on playgrounds which sometimes strengthen the gender “border.” While playing games in the school yard, boys and girls would form groups which are opposite and even antagonistic against each other. In a more virtual world of gaming and television, the borderline between “girls” and “boys” is drawn along the separation of “girlie stuff” and “boys’ stuff.” The shows and programs boys and girls watch indicate which groups they are involved with, while forming their collective identity — as belonging to “the girls” or belonging to “the boys.”
However, this is not suggesting that there are entirely different cultures for boys and girls. The relationships between cultural structures and human behaviors are not static nor unchanging. There are always boys who like to watch girlie shows or girls who like to play the “boys’ games,” and thus interrupt the constructed border between the two. Children’s interpretations of what is girlie and what are the boys’ stuffs may reconfigure existing notions of the gender structures as well. Gendered behaviors and groupings also change according to circumstances and surrounding situations. As Thorne stated, under environments where gender differences are not emphasized, the borderworking between boys and girls are less significant. Since television programs and shows are fundamental to gender representation and reproduction, creating a media environment which switches the focus away from gender segregated production might help breaking down the borderlines drawn between boys and girls.
Disney aims for the boy audience
Feminist and media studies
A new television show on the U.S. broadcast network ABC called “Homeland Security USA” has been stirring up controversy within the immigrants’ rights community. Ostensibly a Homeland Security Department version of the long-running show “Cops,” this version includes border and port security activity. Critics ask, is this just another reality show, or an elaborate piece of propaganda? Some civil rights groups believe the latter, and one has organized a protest and boycott directed against the show. They charge that the program glosses over some very questionable practices of immigration enforcement like “detainees being held in inhumane and overcrowded conditions, often without charges, and for months and even years.” A Facebook page has been started to organize protest activity. Proponents of the show say that it allows the public to see the work being done to protect citizens. Conflict theory states that social order is maintained by the ability of the dominant group to control those without power, a perspective that the protesters want to make evident.
A Nation of Immigrants and a Gatekeeping Nation: American Immigration Law and Policy by Erika Lee
Since Barack Obama first announced his candidacy, social commentators have repeatedly wondered if Americans are ready to elect an African-American president. Numerous comedians responded by jokingly pointing out that America has already had a black president, in hit television shows such as 24 and Hollywood blockbusters like Deep Impact (see LA Times article). The success of Barack Obama’s campaign has sent media outlets scrambling to determine what has changed in America, when just days earlier they were interpreting polls through the cautionary lens of the alleged “Bradley effect”. A recent article in the NY Times turns its attention towards popular culture, particularly The Cosby Show, to gain some insight. The article suggests that perhaps the positive portrayal of an upper-class African-American family depicted on The Cosby Show helped change racial attitudes for an entire generation of Americans who grew up watching the show.
Clearly, pop-culture texts can have social ramifications. But how, as social scientists, should we treat this possible relationship? Likewise, are there any popular television shows today that may have a similar effect for other minority groups in the future? In Enlightened Racism, social scientists Sut Jhally (who is quoted in the NY Times article) and Justin Lewis provide some additional concerns to keep in mind, concluding that while The Cosby Show may have been progressive in one sense, the show also reaffirmed certain racial stereotypes by masking racial/class inequalities.
Toward a Sociology of Reality Television
With the American fall television season upon us, a recent NY Times article examines the underlying class distinctions found in some of this season’s newest programs. After surveying the offerings, it appears that the days of the middle-class sentimentality of such programs as The Cosby Show are a thing of the past. The article suggests that rather than focusing on supposed middle-class families, television shows today are often mainly interested in the conflicts between members of the upper-class. Additionally, the article goes on to point out that the upper-class on US television are often incredibly wealthy, with teenage characters chartering jets for first dates and even the less fortunate residing in Beverly Hills mansions. The British scholar Raymond Williams spoke of understanding a social group’s “structure of feeling” through their cultural outputs. In a time of economic turmoil, it may be interesting to utilize Williams’ approach to make sense of how these celebrations of opulence can coexist with the realities of financial uncertainty and a diminishing middle-class.
David L Altheide on Electronic Media and State Control