Tag Archives: pop culture

Racial Stereotypes in Marketing

The folks over at Sociological Images, have collected some great examples of the commodification of Black History by companies to market products like kool-aid, hair relaxers, BET, fried chicken and collard greens.

Image by gavdana via flickr.com

We suggest using these types of ads as a teaching tool in your classroom. First guide the students through the pictures posted on Sociological Images during class. Then, at home, have them find another example of a company using racial stereotypes to sell products (an ad, commercial or something like the image here) and write up a short summary of what stereotypes they believe it portrays. They could email them to you or post links to the class website. This activity would work best after students are familiar with the concept, but early enough in the course that it can inform their thinking for the rest. Sharing these images in class will start a great discussion, as well as get students to pay more attention to this type of racism in the media.

If students are having a hard time finding images, you could direct them to blogs that often post on this topic. For example…Sociological Images, The Color Line, Racialicious, Feministing…and many more!

Fat-Shaming

Paula Deen Enterprises
The recent post on Sociological Images about fat-shaming got me thinking about Paula Deen, the celebrity chef known for her Southern (and high-fat) cooking, whose recent disclosure of a diagnosis of Type II diabetes is causing much controversy.

The topic of fat-shaming is great for use in the classroom, because it’s most likely a new concept for most students, and can start a great conversation about stigma, the social dynamics of the obesity epidemic, and civil rights. To get the discussion going, you could show these “interviews” from The Colbert Report with Amy E. Farrell, a professor of American Studies and Women’s and Gender Studies at Dickinson College, about fat-shaming and her book Fat Shame: Stigma and the Fat Body in American Culture. Despite the craziness that is Stephen Colbert, I think Professor Farrell gets the point across well.

 

 

Gender Norms in Teen Magazines

Magazines geared towards teens are some of the best examples of illustrating gender norms for students new to Sociology. We recommend this activity for an Intro to Sociology class or to begin a course on the Sociology of Gender:Seventeen

Have students read “Selling Feminism, Consuming Femininity” by Amanda M. Gengler in the Spring 2011 issue of Contexts. Then, have them look through magazines aimed at young women or men (print or online) with a new eye for spotting the underlying messages about femininity and masculinity contained in the images or articles.

Send them home with a worksheet with these questions repeated 4-6 times so they can answer them about each image/article they find:

1. What message does this image/article portray about femininity or masculinity?

2. Do you believe this message has the potential to be harmful to young men or women? If so, in what ways? If not, why not?

3. Imagine you are talking to your younger brother/sister/cousin/daughter/son about this image or article, what would you say?

SeventeenHave them bring their examples into class and form small groups for a “Gender Workshop” (this could definitely work in a large class!) They’ll take turns describing their finds to the other members of the group. After they’ve all had their turn, they’ll have a guided discussion about their experience, addressing these questions in a small group discussion:

1. What was this experience like for you? Was there anything surprising about looking at these magazines in this way?

2. Do you believe that absorbing gender norms like the ones discussed today could have negative consequences for young men and women?  If so, how?
Give examples:

3. Whose responsibility is it to manage such messages about gender norms? The publishers of the magazines? The authors of the articles? The advertisers? The parents of the teens? The teens themselves?

 

Punishing Addiction: Celebrity Edition

Lindsay Lohan

Rebecca Tiger’s culture review “They Tried to Make Her Go to Rehab” (about the reaction to Lindsay Lohan’s struggles with drugs and alcohol) would be useful in any deviancy course or for organizing a discussion on addiction discourses or media/online interaction.

We recommend having the students read the article and then conducting their own review of comments about celebrity addiction that they can find online (like Rebecca Tiger’s review of Perez Hilton’s coverage). Have them bring examples of what they find to class to get a discussion going on how celebrity addiction is portrayed and how these discourses relates to drug policy and rehabilitation for the rest of us.

 

You could also bring up Amy Winehouse, whose recent death reinvigorated the public discussion of the causes, cures, and consequences of addiction.

Analyzing Pop Culture

Students love to analyze popular culture because it allows them to think about and write about the music, movies, TV shows, or books that they already love (or love to hate!) A fun way to use popular culture in the classroom is to have your students re-examine one of their favorite shows, movies, albums, etc. from a sociological perspective.

We recommend using Rebecca Hayes-Smith’s book review “Gender Norms in the Twilight Series” as a guide for your students (from the Spring 2011 issue of Contexts). Have your students read and discuss this short review and then go out and write one of their own!

day15 twilight saga

Hip Hop and the “N” Word

K-OS on The Come Up Show

It’s one of the most contentious words in America. Who can use? Who can’t? Should its meaning change when used by different people? It’s considered a curse word by a large segment of the United States and is prohibited from our major media and entertainment outlets–except for hip hop. Geoff Harkness explores this issue in his article “Hip Hop Culture and America’s Most Taboo Word” (Contexts, Fall 2008). We’ve put together some ways to use this article in your class on race, music, or popular culture:

  • Use these questions to start a class discussion:

1)    What social factors and cultural ties help explain the bonds Latino and black hip-hoppers express in this article?

2)    As its music and culture has become more mainstream and moved across class and racial boundaries, how has hip-hop changed?

3)    Like the “n-word”, groups sometimes “reclaim” words that are used as slurs to turn them into points of pride. Discuss the history and evolution of words like “ghetto,” “redneck,” “queer,” “faggot,” and “bitch.” Why have people sometimes chosen to reclaim derogatory words like these?

4)    Some words are loaded even if they seem neutral. Consider words like “feminist,” “patriot,” “communist.” What meanings and implications are built into these words? Can you think of similar words that evoke strong feelings?

America’s Next Top Model

We all love to hate reality TV. This assignment asks students to watch a few episodes of America’s Next Top Model after reading an interesting and accessible culture review from Contexts. There are many elements in ANTM worth sociological examination: race, gender, and sexuality of contestants and judges, gender performance, use and display of bodies, modeling culture, body image, patriarchal power, infantilizing women, feminism, self-branding and individualized success ideals.  You could even ask students to send you clips of segments they found especially provocative and show some of them in class to spark the discussion.

CS

Read the culture review “The Top Model Life” by Elizabeth Wissinger featured in Contexts magazine’s Spring 2010 issue.

Then, watch an episode (or a few) of America’s Next Top Model online.

Full episodes found here.

Hero Making

Below Nathan Palmer, faculty in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Georgia Southern University, shares some great ideas on how to teach students about making heroes, the social construction of reality, and rituals.

DC Hero Minifigs - Wave 11

Students are filing into a large lecture hall. An empty stage in front of them with a simple black text on white background powerpoint slide reads, “What if we treated sociologists as celebrities or sports heroes?” At 9:00 am exactly the lights dim and a hyped up song begins to play. Students are looking around the room for answers when over the speakers they hear, “Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention please as we announce tonight’
s starting lineup for your very own Georgia Southern Eagles! Starting at teacher hailing from the University of Nebraska, it’s NAAATHAAAAN PAAALMEEER!!!” The music reaches a crescendo as I storm in from the back of the auditorium, slapping high fives with students as I make my way to the stage. Once on the stage I pour baby powder in my hands and throw it in the air mimicking LeBron James’s pre-game ritual. Then I point both my fingers to one side of the room just like the fastest man in the world Usain Bolt does.

Heroes, Celebrities, and Constructing Reality
The music stops. When the students stop laughing hysterically I start a discussion about how we “make sports heroes.” We talk about the lights, music, the announcer’s tone of voice, the crowd participation and all the other rituals we do across the country at sporting events. This is a great way to discuss the social construction of reality in a way that students really connect with. I also bring in Durkheim’s insights about rituals and community building. Nowhere in the United States is there a more naked concerted effort to clearly define an “us” and a “them” as there is at sporting events.

Typically my students want to take the conversation beyond sports and look at pop-culture celebrity making. This is an easy transition given that the way we make pop-culture celebrities is very similar to sports hero making. Students talk about movie trailers with quick cuts and a dramatic voice over. They talk about TMZ, Extra!, and other celebrity news magazines that prop up the most mundane behaviors as being amazing and trend setting.

Inevitably, one student will say, “I hate celebrities and sports heroes. The real heroes of the world are Pat Tillman and the men and women who serve our country.” This is a excellent opportunity to talk about the rhetorical frames we use to describe soldiers. I will ask the class, “How do we talk about soldiers and the military in the United States when we want to honor them?” The class is quick to use words like sacrifice, bravery, courage, and honor. This demonstrates to the class that even when talk about people who do more than score a touchdown or star in a movie, we still use symbols and rhetorical devices to socially construct a heroic reality for them.

Making Your Intro Music
Creating your audio introduction is fairly easy. I buy a high energy top 40 song off of iTunes each semester so that my students will immediately recognize the song. iTunes is great because you can buy a “clean” or censored version of the song and it will only cost you $1.29. Most recently I used the song “Winner” by Jamie Foxx. After you pick a song you can use free programs like Audacity on a PC or GarageBand on a Mac to record your “announcer intro” and then mix the track with the song you’ve chosen.

Teaching symbolic interaction is typically something we all do during the first weeks of a introduction to sociology course. This activity is especially good because it affords us an opportunity to break student expectations early. As I am sure is apparent by now, this activity takes a fair amount of courage on your part. However, by putting yourself out there, so to speak, you can shatter student preconceptions about professors and college classes. You can also rest assured that your students will leave class and tell all their friends about what they learned in sociology today.

Teaching as Theater
The reality is, if you are teaching 100+ students in a large lecture hall you are doing performance theater like it or not. When students walk into a theater sized classroom and when you stand on a stage with a microphone, it should surprise no one that students expect to be entertained. As sociologists we have a unique opportunity to play with student expectations and violate norms in a way that both makes for good pedagogy and good theater.

Children and Reality TV

The article “Balloon Boy Plus Ei8ght? Children and Reality Television” from the Culture Reviews section of the Spring 2010 issue of Contexts is short and class-room friendly piece that explores the use of children in reality TV. As a big part of their popular culture, students will likely have a lot of say about reality TV in general and its use of child stars. Use the following questions either as a group or individually to spark an interesting discussion:

1) What are some reality TV shows that you know about that use children as their main stars? Do you watch them?

2) What do you think it is about using children in reality TV that makes so many people tune in?

3) Levey argues in the article that the children are being exploited by their parents and producers. Do you agree? Why or why not?

4) If you had the opportunity to put your children on a reality TV program, would you? What would be the benefits? What would be the drawbacks?

5) Do you agree with the author that the children currently on reality TV will suffer consequences for it down the road? If so, what are some examples?

6) Imagine how your childhood would have been different if you had been on reality TV. Do you think it would have been a positive or negative experience for you?

Or use this activity:

Bring in a clip of a reality TV show that utilizes child stars to share with the class. Discuss the way the filmmakers and the adults on the program are interacting with them. Do they seem to be enjoying their time in the spotlight? Do you think this is child labor?

Reality TV and Neoliberalism?

For this activity, have students read David Grazian’s essay in the Culture Reviews section of the Spring 2010 issue of Contexts “Neoliberalism and the Realities of Reality TV.” After they read the article at home or in class, have them watch various clips from reality tv shows highlighted in the article and answer/reflect on the questions below. They should come prepared to discuss their reactions to the article and the video clips in class.

1) Have you seen the reality tv shows that Grazian discusses in the article? How often do you watch shows like these? Do you enjoy them?

2) What do you make of Grazian’s argument that reality tv shows reflect a neoliberal agenda? Do you buy this argument? Which parts of his argument do you find most compelling? If you don’t agree with Grazian, why not? What parts of his argument do you disagree with or find troubling?

Use video clips like these….