Archive: Jan 2009

Shelby Lee Adams is a photographer most famous for his pictures of Appalachia. Here is the cover one of his books:

This post is based on a documentary about Adams work called The True Meaning of Pictures.

Adams has come under severe criticism.  Critics argue that his photography exploits the poverty and disempowerment in Appalachia and reproduces negative stereotypes. The idea the Appalachian people are imbred, dumb, and barbaric was made famous in the movie Deliverance. Here is the (at once charming and chilling) dueling banjo scene:

Critics argue, also, that Adams features the worst conditions of life in Appalachia.  Bill Gorman, the Mayor of Hazard, Kentucky, says:

“I don’t think this is average… I think it’s the kind of thing that sells.”

For example, one picture is argued to be staged. Adams admits to buying the pig and arranging the butchering (the family was too poor to have pigs).

In the documentary, we also see Adams instructing his subjects in how they should stand and what facial expression to make.

A.D. Coleman, an art critic, thinks that images are purposefully made to seem “ominous” and “spooky.”  And, while Adams gets permission from the people in his pictures to use their images, Coleman suggests that they are not necessarily capable of understanding exactly what they are consenting to.  He explains:

“They [the pictures] call for a very sophisticated kind of reading.  And I’m not sure that these people have the education, the visual educational background, to understand how these pictures read.”

Others suggest that that doesn’t give the Appalacians enough credit.

Adams argues that he’s taking pictures of his own culture. In fact, Shelby did grow up in Appalachia, though he was middle class compared to those he photographs.  He also abdicates responsibility for any objective representation.  He says:

“I’m trying to express myself with that culture. So it’s not an objective document. It’s not an object. It’s me. It’s life. And it’s my subjects lives. Who are my friends.”

You can see more of his photographs here and here.

The controversy over Adams’ work brings up some interesting questions regarding art and representation:

1.  What is art for?  Is it for representing things as they are?  Is it for the expression of the artist?  Is it for the furtherance of social justice?

2.  Who decides the meaning of a picture?  Does Adams’ intention count?  Or does the only thing that counts what the viewer sees?  Which viewer?  How many viewers must we predict will judge Appalachia badly upon viewing the pictures before we decide that they undermine social justice efforts (if, in fact, we decide social justice is relevant to art)?

3.  If, in fact, the pictures do represent the poorest Appalachians, does that mean they should not be photographed?  Is that criticism, in itself, a good one?  Who gets to decide who really represents Appalachia?

4.  So what if Adams is making money off of the pictures?  Does this make him a bad person?  Does it make the pictures exploitative?  When things are done for money, does that mean that they are automatically not about love and care?  Many of us, I imagine, sure hope that’s not true for preachers and teachers.  So how do we decide whether the fact that Adams benefits is a problem?

Thoughts?  Other questions we could ask?

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Political donations are by law public. With this information, someone has put up a website which shows, on google maps, which households (in the Bay Area, Salt Lake City, and Orange and L.A. Counties) donated money to Proposition 8 (California’s successful proposition to prohibit gay marriage). When you click on the arrow, it also tells you the name of the person in the household, that persons occupation and employer, and how much money they donated. Take a look.

Over at The Daily Dish, one person is quoted saying:

What could possibly be the use of this kind of information, presented in this way? It’s intended to intimidate people into not participating in politics by donating money. Do that, and you’ll end up on some activist group’s map, with hotheads being able to find your street address on their iPhones.

Andrew Sullivan weighs in:

I don’t get the fear. If Prop 8 supporters truly feel that barring equality for gay couples is vital for saving civilization, shouldn’t they be proud of their financial support? Why don’t they actually have posters advertizing their support for discriminating against gay people – as a matter of pride?

Elsewhere on the same website, a reader writes in:

I zoomed in on the cities and neighborhoods where my relatives live.  What do I find but that one of my own aunts, in San Diego, contributed $200 to the Prop 8 cause last summer.  This same aunt, a good person I honestly believe, has even invited me and my partner to stay with in her family’s home. Call me naive, but I’m kind of having trouble wrapping my brain around this seeming contradiction.

This back and forth raises some interesting questions:

Is the map violating some sort of privacy? If not technical, legal privacy, then some sort of cultural agreement about how far is “too far”?

Is the first commenter correct that this is essentially a nefarious act? Should political donations be public in this brave new world of google maps and internet access? Has “public” taken on a whole new meaning here?

Then again, the right to free speech protects a lot more aggressive and heinous things than this google map. Is the first commenter overreacting?

And what of Andrew Sullivan’s comment? Are those who donated proud to see themselves on the map? Or are they ashamed?  When political action is unpopular (not that I’m sure this one is), does that change the nature of participation? Should holders of unpopular political beliefs be protected, perhaps by allowing them to donate anonymously?  Or is shaming part of how cultural change happens and, thus, a perfectly legitimate strategy on behalf of gay rights?

Further, maybe people like the last commenter deserve to know if their friends or relatives are donating to political causes that discriminate against them?  Then again, does the Aunt have any right to be able to donate to the cause without disrupting her relationships with her family?

Thoughts?  Other questions you think this brings up?

Nate Silver of has a new column, The Data, in Esquire. In his innaugural article, he revisits how Obama won the election, looking specifically at rural/suburban/urban voters.

Francisco sent in the Jan. 7th cover of The Statement, the magazine of the Daily Michigan (found here).  It features three apples: one carries male markers (giant mustache), one female markers (eyelashes, make-up, and big red lips), and the third, labeled with a question mark, carries markers for both sexes, sort of askew, and is partially missing.

Cayden writes:

[Apparently p]eople who don’t conform to the gender binary (and quite rigidly too — note the “man” apple’s huge stache and the “woman” apple’s pouty red lips) are incomplete people: monsterous and frightening.

Below is a video, found via The Daily Dish, of a girl, maybe four or five, mimicking the dancing in a music video featuring Beyonce.  She’s amazing!  Watch her go:


Okay… now for sociological comments… these are all Gwen’s ideas, by the way, even though I’m posting it:

We often think of childhood socialization as a top-down process.  That is, we imagine that children are empty vessels and adults, mostly parents maybe, fill them up with whatever they please.  It may be true that the parents of this little girl actively, even aggressively, encouraged her to learn this dance.  But it’s also possible that this is driven by that little girl.  In which case, it may illustrate how kids can take an active part in their own socialization.  Clearly these parents don’t mind that their daughter is watching Beyonce, but she may be taking the initiative to emulate a public figure she’s seeing in the media (which surely includes messages about how to look, dress, etc.).  Even if these parents don’t like everything about that message (or other models she might follow), they can’t actually protect her from the ever-present messages about femininity that are all around her, which are going to affect how she thinks about herself, what she should be, etc.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Now and again, I hear that college graduates entering the workforce today, both male and female, offer a new set of challenges to employers.  Notably, a sense of entitlement to high pay and excellent benefits and a poor work ethic. I have no idea if this is true. However, over at MultiCultClassics, Highjive posted an ad for a seminar that purports to teach employers to handle “Millennials”.  It’s similar to a post that Gwen put up about advice to employers for working with women when they initially entered the paid workforce in large numbers. 


There’s a new professional entering the workforce today—one who is different in attitude, behavior, and approach to both work and career.  Discover where they are coming from through this two-day seminar at Loyola, which helps bridge the gap between Baby Boomer managers and their younger cohorts, the Millennials.

Lorë P. sent in examples of two stamp sets. She writes:

They are clear plastic you peel and put on blocks in order to stamp images… They are both made by a company called Sassafras Lass and are being sold at Joann Fabrics. One of the stamp sets is called “Girl Talk” and the other is “Boy Talk.”

“Girl Talk”

“Boy Talk”

Lorë did such a wonderful job describing these, I will leave it to her:

One of the first things that struck me was that both of these is that they have stamps that mention dad — “daddy’s girl” and “like father like son” but only the female one mentions mom (I guess it would be considered too emasculating to have “mommy’s boy?”)

Another interesting part of these stamps is that the “Girl talk” emphasizes the sweetness of girls – their giggles, their silliness, their angelic qualities (not to mention princess..). On the other hand, the male version has more objects – trucks, rockets, robots and “strong” traits – being brave and embracing adventure (and what does “all boy” mean anyway?).

The one overlap that I can see is the word “Laughter” – which on the girls segment is in very frilly cursive handwriting and on the male version written in an old cowboy font. This also points to the difference in fonts, where the male versions are more square and has no cursive. The girl version is almost all cursive, except for some very curly printing.

While I am not particularly shocked at finding this kind of stamps available to scrapbookers and cardmakers – I always wonder why we have to make the lines of difference so distinct… Of course these stamps are probably not being used by children, but by adults making things about or for children… of course, these stamps are couched in (from my experience) a predominately female dominated (although pretty conservative) hobby.

Thanks Lorë!

See also this post on gendered Disneyland T-shirts.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Immigration and migration are a modern-reality of global social transformation. I don’t often see as much discussion of refugees however. A nice infographic via Good Magazine.