Go over to the Contexts Podcast page to listen to a segment where Lisa and I are interviewed about Sociological Images and the joys and pitfalls of blogging–and give a shout-out to our readers and commenters. I don’t promise you we are interesting, or that I sound at all coherent.

And shut up! I know how horrible and squeaky and ridiculous my voice sounds on tape! I know that!

Taylor D. sent in a link to a set of vintage ads featuring African Americans. This one is for wigs. Notice the commodification of liberation and freedom: you buy it in the form of a wig, which gives you a whole new look in seconds!

This one is for a hair straightener:

Of course, the “tamer” and “the boss” that can “stir up some beautiful new excitement in your life” can also refer to the man who is stroking her hair, playing into the idea of the man who tames a wild woman–and that all women, deep down, want a strong man to tame them.

This next one uses women’s fear that men won’t find them attractive to sell deoderant:

Thanks, Taylor!

In this video, from the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof argues that sweatshops are, despite their drawbacks, the best option for many people in many places… and that anti-sweatshop activists should keep that in mind.

Hyundai, like all the other automakers, experienced a sharp drop in sales. According to the Examiner Las Vegas, Hyundai sales are down 40%. In an effort to attract buyers, the company now offers what they call the Assurance Program. Here’s a commercial that explains the program:

It’s a pretty interesting program. A company is basically saying, “If you aren’t buying a new car because you worry that your financial situation is unstable and the economy sucks and it would not be a fiscally responsible decision for you, don’t worry–we’ll let you back out if you really need to.”

This brings up what appears to me to be an economic paradox. On the one hand, for the economy to improve, consumers need to buy things so businesses, factories, and other employers can put people to work. So from that perspective, this program is good: it might give consumers the confidence to go ahead and buy a car. But as an individual, it seems like in an economic downturn it’s probably in your individual interest to cut back on spending and save money in case of job loss–unless you are wealthy enough and have enough savings to really not be concerned about the downturn. From that viewpoint, buying a car, particularly a new one, is probably a poor decision, unless it is absolutely necessary. Even with the Assurance Program, you still have made a number of months’ worth of payments, plus a down payment, and have nothing to show for it.

This might be useful for a discussion of self-interest and the possible conflicts between what is good for the group (and the individual members of it) in the long term and what is best for the individuals in a more immediate sense. Should we, as consumers, reduce our financial risk by saving as much money as we can, limiting consumption and spending as a result? Or should we increase our personal risk by participating in behavior that very well may lead to better conditions, but not immediately, and possibly not for us if we end up with fewer financial reserves to fall back on in case of a job loss? How do you convince people to do something that might be good for the group when it might not appear to be in their self-interest on a personal level? And does it matter that companies are asking individuals to take possible financial risks so the company can make a profit?

On a non-sociological note, holy crap the automakers are desperate.

Two readers, Muriel M. M. and Lauren D., sent in this advertisement for the Oslo Gay Festival.

Three thoughts:

First, notice how the narrative reproduces the idea of the goal-oriented sentient sperm.  (We’ve got a fun post on that idea here, and here’s another good one.)  Remember, sperm do not have goals; they do not have ideas; they do not think.  It’s just chemistry.

Second, I think it’s interesting how this video associates anal sex with gay men.  How do gay men have sex?   Well, they must copy straight people as closely as possible.  Therefore, they must put the penis in an opening “down there.”  Ah ha!  I bet they all have anal sex all the time!  I’m sure some gay men do have anal sex, but some surely don’t, and lots of straight couples do!  I bet a lot of lesbian couples find a way to do it, too.  I’m just sayin’.

Third, for what it’s worth: It also occurred to me that, in that this commercial celebrates the infertile sex act, we’ve come a long way from the Christian ethic against wasting your seed.

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, this 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.”

Here are some more of his photographs from his blog (and one from here):

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, these 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?

Tonight on “The Colbert Report” I heard about PETA’s new anti-fishing campaign, in which they refer to fish as “sea kittens” as a way to make them more appealing. From PETA’s sea kitten website:

…we’re going to start by retiring the old name for good. When your name can also be used as a verb that means driving a hook through your head, it’s time for a serious image makeover. And who could possibly want to put a hook through a sea kitten?

Here are some screenshots:

Sea Kitten 1

Sea Kitten 2

PETA sent a letter to Spearfish High School, asking them to change the name to Sea Kitten High School.

This might be a good example of how groups often try to reframe issues to change public perceptions (i.e., turning “estate tax” into “death tax”). Of course, groups vary widely in how successful they are at getting the public to accept their preferred frame, or how serious the framing attempt is. I might be underestimating them, but I seriously doubt PETA will get many people to call fish “sea kittens,” or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to oppose the “hunting of sea kittens,” aka fishing. After all, we already have catfish, and people think they’re delicious.

It’s also an example of PETA’s frequent technique of targeting children in the hope that they will then influence their parents, similarly to how marketers get kids to hound their parents for some sugary cereal instead of trying to convince the parents to buy them outright.

UPDATE: In an effort to frame PETA’s framing, a fishery observer describes the campaign as “unpatriotic” (found at NPR):

I don’t understand how it makes sense,” says fisheries observer Mary Powers, who works on fishing boats to collect data on the catches. She thinks the campaign, which encourages people to petition the Fish and Wildlife Service to stop the hunting of sea kittens, is misguided. “It seems like it’s discouraging Americans to buy our product, which I think is unpatriotic.

UPDATE: The comments to this post are great. I couldn’t help but add part of Lazercat’s: “…if fish are sea-kittens, does that make cats cannibals?”

Billy B. alerted us to this ad for Chaser Clothing.   According to Feministing, it appeared in Flaunt Magazine about a year ago.  Of course, it is another excellent example of the sexualizing of young girls.  Also, it’s a good example of how blatant and in-your-face that sexualization is.  Notice that it reads JR. Tees across the top.  JR. Tees?  Junior tease?  I now shake my head slowly back and forth with a solemn expression.