Last month one media behemoth, AT&T, stated it would purchase another, Time Warner, for $85.4 million. AT&T provides a telecommunications service, while Time Warner provides content. The merger represents just one more step in decades of media consolidation, the placing of control over media and media provision into fewer and fewer hands. This graphic, from the Wall Street Journal, illustrates the history of mergers for the latest companies to propose a merger:

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The purchase raises several issues regarding consumer protections – particularly over privacy, competition, price hikes, and monopoly power in certain markets – and one of these is related to race.

A third of the American population identifies as Latino, African American, Asian American, and Native American, yet members of these groups own only 5% of television stations and 7% of radio stations. Large-scale mergers like the proposed one between AT&T and Time Warner exacerbate this exclusion. Minority-owned media companies tend to be smaller and mergers make it even harder to compete with larger and larger media conglomerates. As a result, minority-owned companies close or are sold and the barriers to entry get raised as well. The research is clear: media consolidation is bad for media diversity.

After the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences committed to increasing diversity on screen and technology companies have vowed to increase their workforce diversity, but such commitments have done relatively little to improve representation. Such “gentlemen’s agreements” are largely voluntary and are mostly false promises for communities of color.

Advocacy groups and federal authorities should not rely on Memorandum of Understandings to advance inclusion goals. When the AT&T/Time Warner deal gets to the Federal Communications Commission, scrutiny in the name of “public interest” should include the issue of minorities’ inclusion in both the media and technology industries. As a diverse nation struggling with ongoing racial injustices, leaving underrepresented communities out of media merger debates is a disservice not only to those communities, but to us all.

Jason A. Smith is a PhD candidate in the Public Sociology program at George Mason University. His research focuses on race and the media. He recently co-edited the book Race and Contention in Twenty-first Century U.S. Media (Routledge, 2016). He tweets occasionally.

Flashback Friday.

Previously marketed to women, skin lightening, bleaching, and “fairness” creams are being newly marketed to men.  The introduction of a Facebook application has triggered a wave of commentary among American journalists and bloggers.  The application, launched by Vaseline and aimed at men in India, smoothes out blotches and lightens the overall skin color of your profile photo, allowing men to present a more “radiant” face to their friends.

The U.S. commentary involves a great deal of hand-wringing over Indian preference for light skin and the lengths to which even men will go to get a few shades lighter.  Indians, it is claimed, have a preference for light skin because skin color and caste are connected in the Indian imagination.  Dating and career success, they say further, are linked to skin color.  Perhaps, these sources admit, colorism in India is related to British colonialism and the importation of a color-based hierarchy; but that was then and, today, India embraces prejudice against dark-skinned people, thereby creating a market for these unsavory products.

The obsession with light skin, however, cannot be solely blamed on insecure individuals or a now internalized colorism imported from elsewhere a long time ago.  Instead, a preference for white skin is being cultivated, today, by corporations seeking profit.  Sociologist Evelyn Nakano Glenn documents the global business of skin lightening in her article, Yearning for Lightness.  She argues that interest in the products is rising, especially in places where “…the influence of Western capitalism and culture are most prominent.”  The success of these products, then, “cannot be seen as simply a legacy of colonialism.”  Instead, it is being actively produced by giant multinational companies today.

The Facebook application is one example of this phenomenon.  It does not simply reflect an interest in lighter skin; it very deliberately tells users that they need to “be prepared” to make a first impression and makes it very clear that skin blotches and overall darkness is undesirable and smooth, light-colored skin is ideal.  Marketing for skin lightening products not only suggests that light skin is more attractive, it also links light skin to career success, overall upward mobility, and Westernization.  Some advertising, for example, overtly links dark skin with saris and unemployment for women, while linking light skin with Western clothes and a career.

The desire for light skin, then, isn’t an “Indian problem” for which they should be entirely blamed. It is being encouraged by corporations who stand to profit from color-based anxieties that are overtly tied to the supposed superiority of Western culture.  These corporations, it stands to be noted, are not Indian.  They are largely Western: L’Oreal and Unilever are two of the biggest companies.  The supposedly Indian preference for light skin, then, is being stoked and manufactured by companies based in countries populated primarily by light-skinned people.  As Glenn explains, “Such advertisements can be seen as not simply responding to a preexisting need but actually creating a need by depicting having dark skin as a painful and depressing experience.”

Before pitying Indian seekers of light-skin, condemning the nation for colorism, or gently shaking our heads over the legacies of colonialism, we should consider how ongoing Western cultural dominance (that is, racism and colorism in the West today) and capitalist economic penetration (that is, profit through the cultivation of insecurities around the world) contributes to the global market in skin lightening products.

Originally posted in 2010; crossposted at BlogHer.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

It’s all harmless political shenanigans until a racist mob murders Vincent Chin.

It’s amazing how the new figureheads of both major parties are now pretending to oppose globalization, outsourcing, and the corporate “free trade” agenda that they both have spent their professional lives furthering. It wasn’t long ago that I taught in my stratification class that this agenda was the one thing we could be sure both parties and the big money behind them wouldn’t give up. Never say never, but I’m still pretty sure that’s still true.

There are humans that are hurt by this agenda, but most of them aren’t Americans. If politicians want to talk about slave labor, exploitation, and environmental degradation in the new manufacturing centers of the world, then I would be happy to listen to them talk about the harmful effects of those practices “here at home” too. But if they just want to bash China, then that’s racist, and no thank you.

Case in point, Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey at the Democratic National Convention the other day. Here’s his speech, followed by some of the text and my comments:

Casey quoted his father, the former governor:

The sweat and blood of working men and women who built Pennsylvania forged the industrial revolution in our country, and outproduced the world.

How touching, attributing the industrial revolution the efforts of the working class and not the capitalists. It reminds me of when another Pennsylvania governor, Democrat Robert Pattison, reached across the aisle, helping out Republican industrialists by lending them the National Guard to attack striking steelworkers.

I assume today’s Democratic politician will now go on to recognize the working class of today’s manufacturing centers, who, through their sweat and blood, are outproducing the world and building the middle class in their countries. Oh right, Senator Casey is an American.

What about Donald Trump? Donald trump says he stands for workers, and that he’ll put American first, but that’s not how he’s conducted himself in business. Where are his, quote, tremendous products made? Dress shirts: Bangladesh. Furniture: Turkey. Picture frames: India. Wine glasses: Slovenia. Neckties: China. China! Why would Donald Trump make products in every corner of the world, but not in Altoona, Erie, or here in Philadelphia? Well, this is what he said, quote, outsourcing is not always a terrible thing. Wages in America quote, are too high. And then he complained about companies moving jobs overseas because, quote, we don’t make things anymore. Really? … [examples of stuff made in America]. Donald Trump hasn’t made a thing in his life, except a buck on the backs of working people. If he is a champion of working people, I’m the starting center for the 76ers! The man who wants to make America great, doesn’t make anything in America! If you believe that outsourcing has been good for working people, and has raised incomes for the middle class, then you should vote for Donald Trump. … We need to making good paying jobs for everyone here at home, so that everyone who works hard can get ahead and stay there.

The great conflict of our time is between “China” and “working people”? Maybe we should all link arms and together put down striking Chinese workers to keep the price down on our iPhones and Wal-Mart junk.

The Democratic National Convention was very on-message. In Hillary Clinton’s acceptance speech the next day, she said:

If you believe that we should say “no” to unfair trade deals, that we should stand up to China, that we should support our steelworkers and autoworkers and homegrown manufacturers — join us.

She gave no definition of what it means to “Stand up to China,” though her website says she will insist on trade deals that raise wages and create good-paying jobs (presumably in the US). That’s not important — the important thing communicated to her audience is she’s against China and for American workers. Then she went through the same list of Trump production locations that Casey did, before concluding, “Donald Trump says he wants to make America great again – well, he could start by actually making things in America again.” The current U.S. trade deficit in goods (as opposed to services) is about $62 billion — per month. Virtually all Americans are dependent on imported goods (including, apparently, Clinton, whose Nina McLemore suits are made from European and Asian fabrics). No major politician is seriously against this. Trump hiring U.S. workers to make his ties would make about as much difference as Clinton buying clothes with U.S. fabrics, which is basically none. It’s just symbolism, and the symbolism here is “China is bad.” Unless you join this kind of talk with explicit concern for the suffering and exploitation of Chinese workers, this just feeds American racism.

Decades later, Vincent Chin’s murder still resonates with me. There is debate about whether racism was the real motivation behind his murder, and it wasn’t as simple as a random lynch mob. Despite the legend, it is not the case that the auto workers just killed him because they falsely believed he was Japanese. But a witness at the bar said they blamed him for them being out of work before they fought. She said:

I turned around and I heard Mr. Ebens say something about the “little motherfuckers.” And Vincent said, “I’m not a little motherfucker,” and he said, “Well, I don’t know if you’re a big one or a little one.” Then he said something about, “Well, because of y’all motherfuckers we’re out of work.”

After losing the first round, Ronald Ebins and his stepson, Michael Nitz, hunted Chin down and killed him with a baseball bat, a crime for which they ultimately served no jail time.

My 8-year-old Chinese immigrant daughter, who learns all about how racism and bullying are bad and MLK is great in her neoliberal public American elementary school, is routinely offended and hurt by the China-bashing she hears from Democrats as well as Trump (she supported Bernie but is willing to back Hillary to stop Trump).

Hillary says we should protect our children from having to listen to Trump’s nastiness — she even has ad on that, which I’ve personally witness liberals tearing up over:

So, what about the people making speeches at the Democratic convention, spitting out the word China! like it’s a disease? “What example will we set for them?”

If the new normal of politics is both parties bashing foreigners  while they pretend to oppose globalization — and then pursuing the same policies anyway (which, face it, you know they will), then what have we gained? It seems to me there is a small chance Clinton will negotiate better trade deals to the benefit of workers (U.S. or Chinese), alongside a much greater chance that her rhetoric will stoke nativism and racism. Trump’s megaphone may have drawn the White supremacists out from under their rocks, but the new anti-TPP Hillary is bellowing the same obnoxious chauvinism.

Philip N. Cohen is a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, College Park, and writes the blog Family Inequality, where this post originally appeared. He is the author of The Family: Diversity, Inequality, and Social Change. You can follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

According to this graphic by NPR, “truck driver” is the most common occupation in most US states:

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But truck driving isn’t what it used to be. In 1980, truckers made the equivalent of $110,000 annually; today, the average trucker makes $40,000. What happened to this omnipresent American occupation?

At the Atlantic, sociologist Steve Viscelli describes his research on truckers. He took an entry level long-haul trucking job, interviewed workers, and studied its history. He found that the industry had essentially eviscerated worker pay, largely by turning truckers into independent contractors, misleading them about the benefits of this arrangement, and locking them into punitive contracts.

Viscelli argues that few truckers are fully informed as to what it means to be an independent contractor, at least at first. Trucking companies sell them on the idea that they’ll be their own boss and set their own hours, but they don’t emphasize that they will pay significantly more taxes, their own expenses, and the lease on a truck. Viscelli interviews one man who took home the equivalent of 50 cents an hour one week; another week he’d ended up owing the company $100. As independent contractors, he writes, truckers “end up working harder and earning far less than they would otherwise.”

If truckers want to get out of these contracts, the companies can hold their lease over their heads. Truckers sign a years-long contract to lease their truck along with a promise not to work for anyone else. If the contract is violated, the worker is on the hook for the entire lease. This could be tens of thousands of dollars, so the trucker can’t afford to quit. He’s no longer working, in other words, to make money; he’s just working, sometimes for years, to avoid debt.

The decimation of this once strongly middle class job is just one story among many. Add them all up — all of those occupations that no longer provide a middle class income, and the rise of lower paying jobs — and you get the shrinking of the middle class. Since 1970, fewer and fewer Americans qualify as middle income, defined as a household income that is between two-thirds of and double the median, or middle, household income.

You can see it shrink in this graphic by Deseret News using data from the Pew Research Center:

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Part of the reason is that we have transitioned to an industrial economy to one that offers jobs primarily in service (low paying) and knowledge/information (high paying), but the other part is the restructuring of work to increasingly benefit owners, operators, and investors over workers. As the middle class has been shrinking, the productivity of American workers has been climbing, but the workers haven’t been the beneficiaries of their own work. Instead, employers have just been taking a larger and larger share of the value added that workers produce.

Figure from the Wall Street Journal with data from the Economic Policy Institute:

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Between 1948 and 1973, productivity and wages increased at close to the same rate (97% and 91% respectively), but between 1973 and 2014, productivity has continued to climb (increasing by 72%), while wages have not (increasing by only 9%).

This is why so many Americans are struggling to stay afloat today. We’ve designed an economy that makes it ever more difficult to land in the middle class. Trucking isn’t the job it used to be, that is, because we aren’t the country we used to be.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Wealth inequality in the U.S. is extreme, but global wealth inequality, illustrates a video by The Rules, is even more stunning. Some facts:

  • The top 20% control 80% of the world’s wealth.
  • The richest 2% control more wealth than the bottom half of the world’s population.
  • The richest 300 people on earth have more wealth than the poorest 3,000,000,000.
  • 200 years ago, rich countries were three times as rich as poor countries. Today, they are eighty times richer.
  • Rich countries give $130 billion dollars worth of aid to poor countries every year, but they extract $2 trillion each year thanks to global economic rules.

Here are their sources; or watch the four minute video:

The Rules wants to reveal and challenge the laws that govern our global economy. It is a distinctly sociological project, looking at how factors outside of individuals — or, in this case, countries — shape lives. Shaped strongly by the richest countries in their own best interest, rules governing the trading of goods and money are determining the economic solvency and future of countries.

When those rules are invisible, it can seem like struggling countries are just poorly managed or culturally problematic when, in fact, the rules ensure that the deck is stacked against them.

Hat tip to Martin Hart-Landsberg.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

2 (1)Yep. Economics majors are more anti-social than non-econ majors. And taking econ classes also makes people more anti-social than they were before. It turns out, there’s quite a bit of research on this, nicely summarized here.  Econ majors are less likely to share, less generous to the needy, and more likely to cheat, lie, and steal.

In one study, for example, economists Yoram Bauman and Elaina Rose noted the consistent finding that econ majors were less generous and asked whether the effect was do to selection (people who are anti-social choose to take econ classes) or indoctrination (taking econ classes makes one more anti-social). They found that both play a role.

Students at their institution — University of Washington — were asked at registration each semester if they’d like to donate to WashPIRG (a left-leaning public interest group) and ATN (a non-partisan group that lobbies to reduce tuition rates).  Bauman and Elaina crunched the data along with students’ chosen majors and classes. They found that econ majors were less likely to donate to either cause (the selection hypothesis) and that non-econ majors who had taken econ classes were less likely to donate than non-majors who hadn’t (the indoctrination hypothesis).

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What should we make of these findings?

Sociologist Amitai Etzioni takes a stab at an answer. He argues that neoclassical economics isn’t a problem in itself. Instead, the problem may be that there are no “balancing” classes, ones that present a different kind of economics. In other part of the academy, he argues — specifying social philosophy, political science, and sociology– there is “a great variety of approaches are advanced, thereby leaving students with a consolidated debasing exposure and a cacophony of conflicting pro-social views.”

Being exposed to a variety of views, including ones that question the premises of neoclassical economics, may be one way to make economists more honest and kind. And doing so isn’t just about sticking one to econ, it’s an issue of grave seriousness, as the criminal and immoral behavior of our financial leaders is exactly what triggered a Great Recession once… and could again.

Cross-posted at Pacific Standard.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

National Ugly Christmas Sweater Day has come and gone, falling this year on Friday, December 18th. Perhaps you’ve noticed the recent ascent of the Ugly Christmas Sweater or even been invited to an Ugly Christmas Sweater Party. How do we account for this trend and its call to “don we now our tacky apparel”?

Total search of term “ugly Christmas sweater” relative to other searches over time (c/o Google Trends):

Ugly Christmas Sweater parties purportedly originated in Vancouver, Canada, in 2001. Their appeal might seem to stem from their role as a vehicle for ironic nostalgia, an opportunity to revel in all that is festively cheesy. It also might provide an opportunity to express the collective effervescence of the well-intentioned (but hopelessly tacky) holiday apparel from moms and grandmas.

However, The Atlantic points to a more complex reason why we might enjoy the cheesy simplicity offered by Ugly Christmas Sweaters: “If there is a war on Christmas, then the Ugly Christmas Sweater, awesome in its terribleness, is a blissfully demilitarized zone.” This observation pokes fun at the Fox News-style hysterics regarding the “War on Christmas”; despite being commonly called Ugly Christmas Sweaters, the notion seems to persist that their celebration is an inclusive and “safe” one.

We might also consider the generally fraught nature of the holidays (which are financially and emotionally taxing for many), suggesting that the Ugly Sweater could offer an escape from individual holiday stress. There is no shortage of sociologists who can speak to the strain of family, consumerism, and mental health issues that plague the holidays, to say nothing of the particular gendered burdens they produce. Perhaps these parties represent an opportunity to shelve those tensions.

But how do we explain the fervent communal desire for simultaneous festive celebration and escape? Fred Davis notes that nostalgia is invoked during periods of discontinuity. This can occur at the individual level when we use nostalgia to “reassure ourselves of past happiness.” It may also function as a collective response – a “nostalgia orgy”- whereby we collaboratively reassure ourselves of shared past happiness through cultural symbols. The Ugly Christmas Sweater becomes a freighted symbol of past misguided, but genuine, familial affection and unselfconscious enthusiasm for the holidays – it doesn’t matter that we have not all really had the actual experience of receiving such a garment.

Jean Baudrillard might call the process of mythologizing the Ugly Christmas Sweater a simulation, a collapsing between reality and representation. And, as George Ritzer points out, simulation can become a ripe target for corporatization as it can be made more spectacular than its authentic counterparts. We need only look at the shift from the “authentic” prerogative to root through one’s closet for an ugly sweater bestowed by grandma (or even to retrieve from the thrift store a sweater imparted by someone else’s grandma) to the cottage-industry that has sprung up to provide ugly sweaters to the masses. There appears to be a need for collective nostalgia that is outstripped by the supply of “actual” Ugly Christmas Sweaters that we have at our disposal.

Colin Campbell states that consumption involves not just purchasing or using a good or service, but also selecting and enhancing it. Accordingly, our consumptive obligation to the Ugly Christmas Sweater becomes more demanding, individualized and, as Ritzer predicts, spectacular. For examples, we can view this intensive guide for DIY ugly sweaters. If DIY isn’t your style, you can indulge your individual (but mass-produced) tastes in NBA-inspired or cultural mash-up Ugly Christmas Sweaters, or these Ugly Christmas Sweaters that aren’t even sweaters at all.

The ironic appeal of the Ugly Christmas Sweater Party is that one can be deemed festive for partaking, while simultaneously ensuring that one is participating in a”safe” celebration – or even a gentle mockery – of holiday saturation and demands. The ascent of the Ugly Christmas Sweater has involved a transition from ironic nostalgia vehicle to a corporatized form of escapism, one that we are induced to participate in as a “safe” form of  festive simulation that becomes increasingly individualized and demanding in expression.

Re-posted at Pacific Standard.

Kerri Scheer is a PhD Student working in law and regulation in the Department of Sociology at the University of Toronto. She thanks her colleague Allison Meads for insights and edits on this post. You can follow Kerri on Twitter.

“That’s private equity for you,” said Steve Jenkins. He was standing outside the uptown Fairway at 125th St. about to go to breakfast at a diner across the street. He no longer works at Fairway.

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Steve was one of the early forces shaping Fairway back when it was just one store at 74th and Broadway. He hired on as their cheese guy. “What do you want that for?” he growled at me one day long ago when he saw me with a large wedge of inexpensive brie. “That’s the most boring cheese in the store.” He was often abrasive, rarely tactful. I tried to explain that it was for a party and most of the people wouldn’t care. He would have none of it. He cared. He cared deeply – about cheese, about food generally.

He helped Fairway expand from one store to two, then four. He still selected the cheeses. He wrote the irreverent text for their signs, including the huge electric marquee that drivers on the West Side Highway read. And then in 2007 Fairway got bought out by a private equity firm. The three original founders cashed out handsomely. Steve and others stayed on. Much of their their share of the deal was in Fairway stock, but with restrictions that prevented them from selling.

Fairway kept expanding – stores in more places around New York – and they aimed more at the median shopper. Gradually, the store lost its edge, its quirkiness. With great size comes great McDonaldization – predictability, calculability. “Like no other market,” says every Fairway sign and every Fairway plastic bag. But it became like lots of other markets, with “specials” and coupons. Coupons! Fairway never had coupons. Or specials.

The people who decided to introduce coupons and specials were probably MBAs who knew about business and management and maybe even research on the retail food business. They knew about costs and profits. Knowing about food was for the people below them, people whose decisions they could override.

“I gotta get permission from corporate if I want to use my cell phone,” said Peter Romano, the wonderful produce manager at 74th St. – another guy who’d been there almost from the start. He knew produce like Steve knew cheese. Peter, too, left Fairway a few months ago.

Maybe this is what happens when a relatively small business gets taken over by ambitious suits. Things are rationalized, bureaucratized. And bureaucracy carries an implicit message of basic mistrust:

If we trusted you, we wouldn’t make you get approval. We wouldn’t make you fill out these papers about what you’re doing; we’d just let you do it. These procedures are our way of telling you that we don’t trust you to do what you say you’re doing.

The need for predictability, efficiency, and calculability leave little room for improvisation. The food business becomes less about food, more about business. It stops being fun. The trade-off should be that you get more money. But there too, Fairway’s new management disappointed. They expanded rapidly, putting new stores in questionable locations. In the first months after the private equity firm took Fairway public in 2013, the stock price was as high as $26 a share. Yesterday, it closed at $1.04. The shares that Steve Jenkins and others received as their part of the private equity buyout are practically worthless.

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Steve Jenkins will be all right. He’s well known in food circles. He’s been on television with Rachel Ray, Jacques Pepin. Still, there he was yesterday morning outside the store whose cheeses and olive oils had been his dominion. “I’m sixty-five years old, and I’m looking for a job.”

Originally posted at Montclair SocioBlog; re-posted at Pacific Standard.

Jay Livingston is the chair of the Sociology Department at Montclair State University. You can follow him at Montclair SocioBlog or on Twitter.