Last week I stopped in the candy store on State St. in Madison, WI only to discover a product that I remember consuming as a kid, but thought had been banned in the U.S. years ago: tobacco-themed candy.

According to wikipedia, candy cigarettes (I’m not sure about the other products) are banned in Finland, Norway, Ireland, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia; Canada has banned packaging that resembles real cigarettes.  A U.S. ban was proposed in 1970 and again in 1991, but it failed to pass in both instances.

I do remember feeling cool, as a kid, when I pretended to smoke them.

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.

In a fantastic example of the way being single is stigmatized, Rachel K. took a photo of this ad she saw at a bus stop in Toronto:

I’m afraid this is the last post you will get from me. You see, I’m single, and it’s just occurred to me how very much my life sucks, with no one to give me sparkly things. I am going to drop everything and dedicate myself full-time to finding a mate.

I mean, really. It’s an interesting assumption that being unmarried (I presume that’s an engagement ring) means you are “alone.” And I’d say that what sucks isn’t being “alone,” it’s being told constantly that you must be sad and miserable since you aren’t coupled up.

In this video, which I found via my friend Captain Crab, Kate O’Beirne (editor of the National Review) attacked the federal subsidized school breakfast and lunch programs. She did so by stating that parents who would find the program necessary must be “criminally negligent,” since they can’t put food on the table:

Transcript (via):

The federal school lunch program and now breakfast program and I guess in Washington DC, dinner program are pretty close to being sacred cows… broad bipartisan support. And if we’re going to ask more of ourselves, my question is what poor excuse for a parent can’t rustle up a bowl of cereal and a banana? I just don’t get why millions of school children qualify for school breakfasts unless we have a major wide spread problem with child neglect.

You know, I mean if that’s how many parents are incapable of pulling together a bowl of cereal and a banana, then we have problems that are way bigger than… that problem can’t be solved with a school breakfast, because we have parents who are just criminally… ah… criminally negligent with respect to raising children.

It’s an excellent example of the stigmatization of poverty: letting your kids go to class hungry would make you a bad parent, but taking advantage of programs set up to be sure kids don’t go to class hungry (and thus less able to learn) also makes you a bad parent. The problem here isn’t structural, or even about poverty. The problem, from O’Beirne’s manner of framing it, is that individuals who enroll their children in such programs are, by default, negligent “poor excuses” for parents.

In City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles, Mike Davis discusses the ways that public space are increasingly regulated to allow the types of activities preferred by the middle class and exclude those of the urban poor. He says that cities operate under “a rhetoric of social welfare that calculates the interests of the urban poor and the middle classes as a zero-sum game” (p. 224). That is, there are various uses groups might have for public space, but over time, activities or behaviors associated with the poor are being pushed out of public places (say, trying to make money or taking a nap), because they are seen as inherently interfering with more middle-class uses. While outlawing certain behavior in public places is often explained as a way to ensure safety, Davis argues, “…’security’ has less to do with personal safety than with the degree of personal insulation, in residential, work, consumption and travel environments, from ‘unsavory’ groups and individuals…” (p. 224).

I thought of Davis’s argument when I saw this photo send in by Dino of a sign in Bryant Park, in Manhattan. The sign welcomes visitors to enjoy the park, but under clear conditions:

It’s a good example of the zero-sum idea of use of public space: the acceptable ways of using the park are those that generally meet middle-class preferences, such as taking amateur photos, looking at flowers, walking your dog. But as Dino says, “the poor are punished: alcohol use in the park is illegal unless you can afford to enter the restaurants, rummaging through the garbage for needed food and supplies is illegal, trying to earn money without a permit (that costs money) is illegal.”

Note the second item you are “welcome” to do: “To spread blankets on the lawn, but not plastic material or tarpaulins.” While the sign doesn’t explicitly say why, Dino suspects this is an attempt to allow people to spread blankets for picnics or sunbathing, but not allow someone without a home to spread a tarpaulin to try to create a dry place to sleep.  Similar behavior — spreading a covering on the ground to sit or lie on — is perceived differently depending on the presumed motivation for doing so (because you are temporarily enjoying the outdoors vs. because you don’t have a home).

The end result is to make public places less welcoming to some groups than others. Regulating these behaviors provides an excuse to arrest and remove the types of individuals likely to be seen as, in Davis’s term, “unsavory,” and ensures the rights of other users to be protected from even seeing evidence of homelessness, hunger, or unemployment.

UPDATE: I don’t think I did the best job of explaining Davis’s argument, and a couple of readers have taken great exception to the idea that regulating behavior in public spaces is problematic. My intention wasn’t to imply that having any type of rules about how you can act in parks is automatically awful, but rather to highlight the types of behaviors we do find acceptable and those we don’t, and how that intersects with the stigmatization of poverty. Saying “You can’t harass others in the park” or “you can’t play music so loudly that others can’t also enjoy the park” is one approach. Saying, “We’re going to make public spaces unpleasant for the homeless, regardless of their individual behavior,” is a very different approach, and Davis argues that it serves to concentrate the very poor in areas like L.A.’s Skid Row, increasing their likelihood of being victimized and exacerbating the problems of the neighborhood, while benefiting those in other neighborhoods who don’t want to see visible evidence of inequality or social problems.

Reader R says,

I think this is a really interesting discussion but I think that the Park sign doesn’t help the discussion but hinders it. We are now focusing on this sign as a representation of the ideas that Davis is presenting but I don’t think that it is.It is illegal to have any alcohol in a public space anywhere in new york city.New York City Administrative Code, section 10-125 That law I don’t believe is intended as a means to keep the homeless from drinking in parks, it does let the police enforce that but it also lets the police stop and arrest college students or any person. Fair or not that is what it is.
Also Bryant Park is a public space owned by a private company. The BPC (Bryant Park Corporation) does not get public funding but instead makes it through the venders in the park (cafes and such). This is why I believe that the sign says no commercial activity. With that I do not think many people would count someone asking for change as commercial activity.

I think this is a very interesting discussion and Davis makes very valid points but I think the imagery example could be better.

I think that’s a fair assessment. The sign got me thinking about Davis’s arguments about the use of social policy regarding public places (and the way they can concentrate poverty, risk, etc.), and then I was thinking more about the overall topic, rather than the specific park or sign.

David Mayeda at The Grumpy Sociologist discussed a commercial, for Best Buy, encouraging us (men?) to feel embarrassed if we don’t have the most recent technology:

Mayeda sees this as an example of the making of deviance. He writes:

So, as a male, if you don’t have the financial capital to possess a kick ass phone, you are a deviant male, with a low-end job (sharing a cubicle), without technical prowess (can’t stay on top of your e-mail or access the net), and bottom line, you aren’t an attractive mate.

How far “behind” does a person need to “fall” before they are so “out of the loop” that they are not really part of respectable society anymore?

I have only had a cell phone myself for four short years. Yet, when I learn that someone doesn’t have one, the neurons in my brain short out a bit.  How do two people even know each other if one doesn’t have a cell phone?  How do you let someone know you’ve hit traffic?  Find them in a crowded place?  Cell phones have become so ubiquitous that not having one seems deliberately counter-cultural.  Like face tattoos or men in skirts, eschewing a cell phone seems deviant indeed.  So maybe Best Buy isn’t that far off the mark.

UPDATE DEC. 20, 2010: I failed to mention that, at the time of this post, I did not own a smart phone at all. Now I have joined the hip cats of the 21st century: I have a smart phone. Though, I would like to specify, that I was able to attract a mate without one. Then again, I am a chick, so how much money I can spend on a phone is slightly less important, or so I hear.

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.

Penny R. and p.j. sent in a link to the American Able project. A description from the artist’s website:

‘American Able’ intends to, through spoof, reveal the ways in which women with disabilities are invisibilized in advertising and mass media. I chose American Apparel not just for their notable style, but also for their claims that many of their models are just ‘every day’ women… Women with disabilities go unrepresented…in most of popular culture. Rarely, if ever, are women with disabilities portrayed in anything other than an asexual manner, for ‘disabled’ bodies are largely perceived as ‘undesirable’…

Too often, the pervasive influence of imagery in mass media goes unexamined, consumed en masse by the public. However, this imagery has real, oppressive effects on people who are continuously ‘othered’ by society. The model, Jes Sachse, and I intend to reveal these stories by placing her in a position where women with disabilities are typically excluded.

The goal is admirable. Individuals with disabilities are routinely ignored in pop culture, and if depicted, they are often either mocked or are devoid of sexuality (notable examples being the documentary Murderball and the depiction of a character in a wheelchair on the TV show Friday Night Lights, though both focus solely on men with disabilities who generally have relationships with women who do not).

That said, it brings up the eternal question regarding artistic endeavors, particularly those aimed at undermining prejudices: does it work? The idea here is to show a woman with disabilities in sexualized contexts and use humor to counter popular conceptions of those with disabilities as asexual (and parody American Apparel in the process). As with any use of parody/irony/etc., it poses a dilemma. Will viewers get it? Will they grasp the intent and look at the images through that lens? Will it lead some people to question why they might find these photos shocking, why a woman with a disability shown in sexual situations would be surprising, or the reason for any discomfort they might feel when looking at them?

Or will people respond by ridiculing Jes, or even feeling disgusted? Will they look further into those feelings and why they might have them? Will it change anything?

And how do you decide if it’s worth it? If half of viewers engage in some introspection and examining of their own prejudices, and half don’t, is that a sufficient trade-off? If 90% of people ridiculed the images and it reinforced their belief that bodies of those with disabilities are undesirable, but 10% would think about how women with disabilities are de-sexualized, or that American Apparel presents a very narrow range of body types as “normal,” everyday women, would you feel that you had accomplished something significant? Is it the artist’s responsibility to care?

Similar questions have been posed about photos of individuals from Appalachia: do they humanize people often depicted as backward “hillbillies,” or do they actually reinforce perceptions that everyone living in the area is poor and rural?

How do you negotiate the use of art to make social statements (whether questioning prejudices, pointing out inequalities, or humanizing stigmatized groups), considering that once you put something out in the public domain, you have little control over how people interpret it and whether they take from it the opposite message you intended, perhaps even ridiculing your subjects as a result of your project?

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.

One of the criticisms sociologists sometimes have of economics is related to the assumption of rational choice. Many economic models assume that individuals will always act to maximize their benefit.

Sociology, however, is premised on the idea that humans make meaning. To begin with, what is “rational” is socially constructed and, further, humans value many things beyond pure strategic economic gain.

The photo below illustrates this concept quite well:

If you had a found iPod touch, which number would you call? Certainly some of you might call for the $51 reward, but many of us would call for the $50 reward. We would sacrifice that extra dollar because we would know that the second person is scamming, while the first is (probably) honest.

The proportion of people that would call the scammer, of course, goes up as his reward gets increasingly large compared to the original reward. But this doesn’t mean that rational choice theory is correct, it just means that we’re rational. That is, many of us are more willing to do the less-right thing when there is more to gain from it (though our tipping points are going to vary tremendously). Pure rational choice theory, though, would have us calling the scammer every time, even if only for a buck, as if nothing else matters.

The High Definite, via MontClair SocioBlog (where Jay first spoke to rational choice theory in his post).

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.

In the early 1980s the Reagan Administration engaged in an active campaign to demonize welfare and welfare recipients. Those who received public assistance were depicted as lazy free-loaders who burdened good, hard-working taxpayers. Race and gender played major parts in this framing of public assistance: the image of the “welfare queen” depicted those on welfare as lazy, promiscuous women who used their reproductive ability to have more children and thus get more welfare. This woman was implicitly African American, such as the woman in an anecdote Reagan told during his 1976 campaign (and repeated frequently) of a “welfare queen” on the South Side of Chicago who supposedly drove to the welfare office to get her check in an expensive Cadillac (whether he had actually encountered any such woman, as he claimed, was of course irrelevant).

The campaign was incredibly successful: once welfare recipients were depicted as lazy, promiscuous Black women sponging off of (White) taxpayers, public support for welfare programs declined. The negative attitude toward both welfare and its recipients lasted after Reagan left office; the debate about welfare reform in the mid-1990s echoed much of the discourse from the 1980s. Receiving public assistance was shameful; being a recipient was stigmatized.

Abby K. recently found an old Sesame Street segment called “I Am Somebody.” Jesse Jackson leads a group of children in an affirmation that they are “somebody,” and specifically includes the lines “I may be poor” and “I may be on welfare”:

(Originally found at the Sesame Street website.)

I realized just how effective the demonization of welfare has been when I was actually shocked to hear kids, in a show targeted at other kids, being led in a chant that said being poor or on welfare shouldn’t be shameful and did not reduce their worth as human beings. Can you imagine a TV show, even on PBS, putting something like this on the air today? Our public discourse at this point says that being on welfare is shameful, and that those receiving it in fact aren’t “somebody.” They are dependents, lazy loafers, and their kids are just additional burdens on the state; they don’t have the same rights to dignity and respect as other citizens, and they certainly shouldn’t expect to get it.

Of course, the totally confused looks on some of the kids’ faces are hysterical.