As you are most likely aware, last week director Roman Polanski was arrested in Switzerland on an outstanding warrant for his arrest in the U.S. He fled to Europe in the 1970s after being charged with giving prescription drugs and liquor to a 13-year-old girl, then raping her. He plead guilty to a lesser charge of improper sexual conduct with a minor (and said he wasn’t aware she was 13 Reader Lucy pointed out that while he at times claimed not to have known her age, he later acknowledged that he did), then left the country and generally avoided countries with an extradition agreement with the U.S. (and skipped the Academy Awards when “The Pianist” was nominated).

Anyway, the reaction from Hollywood has been generally supportive of Polanski. Many film industry notables signed petitions last week opposing his extradition and asking that the charges be dropped. Melissa at Women & Hollywood suggests that this might be, in part, because:

…the issue touches close to home for many a director who has probably employed the “casting couch” and may have committed an action similar to Polanski’s sometime in his career. Plus, I’m sure there is pressure being applied to people to get on board and support the artist.

In an example of how many in Hollywood are defending Polanski, Whoopi Goldberg explained on The View that it wasn’t “‘rape’ rape”:

Notice that part of her defense (about about 0:30) is that they’d had sex before, which seems to preclude the possibility that he could have raped her (and assumes that those previous times were consensual and that sex with a 13-year-old is okay as long as it was consensual).

At about 2:05 she appears to make a sort of cultural relativist argument, saying that we’re a “different kind of society,” while in other places, including “the rest of Europe,” 13- and 14-year-olds are sexualized. That is, of course, entirely true (that girls at 13/14 have been treated as marriageable/sexual, not that this is specifically true “in the rest of Europe”), both historically and now (my great-grandma married a 22-year-old man when she’d just barely turned 15). There are a lot of interesting points there, but Goldberg doesn’t seem to be making a complex argument–she seems to be saying “in some places this would be okay, so we shouldn’t punish him.”

At 3:15 they discuss the responsibility of the mother, asking what kind of mom would let a young girl go alone with an older man. It’s a very appropriate question to ask. And my guess is: lots of parents in Hollywood, if the older man was an influential director who said he had set up a photo shoot for a major fashion magazine for your daughter. That, of course, is horrid; at the very least it’s extreme denial (“oh, he’s so nice, he just wants to help her get her big chance because he sees something special in her”), at worst it’s actively offering sexual access to your child for a chance at stardom.

I can’t see, however, that it in any way changes the situation regarding Polanski. And the use of excuses like “they’d had sex before, so it couldn’t be rape” is stunning to me.

Melissa at Women & Hollywood adds:

The thing about the Polanski case and why it is resonating across the country and the world is that lots of people don’t like the double standard that Hollywood is showing here. Hollywood is liberal when it feels like it like with the environment, but not when it comes to women.

Also check out Jillian York’s discussion of Hollywood’s support of Polanski.

Jezebel has a video of Chris Rock on the Jay Leno show criticizing the support for Polanski, one of the few celebrities to very openly do so.

UPDATE: Here’s the ever-awesome Jay Smooth on the topic:

In a random tangent, when I was searching for the video clip from The View I saw another version posted to YouTube with this description: “Disgusting Obama-type of Morals/Values—Whoopi Goldberg DEFENDS Roman Polanski: It Wasn’t Rape-Rape.” It reminded me of my recent post about Rush Limbaugh’s description of “Obama’s America,” in which Obama has become the symbol moral decay.

Kristyn G. sent in this excellent image showing the clear division of the world into two paths: that of the sexually active flirt, destined to a life of shame and loneliness (by age 40), and the good girl who can become a happy mother and grandmother:


Apparently it appeared in a “social hygiene” manual in the early 1900s.

Also see these trailers for old movies about teens gone wild.

NEW! Awesome reader Maria found the boys’ version:


In my Intro to Soc course I assign K.R. Thompson’s article “Handling the Stigma of Handling the Dead: Morticians and Funeral Directors” (Deviant Behavior 1991, v. 12, p. 403-429). Thompson looked at how those involved in preparing the dead for burial and planning funerals try to manage the negative perceptions they suspect much of the public has of them. Language was a major way they tried to do this–redefining themselves as “funeral directors” rather than “morticians” or “undertakers,” referring to dead people as “the deceased” rather than “the body” or “the corpse,” “casket” rather than “coffin,” and so on. The point was to try to reduce the association with death–to never blatantly refer to death at all.

They also tried to avoid what they felt were stereotypes of funeral directors. Some mentioned trying not to wear black suits, and one man went so far as to keep hand warmers in his pockets so his hands would be warm when he shook family members’ hands–a reaction to what he said was a belief that funeral directors have cold, clammy hands. Others lived in a different town than where they worked and tried to keep their careers secret.

All of this was an attempt to avoid the stigma often placed on those who handle the dead (found in many cultures). We often suspect those who do so, thinking they must be creepy to be willing to do that kind of work. In addition, funeral directors are often depicted as unethical individuals who profit from a family’s pain and who can manipulate people while they are emotionally vulnerable.

I thought of that article when Lisa sent me a link to an article in Obit Magazine about the 2008 Men of Mortuaries calendar, which raised money for a breast-cancer charity:

1256_men of mort cover

9239_March With Copy

The article directly discusses stereotypes:

Aren’t undertakers old, gray of complexion, gaunt and, well, creepy?

Four hundred morticians and funeral directors from across the country who defy that stereotype sent applications to Kenneth McKenzie’s funeral home in Long Beach, Ca., to vie for a month in the calendar…


McKenzie sees the calendars as a humorous way to dispel the notion that morticians “are gray-haired and hunchbacked with no personality.”

Interestingly, the article does use the word “mortician,” so apparently some in the industry are still comfortable with the term. But overall, I think the calendar and the quotes from the article demonstrate the effort to manage stigma quite well.

CLARIFICATION: In light of a previous post about a calendar featuring nudity, some commenters are conversing about whether this calendar is objectifying or humanizing. That is an interesting, appropriate question and certainly worth discussing. I wanted to clarify, though, that I wasn’t trying to answer that particular question in this post. I only meant to suggest that the calendar was an example of an attempt at humanizing funeral directors in order to manage perceived stigma, which isn’t the same as saying it’s a good or effective attempt (or a bad or ineffective one, for that matter).

Driving from New Orleans to Las Vegas this June, I was struck by the fact that every roadside I saw, everywhere, had a fence separating the shoulder from the land.  Not only was every parcel of land owned, travelers had to know it.  Mine.  Keep out.

There are lots of reasons why people become and remain homeless, but one of them is “private property.”  Private property, of course, isn’t real.  People made it up.  But because the vast majority of us accept the concept and enforce it, it persists as a reality that structures people’s lives.  For example, we’re not allowed to build a house just anywhere there’s space.  We can’t just tap any aquifer you please, no matter how much we need water.  If we want to go camping, we need permission from a property owner or we have to pay a fee at a public or private park.  And, because of private property, if you can’t afford to buy property or rent space from a property owner,  you are homeless.  Homelessness, then, is a function of our commitment to private property.

I offer this as a context with which to view these photographs that accompany a story in the New York Times about a tent city in Providence, Rhode Island.  The residents of the tent city call it “Camp Runamuck.”  As the pictures below show, the 80 or so members of Camp Runamuck have a pantry, a bathroom, a kitchen, and a recycling center.  They also have rules (e.g., no fighting), a democratically elected “chief,” a “leadership council,” and a social contract that they have all signed.  They share labor; they cook dinner for one another. However, despite the fact that they’ve made a home for themselves, they are officially homeless.  And state officials have now officially told them that they are not allowed to make their home there.


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.

Hyperion submitted a great illustration of cultural change. Today, cigarette smoking is illegal in most public places, but there was a time in which cigarette smoking was normative instead of deviant. This radar analysis instrument, in use through the 1950s through 1980s, includes a built-in cigarette lighter and ashtray:


More on this and like instruments here.

Thanks Hyperion!

From the Pew Center on the States report, One in 31: The Long Reach of American Corrections, “Adding up all probationers and parolees, prisoners and jail inmates, you’ll find America now has more than 7.3 million adults under some form of correctional control. That whopping figure is more than the populations of Chicago, Philadelphia, San Diego and Dallas put together, and larger than the populations of 38 states and the District of Columbia. During Ronald Reagan’s first term as president, 1 in every 77 adults was under the control of the correctional system in the United States. Now, 25 years later, it is 1 in 31, or 3.2 percent of all adults.”

7millioncorrectional-mathcorrectional-ratesSee the press release for a quick summary and the full report for much more data.

Miriam B. sent in a link to a blog post about a (presumably–I may be totally wrong) homeless woman on public transportation. I didn’t immediately post it because I kept going back and forth about whether it was appropriate. For one thing, it’s a personal blog, not something put out by an artist, ad agency, political group, etc., and with a few exceptions we usually don’t repost things from personal blogs (unless they’re images of things in the public domain, such as a billboard). I was also trying to decide if I wanted to post images of a possibly mentally-ill woman when it might be opening her up for ridicule (which was the point of the original post), even though she’s not clearly visible in any of them. After talking to Lisa about it, I decided to go ahead, but I’m aware some of you may object.

All that said…the point of the original post is that the poster/photographer noticed that the woman has sectioned off a seat on the subway and put up signs, which she clearly spent a lot of time putting together, stating that she didn’t want people’s things:



As Miriam said,

What caused this woman to write such a strongly worded set of rules? What does it imply about how people have treated her in the past?  Homeless people have personal boundaries too.

What I found interesting was the tone of the original blog post and the comments to it: basically, a) I can assure that crazy lady, I had no intention of giving her anything in the first place! and b) what an uppity homeless person! What position is she in to say she doesn’t want stuff from strangers?

Of course, the woman might be mentally ill, and that explains her reaction. But it’s also possible that she just does not want people offering her handouts, for whatever reason–maybe sick of them, doesn’t think of herself as a beggar, sense of pride, isn’t homeless, whatever. Or some combination of all of the above. I can see an onlooker finding the vehemence of her statements amusing. But the reaction to her brings up a bigger issue, which seems to be a sense that her insistence that she doesn’t want donations is a sense of “entitlement,” as the original poster called it.

It brings up some interesting questions. Do homeless people lose the right to personal boundaries or to turn down handouts? I think many people will argue the point is the tone of her statements, but I wonder–if a fellow subway passenger offered her a dollar and she kindly said “no, thank you, I’m not a beggar,” would the reaction necessarily be much better? Is part of the problem that she is openly and unapologetically marking off some space on public transit as hers (though not much more space than a lot of people take up with their oversized purses, briefcases, etc.)? Is it that she’s ridiculing the idea of the rest of us as Good Samaritans when we give money or items to the poor?

I might be more sympathetic to her message than most because I’ve worked at a number of non-profits and see some of the weird issues that can arise around donations. People or businesses will sometimes show up with large quantities of products that, while we might be thrilled to have some of them, were difficult to deal with all at once, store, etc. If individuals called and offered things that we couldn’t use, no matter how how politely we explained that we didn’t need or could store the item, the reaction was generally a sense of moral outrage–we were a service agency being offered free stuff! How dare we not immediately say yes, offer to come get it ourselves, and express our gratitude? People seemed to take it very personally if we could not accept a particular donation.  [For the record: of course organizations want donations. But if it’s a large amount, oddly sized, etc., you might call ahead and make sure it’s something they have room for. And seriously, don’t use non-profits as an alternative to taking real, true junk to the dump or whatever–they can’t use your permanently-broken washing machine any more than you can.]

I don’t know. Thoughts?

(And yes, it did make me think of the “Seinfeld” episode where Elaine and Kramer are trying to get rid of all the muffin stumps and the woman at the shelter yells at them, saying just because people are homeless doesn’t mean they want their stumps.)

Pam Oliver sent in this graph that shows disparities in Blacks’ and Whites’ new prison sentences:

While blacks are more likely to be sentenced for all the offenses shown, clearly drug offenses stand out as the area with the biggest racial disparity in prison sentences. The other thing that stands out is the huge jump that occurred in the late 1980s and how much higher the disparity was by the 1990s than in the 1980s. Either African Americans suddenly started doing a whole lot more drugs, Whites stopped doing them altogether…or Blacks started getting arrested and sentenced at a much higher rate than Whites for drug offenses.

From an article by Oliver:

…the rise in imprisonment since the 1970s is not explained by crime rates, but by changes in policies related to crime…Determinate sentencing, which eliminates judicial discretion, longer sentences for drug offenses, increases in funding for police departments and large increases in prison capacity, the exacerbation of racial tensions and fears following the civil rights movement and the riots of the 1970s, and the politicization of crime as an election issue all seem to have played some role.

In Focus 21 (3) pp. 28-31 Spring 2001.

Other sociologists have pointed out that Whites tend to sell drugs inside buildings (houses, dorm rooms, workplaces) to people they know, while Blacks are more likely to engage in open-air sales to strangers. It’s much easier for police to see and arrest people engaged in open-air sales because they’re visible and, being out in public, can often be stopped and frisked without a warrant. Clearly it would be more difficult to know about drug sales taking place in private residences, and there would be more procedural hurdles to searching for them. And when you’re selling to strangers, you’re more likely to see to an undercover cop or to sell to people who don’t really have a problem saying who they bought their drugs from. So the very manner in which they sell makes it much more likely that Blacks will be caught and arrested, even though enormous amounts of drugs are bought and sold by Whites.

You can find a lot more graphs and articles on this topic (including disparities broken down by state) at Pam Oliver’s website. Also see this post about international imprisonment rates. Thanks, Pam!

Oh, and Lisa’s at the American Sociological Association meetings, which is why you’re stuck with just me this week.