Updated; originally posted July 2009.

Americans are notorious for their ignorance of global issues and international news.  This may be because Americans aren’t interested or it may be that our news outlets feed us fluff and focus us only on the U.S.  Probably it’s a vicious cycle.

This month, for example, Time magazine’s cover story is about the political strife in Egypt… everywhere except the U.S. that is.  Americans get “pop psychology” (via Global Sociology):

It turns out you can go to the Time website and compare covers from previous issues going back a long ways.  Here are some more examples from the last couple years (I cherry picked just a bit):

Dmitriy T.M. sent in these previous examples a while back.

The cover story for Newsweek magazine’s September 2006 edition was “Losing Afghanistan” in Europe, Latin America, and Asia.  It was “My Life in Pictures,” a story about the photographer Annie Liebovitz in the U.S. (via):


The cover story for Newsweek magazine’s October 2006 edition was “Global Warming’s First Victim” in Europe, Latin America, and Asia.  It was “Off Message,” a story about Republican Congressman Mark Foley’s sexually suggestive emails and IMs to teenage boys (via):


The cover story for Time magazine’s April 2007 edition was “Talibanistan” in Europe, Latin America, and Asia.  It was “Why We Should Teach the Bible in Public Schools” in the U.S. (via, also see Time):


As SocProf writes:

Talk about self-fulfilling prophecy: Americans are assumed to not be interested in international and global affairs… ergo, Time decides to replace a perfectly legitimate and newsworthy cover on a significant event in Egypt with some pop psychology item. As a result, Americans are less informed and knowledgeable on global affairs because they do not get intelligent coverage on that topic.

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.

This week I listened to a Freakonomics podcast featuring Economics PhD-student twins, Alison and Steve Sexton.  They had studied the phenomenon of conspicuous conservation, which I’ve defined elsewhere as “the (often lavish) spending on ‘green’ products designed mainly to advertise one’s environmentally-moral righteousness.”  The Sexton’s studied how much people are willing to pay for the conspiciousness of their conservation.

They found that, in places where being environmentally-friendly is looked upon positively, people will spend more (or gain less) to ensure that their conservation efforts are obvious. For example, people will sometimes have their solar panels mounted on the shady side of their house. Why? It’s the side that faces the street. Why have solar panels if no one in the neighborhood can see that you do?  Likewise, the Prius is so popular in part because it is obviously a hybrid; no other car looks like it, so it can’t be mistaken for a “regular” (person’s) car.

I thought of this willingness to pay to display one’s environmental thoughtfulness while visiting Goldstein’s Bagels in La Cañada, CA this week. They had this photograph proudly displayed:

I just love how not only are they paying to keep the highway clean, they’re being rewarded with a big advertisement for their store alongside the freeway, AND they get to take a picture of that sign and put it up for all to see.  It’s win-win-win; a win for the environment and a double win for Goldstein’s.

The Sexton’s argue that all of this conspicuous conservation is probably good.  Competing to be environmentally-friendly translates into more conservation, no matter what the motivation. (Especially as compared to conspicuous consumption; remember the Hummer?)  Accordingly, they suggest that public policy should focus on incentivizing the types of conservation efforts that aren’t visible, like insulation and weather-proofed windows, and leave the showy stuff to the market.

For another example of conspicuous conservation, see our post on faux-oil slicked shoes purchased to benefit the Gulf; on conspicuous consumption, check out the Louis Vitton mommy diva birthday cake; and see this post on conspicuous intellectual consumption.

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.

What happens after we throw something in a garbage can? From the user’s perspective, it disappears once the trash collectors pick it up (if you live in an area with municipal trash collection, of course; I grew up in a rural area where everyone had to deal with their own trash). Where does it go? Sometimes items are taken to a dump not far from where it was thrown away and either buried, bulldozed into large heaps, or incinerated.

But Carlo Ratti, an architect who works with the SENSEable City Lab at MIT, directed a project to find out just how far garbage can travel, with the goal of helping us understand the “removal chain” that conveniently disappears our trash for us as well as we’ve come to understand the global supply chains that bring us items in the first place. His team asked 500 people in Seattle to tag items they would be throwing out anyway with small tracking chips. They tagged a total of 3,000 objects, everything from tin cans to cell phones to sneakers. And the results showed that some of the items we get rid of can go on a rather dramatic journey, traveling thousands of miles:

The Trash Track website contains information about the methodology and ideas behind the project.

Thanks to Dmitriy T.M. for the tip!

Carni K sent in an interesting story about Kellogg’s, the cereal company. Kellogg’s is suing the Maya Archaeology Institute (MAI), a non-profit Guatemalan organization aimed at protecting the local history, culture, and natural environment. Why? It uses a toucan in its logo.

For those of you who did not spend your youth eating highly sugared empty carbohydrates for breakfast, the toucan (specifically, Toucan Sam) is the mascot of Kellogg’s Froot Loops. The toucan is also a large-billed colorful bird indigenous to Central and South America, the Caribbean, and southern Florida.

While this sort of cultural cannibalism is certainly common in American culture, it is a bold move nonetheless for Kellogg’s to not only appropriate the toucan, but to claim that no one else has a right to represent the toucan.  Dr. Francisco Estrada-Belli puts it this way: “This is a bit like the Washington Redskins claiming trademark infringement against the National Congress of American Indians.”

And therein lies the problem: who is allowed to claim the symbolic use of this bird—an indigenous Guatemalan organization or a company that makes cereal and other convenience foods marketed to children and families?

To me, this brings up another question: what gives any of us the right to use the toucan at all? While cultural representations of animals may not directly harm animals, and have been central in human cultures for tens of thousands of years, they can contribute to a particular perception of those same animals. And animal advocates know that perception then shapes treatment. If we perceive an animal to be dumb or trivial, for example, then that animal may not seem worthy of our concern.

Many types of toucans, for example, are endangered. Of the more than 40 species making up their family, 35 are included on the International Union for Conservation of Nature red list, meaning that they are either endangered, threatened, or otherwise subject to concern.  Their troubled status comes not from people hunting or eating them, but from the increasing levels of habitat destruction in the tropical regions in which they live… which brings us back to the Maya Archaeology Institute.

The organization’s mission includes protecting Guatemala’s rainforests, including the animals and plants that live there. Kellogg’s, on the other hand, has made the toucan into a funny bird whose large nose lets him sniff out Froot Loops wherever they are hiding.

Who should have the right to represent the toucan?  Anyone?


Margo DeMello has a PhD in cultural anthropology and teaches anthropology, cultural studies, and sociology at Central New Mexico Community College. Her research areas include body modification and adornment and human-animal studies.

If you would like to write a post for Sociological Images, please see our Guidelines for Guest Bloggers.

The political and engineering failures that caused the devastation in New Orleans were multiple and decades in the making. First, the storm surge was amplified by years of oil and natural gas companies degrading the integrity of the wetlands with pipelines, causing the land to sink at an alarming rate (source). The Mississippi river levee system was created in response to the sinking wetlands, but this system actually compounds the problem by preventing much of the river’s silt from being deposited in the ocean where it creates a natural buffer (source). Combined, these factors have eroded one million square acres of Bayou since 1930, bringing the coastline 30 miles closer to New Orleans and leaving only a 20 mile buffer from hurricanes (source). Every 2.7 miles of wetlands reduces storm surge by 1 foot, so Katrina surges of 10 – 20 feet in New Orleans would have been 0 – 9 feet with better oversight of corporations carving up the wetlands – not big enough to breach the levees (source).

Secondly, in 1968, The Army Corps of Engineers built the 76-mile Mississippi River Gulf Canal Outlet (MRGO), a canal that brings ships straight from the Gulf of Mexico to the New Orleans Industrial Canal (source). The MRGO was built right through the Ninth Ward, physically separating the Lower Ninth Ward from the city. The canal salinated and decimated Bayou Bienville, a freshwater swamp and natural storm buffer along the north end of the Ninth Ward.

A healthy Cypress swamp:

Flickr creative commons Thomas Gehrke.

The Bayou Bienville Cypress swamp today:

The MRGO was nicknamed “Hurricane Highway” post-Katrina because it brought the storm surge directly to the Ninth Ward and St. Bernard Parish. To add insult to injury, the MRGO has been an economic boondoggle; used by an average of one ship per day since it was built (source). The Army Corps started filling in the canal in 2009 after a federal court decision showing that officials knew that creating the MRGO would doom the residents of St. Bernard Parish and the Lower Ninth Ward (source). The judge chided the Army Corps, noting that they “not only knew, but admitted by 1988, that the MRGO threatened human life… and yet it did not act in time to prevent the catastrophic disaster that ensued with the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina.”

The third preventable human aspect of Katrina was a network of levees suffering from poor design and disrepair from bureaucratic bickering; an 80% cut to levee repair funds under the Bush Administration and misspent money (source). After Katrina, the Corps admitted that “the hurricane protection system in New Orleans and southeast Louisiana was a system in name only,” “an inconsistent patchwork of protection, containing flaws in design and construction, and not built to handle a hurricane anywhere near the size of Katrina” (source). With a weak storm buffer, the storm surge pipeline of the MRGO, and a fatally flawed levee system, it’s no surprise that the greatest number of fatalities occurred in the Lower Ninth Ward and St. Bernard Parish (source).

This is an excerpt from a much longer account of the Hurricane Katrina disaster, published at Caroline Heldman’s blog.

Caroline Heldman is a professor of politics at Occidental College. You can follow her at her blog and on Twitter and Facebook.

Dmitriy T.M. sent in a video put together by the Center for Investigative Reporting about some of the hidden costs of gasoline use in the U.S.:

Also check out our earlier posts on Lisa Margonelli’s TED talk about the political economy of oil in the U.S. as well as the inconsistent relationship between gas prices and how much we drive.

Megan H. and Ami R. sent in contrasting examples of using gender to market fuel-efficient cars. Megan saw this ad (one in a series that plays on the “I’m a Mac/I’m a PC” Apple ads) advocating electric cars over gasoline-powered ones. In this ad, femininity is associated with environmental responsibility. The most stereotypically masculine man in the ad — the blue-collar worker in a hard hat and filthy clothes — represents the harmful oil industry. Beneficial, good wind energy, on the other hand, is personified by a pretty woman in a filmy dress. Her beauty renders the bad guys speechless:

Dodge, on the other hand, wants to distance its claims to fuel efficiency from any association with femininity. Ami found this ad for the new Dodge Charger in the magazine for Go! Chapel Hill, an organization that advocates less car use:

So here, fuel efficiency with is also associated with femininity, but in the negative sense of emasculation. The Charger is the one exception to the other fuel efficient cars out there. You can get better gas mileage and still protect your manly reputation.

For other examples of gender representations of the environment or environmental movement, see our previous posts on femininity and benign nature, using PETA tactics to oppose the BP oil spill, nature in vintage men’s magazines, and even girls can drive electric cars!

Cross-posted at Love Isn’t Enough.

The West has a long history in which Black and African people were stereotyped as more in touch with nature and more like animals than White and European people.  This elision still haunts us, and Sasha H. sent in a link to an example. To be fair, I went through several pages of Google search results and found only two instances of this particular mistake, but I thought it was worth pointing out as a cautionary tale.

Sasha’s link was to an amusement-focused website called Silly Village.  They posted a series of photographs of a little girl, named Tippi Degré, who was born to wildlife photographers in Namibia, where she grew up. The photos are of her with lots of animals and the set of photos is titled “Young Girl Life with Wild Animals.”  The thing is, though, two of the photos do not include animals, but include only her and local Africans, no animals at all.

I found this same mistake at a more serious source, one that should have editors who are more careful than this, The Telegraph.  The story, titled “The Real-Life Mowgli who Grew Up with Africa’s Wild Animals,” includes a slideshow introduced with this language:

A remarkable range of pictures in a new book show Tippi Degre — a French girl labelled the ‘real-life Mowgli’ — growing up with wild animals.

But the slideshow includes three images, again conflating African animals with African people.

If this happened rarely, it could be chocked up to a random mistake, but this conflation is actually rather ubiquitous.  We’ve posted on this many times. Here are three choice posts: animalizing women of color, Africa is wild and you can be too, and choosing girls of color for animal costumes.

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.