product: music

Dolores R. sent in a flubbed opportunity to represent Mexicans positively and reach out to the expanding Mexican market in the U.S.  In “honor” of Cinco de Mayo, Mike’s Hard Lemonade hired five men —  in fake mustaches and sombreros — to pretend to be a Mariachi band.  They then improvised songs in response to submissions from viewers.  The stunt is self-conscious, along the lines of the “ironic” “hipster racism” we now see so much of.

The fake band may have been making fun of themselves, but they did so by engaging in something that they had already decided was ridiculous, Mariachi music.  Happy Cinco de Mayo, everyone.

A better approach, Latino Rebels suggests, would have been to spotlight some of the actual awesome Mariachi music out there.  They wouldn’t have even had to be traditional.  They could have hired a real band to improvise, or they could have drawn on the existing Mariachi cover bands, bands that do really neat stuff!  Here’s, for example, is a band covering Hotel California:

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.

A recent post on Boing Boing discussed the newly discovered “rules for jazz performers during the Nazi occupation.”  Jewish and Black people — two groups targeted by the Nazis — were also the primary innovators of jazz music. But even as the German state denigrated jazz, jazz musicians, and swing dancers, Nazi soldiers loved jazz!  How to handle such a contradiction? Rules for playing jazz music: no “Jewishy gloomy lyrics,”  no “Negroid excesses in tempo,” and no “hysterical rhythmic reverses characteristic of the barbarian races.”  

It’s well worth a look, as is this post from 2010 explaining how many groups vilified by Nazis survived the Holocaust by playing jazz for Nazi soldiers…

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I have a favorite historical musician: Django Reinhardt.

Reinhardt was a Roma jazz musician. During World War II both Roma and jazz musicians were targeted by the Nazi regime. Over a million Roma were exterminated for presumed racial inferiority and jazz was believed to combine the worst of Blacks and Jews (i.e., “musical race defilement”). Just listening to a jazz record could get you sent to a concentration camp.

Reinhardt, however, enjoyed the most lucrative period of his career during the war, while living and playing openly among Nazi soldiers.

How?

Reinhardt biographer Michael Dregni, recently interviewed by NPR, explained:

The Germans used Paris basically as their rest-and-relaxation center, and when the soldiers came, they wanted wine and women and song. And to many of them, jazz was the popular music, and Django was the most famous jazz musician in Paris… And it was really a golden age of swing in Paris, with these [Romas] living kind of this grand irony.

Reinhardt, then, survived because the Nazis loved jazz music, even as Hitler censored the music and, on his orders, people who dared to listen to, dance to, or play it were encamped and members of the groups who invented it were murdered.  Irony indeed.

For more on Reinhardt, jazz, and World War II, here is a clip from a documentary on Reinhardt’s remarkable talent, career, and luck:

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UPDATE: A commenter, Bernardo Soares, offered an interesting critique/clarification in the thread.  Here’s part of what he had to say:

…I think it is grossly misleading to write that Reinhardt “enjoyed the most lucrative period of his career during the war”. He enjoyed the protection of some individuals in the German occupation force. This is not so unusual — the composer Richard Strauss who headed the Reichsmusikkammer used his influence to protect some Jewish composers. But as many other examples show, this was extremely precarious. As long as these individuals had the power to protect him, he was probably relatively safe, but he could still be shot by any soldier at a whim or be accidentally included in a deportation action. Also, these individuals could lose their power, or some higher-ranking officer could order him to be deported. Reinhardt tried several times to escape occupied France.

[Also] …the whole issue of music and art politics in the Third Reich is much more complex than stated in the video. The Reichsmusikkammer (Reich Music Chamber) was not the only institution regulating music politics. As with many other bureaucratic institutions in the Third Reich, several agencies struggled for influence and power. This means that music politics was often contradictory, and the absence of a clear regulation as stated in the video opened the door for arbitrary measures – again emphasizing the precarious situation of musicians. The competition and struggle for power between different agencies led to a radicalisation of racial and cultural politics, and this was even taken further in the occupied countries.

I do love this topic.  I also have a post on racial borrowing and lindy hop, the dance that made me love Django.  A paper I wrote about gender and lindy hop can be found in the journal Ethnography. And I have a talk based on the paper that I love to give in theory classes.

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.

When I learned of Whitney Houston’s untimely death, I was in the process of re-reading James Baldwin’s short story “Sonny’s Blues.” Sonny, like so many entertainers struggled with addiction and the rigors of being an artist. I couldn’t help but think of Whitney. The tragedy of her death has resonated throughout our culture in both artistic and social contexts. It also ripped the curtain off the destructive underbelly of celebrity and its trappings.

We engage in the public consumption of images of the rich and famous as a way of life now. They live under an intensely bright and hot spotlight. Baldwin relates this quite eloquently.  In the process of Sonny’s recovery from heroin addiction, he returns to doing what he loves best –playing jazz piano. Sonny’s older brother agrees to accompany him to one of his performances. The brother, seated in a dark corner of the club, watches Sonny and his band mates prepare to perform. While sitting there he contemplates just how many of them have struggled with addiction like Sonny and how they would negotiate Sonny’s homecoming performance. The narration reads:

Then I watched… while they horsed around, standing just below the bandstand. The light from the bandstand spilled just a little short of them and, watching them laughing and gesturing and moving about, I had the feeling that they, nevertheless, were being most careful not to step into that circle of light too suddenly; that if they moved into the light too suddenly, without thinking, they would perish in flame.

Baldwin provides a powerful metaphor for the dangers of the spotlight and stepping into it too soon. When I read that passage, I thought of this image of Whitney from her 2009 American Music Awards performance. She sang “I Didn’t Know my Own Strength.” It was a “comeback” performance in which Whitney was trying to reclaim her image. She is wearing white, which looks absolutely beautiful against her cinnamon caramel skin. The stage is black and Whitney is lit from the back with a piercingly bright spotlight. In that moment we can see her balancing darkness with light, hope with pain, insularity with exposure.

We loved her voice. We rooted for her comeback. But perhaps she moved into the spotlight too suddenly. Perhaps the flame from the light burned her in places no one could see. As I write this, there have been no rulings on the cause of her death. So I do not want to speculate what contributed to her untimely passing. But I love this image because it is how I would like to remember Whitney. Regal, angelic, light and dark, embodying the very essence of humanity and its many contradictions.

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Stacie McCormick, PhD, is a literature scholar whose work focuses primarily on African Diaspora and Women’s literature. Presently she is working on a project exploring the black female body and how it is represented in print and visual culture (photographs, artist renderings, the theatrical stage, etc.).

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.

On January 18th, 2012 many sites on the internet went “black” to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA), including Wikipedia, Boing Boing, Reddit, Cheezburger, Craig’s List, WordPress, Wired, and Sociological Images too, to name a few (in solidarity, Google blacked out it’s logo).  While written ostensibly to make it easier to stop pirating of music, movies, and other media, opponents argue that the Acts are so penalizing and over-reaching that they would essentially criminalize sharing and creativity.  There’s a great slideshow of the blacked out sites at the Los Angeles Times.

The next day proved that this online action made a large difference, at least in the short run. Seventy Congress members switched their positions or newly decided to stand against the Acts (Boing Boing). Congress has postponed actions on the Act, which was slotted for today.

From the point of view of Sociological Images, this is a much needed victory. From a sociological point of view, it is another illustration of how the internet creates both new legal issues and facilitates new social movement tactics.

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.

In an interesting example of cultural borrowing/appropriation sent in by Catherine H., the Korean all-girl pop band T-ara imitates stereotypes of American Indians in their music video for their (strangely catchy) song, YaYaYa.

It’s difficult (for me) to know how these stereotypes of native North Americans “work” in Korea. It appears to mean something to Koreans, otherwise why use the imagery and narratives, but what? And how should Americans who oppose the stereotyping (and erasing of modern) Native Americans talk about this “borrowing”?

To get some perspective, I turned to James Turnbull.  Turnbull is behind the blog, The Grand Narrative, where he writes about Korean Sociology through the prism of pop culture.  This is what he had to say:

First, please note that T-Ara’s Yayaya is actually just one of several recent Korean music videos that have used Native-American imagery, and by no means the most offensive at that. For a list, see here, which points out that Indian Boy by MC Mong is much more problematic.

Second, so many Korean groups are being formed these days – over 30 new girl-groups in 2011 alone – that their management companies (most well-known Korean groups are completely “manufactured”) are in a constant battle to gain media attention for them. One way to do so is to regularly come up with new “concepts” for the group, of which a “cute” one incorporating Native-American imagery is just one possibility of many.

But thirdly and most importantly, it is no exaggeration to say that Korea is one of the least politically-correct societies out there, particularly in the ways in which non-Koreans are represented in popular-culture.

Often, this is completely innocent, most Koreans being ignorant of the connotations of Blackface for instance, or the passions Nazi imagery arouses in Western countries, to the extent that both are regularly found in popular culture and advertising. Indeed, I was especially struck once by reading of university students performing in Blackface at a festival because they thought Black audiences would like it, and would appreciate the interest in “their culture”. As the person who saw this wrote, this was not “offensive” per se, but it was certainly shocking.

Alternatively however, the ignorance can be willing. For example, last year the the Korean Overseas Information Service (KOIS) part of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, produced an expensive “Visit Korea” ad which played on the likes of CNN and BBC World and so on, but which relied so heavily on patronizing stereotypes of non-Koreans that it would likely have put off more potential tourists than attracted them. Non-Koreans in the KOIS were consulted in the making however, and did warn the producers of this, but unfortunately their advice was rejected, either because a) Korean advertisers are notorious for producing things that would appeal primarily to Koreans, despite the actual target audience, and/or b) it didn’t jibe with the advertisers’ perceptions of non-Koreans and their wants or needs. (Both are persistent problems with Korean tourism advertisements.)

Finally, for the source of those perceptions, consider Korea’s extremely exclusionary “bloodline”-based nationalism andextremely homogenous population (less than 3% of Korea’s population are “foreign residents”, a third of which are ethnic Koreans from China). Consequently, Korean society is really only just beginning to grapple with the concept of multiculturalism, albeit with much urgency because of the sudden huge influx of brides from Southeast Asia in the last decade or so, with the populations of many rural communities close to becoming a third or even half non-ethnic Korean. Certainly, a great deal of progress has been made in integrating them and acknowledging what their cultures have to offer, but when Korean school textbooks extolled the virtues of being an ethnically homogenous society until as recently as 2006 (and see here for how Blacks and native-Americans were portrayed in school picture dictionaries at that time), then I’m sure you can appreciate that much still remains to be done to prevent prejudice against them, especially in how non-Koreans and cultures are portrayed in the media.

Which to be fair, nobody outside of Korea was at all concerned with until K-pop became popular!

Thank you, James!

We’re happy to hear your thoughts in the comment threads. The video:

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.

In this minute-and-a-half, sociologist Nikki Jones talks about the way that the idea of the ghetto has been commodified — especially in rap and hip hop — in ways that informs Americans who don’t live in inner-city urban areas, but potentially mystifies the reality of that life as well:

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.

For the last week of December, we’re re-posting some of our favorite posts from 2011.

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You often hear that everything is sexualized nowadays, and not just women but men too. In the September 2011 issue of Sexuality & Culture, we examine this idea in an analysis of Rolling Stone magazine covers.  Specifically, we wanted to know if men and women are equally sexualized, and if they have become either more frequently or more intensely sexualized over time.  To do this, we analyzed every cover from the first issue of Rolling Stone in November 1967 through 2009, minus a few (such as those that featured cartoons rather than people, etc.). You can read more about our methods in the article here.

In order to analyze these 1000+ images of men and women, we developed a “scale of sexualization.”   This scale was composed of 11 different variables to measure different aspects of sexualization.  For instance, a cover model was given “points” for being sexualized if their lips were parted, if they were scantily clad (more points if they were naked), if the text describing them used explicitly sexual language, or if they were lying down on a bed or otherwise posed in a sexually suggestive way.  Images could score anywhere from 0 points (and 176 did) to 23 points (though 20 was our highest score).

Once all of the images on all 43 years of Rolling Stone were scored, we divided the images into three groups:  those images that were generally not sexualized, those images that were sexualized, and those images that were so sexualized that we dubbed them “hypersexualized.”

The graph below shows our findings:

Looking first at images of men (represented by dotted lines), we see that the majority of them– from 89% in the 1960s to 83% in the 2000s — were nonsexualized.  Men are sometimes shown in a sexualized manner (about 15% in the 2000s), but they are rarely hypersexualized (just 2% in the 2000s). In fact, only 2% of the images of men across the entire dataset — all 43 years — are hypersexualized.

But, again, the vast majority of men — some 83% in recent years — were not sexualized at all.  So, if you were to pick up a copy of Rolling Stone in the 2000s, you would most likely see men portrayed in a non-sexualized manner, such as in these images:

In contrast, women, especially recently, are almost always sexualized to some degree.  In fact, by the 2000s, 61% of women were hypersexualized, and another 22% were sexualized.  This means that, in the 2000s, women were 3 1/2 times more likely to be hypersexualized than nonsexualized, and nearly five times more likely to be sexualized to any degree (sexualized or hypersexualized) than nonsexualized.

So, in the last decade, if you were to pick up a copy of Rolling Stone that featured a woman on its cover, you would most likely see her portrayed in a sexualized manner, since fully 83% of women were either sexualized or hypersexualized in the 2000s. Here are a few examples of hypersexualized images:

In our article, we argue that the dramatic increase in hypersexualized images of women — along with the corresponding decline in nonsexualized images of them — indicates a decisive narrowing or homogenization of media representations of women.  In Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture, journalist Ariel Levy (2005:5) describes this trend in this way:  “A tawdry, tarty, cartoonlike version of female sexuality has become so ubiquitous, it no longer seems particular.  What we once regarded as a kind of sexual expression,” Levy writes, “we now view as sexuality” (emphases in original).  In this article, we offer empirical evidence for this claim.

So what explains this trend towards women’s hypersexualization?  We don’t think it’s just the idea that “sex sells.” If that were true, we’d see many more images of women on Rolling Stone’s covers (only 30% of covers feature images of women) and we’d also see more sexualized and hypersexualized images of men.  We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Mary Nell Trautner and Erin Hatton are Assistant Professors of Sociology at SUNY Buffalo. Trautner is the author of many articles on the relationship between law, culture, organizational practices, and social inequality (and has written a fantastic Soc Images Course Guide for Sociology of Gender courses).  Hatton, a sociologist of work, is the author of The Temp Economy: From Kelly Girls to Permatemps in Postwar America.

This video, made as part of a marketing campaign for a new shopping center in East London, is a fun overview of a century of some trends in clothing, music, and dance styles, all in 100 seconds. Enjoy!

Via The Hairpin.

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