product: music

Jessica F. pointed out an interesting graphic at Fleshmap. They looked at which body parts are emphasized or referenced in different genres of music.

From the website:

Fleshmap is an inquiry into human desire, its collective shape and individual expressions. In a series of studies, we explore the relationship between the body and its visual and verbal representation.

You can also click on the genre headings and go to a larger breakdown of what percent of songs reference each body part.

I find this fascinating, in that it gives us some indication of which body parts might be considered particularly important for defining attractiveness to artists and listeners of various genres…and also which body parts are most likely to be criticized or ridiculed. After all, a reference to a body part may be mocking as well as complimentary.

Of course, there are always issues with dividing artistic works into genres (Who defines the genres? How do you decide which genre songs go into if they have things in common with things in more than one genre?). And while the website provides a methodology, it could definitely be clearer:

Based on a compilation of more than 10,000 songs, the piece visualizes the use of words representing body parts in popular culture. Each musical genre exhibits its own characteristic set of words, with more frequently used terms showing up as bigger images. The entrance image shows how many times different body parts are mentioned; the charts for each genre go into more detail, showing the usage of different synonyms for each part.

They don’t specify how many songs were in each genre, how they were assigned to genres, or what the compilation of 10,000 songs is. I wish we had that info. Still, it does tell us, generally, about some interesting patterns that show how different groups construct–and appreciate–the body differently.

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

Dmitriy T.M. sent us a link to an AdWeek post reporting that Miller Beer began advertising in Vietnam last week with this commercial:

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Some sociologists who study international relations apply the idea of the brand to nations.  Nations, they argue, can be seen as a product in a global marketplace. Australia, for example, is marketed as a rough and tumble place where we can get back to nature and find our true selves. Insofar as they can can control their brand, countries can draw tourism and increase demand for their exports (see here and here for Australian examples).

The ad above is an excellent example of Miller capitalizing on the American brand: “It’s American Time. It’s Miller Time.” Notice also that the ad is in English and doesn’t feature anyone that looks Vietnamese. The whiteness of the ad is purposeful. Miller is selling a specific version of “America” characterized by white people, urban life, sex-mixed socializing and, also, really bad music.

UPDATE!  In the comments, Adam linked to this ad which ran in the Phillipines:


You can also think of the California happy cows commercials as a form of state branding.

See herehere, and herefor posts showing the social construction of America as white.

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 the documentary Dreamworlds 3: Desire, Sex, and Power in Music Video, Sut Jhally investigates how images of sex and violence, and sexualized violence against women, are used in music videos, and how music videos help shape ideas of what is sexy. Here’s a clip:

The entire, unabridged version of the film is available here.

Elle sent in a link to the video for Lady Gaga’s song “Paparazzi,” which features one extended scene of sexualized violence (starting at about 1:45) and several other glimpses of women throughout the video who appear to be dead (it’s really worth watching the entire video–it’s something else):

Of course, Lady Gaga would probably argue that this video is in fact opposing violence against women, since in the end the evil paparazzi boyfriend gets killed. But there’s the same imagery Sut Jhally discusses: the mixture of sexuality with violence and hints of brutality, and of injured or dead women in glamorous, sexy clothing. Notice that in the opening sequence, the “normal” sex doesn’t look too much different than the violence that follows.

Other examples of sexualized or glamorized violence: strangling a woman with your necktie, suffering women as a turn-on, murder in a Wrangler’s ad, photo shoot with Rene Russo, t-shirts trivialize violence against women, is it a passionate embrace or an attack?, condom ads, ad for “The Tudors,” women’s discomfort is fashionable, Hunting for Bambi, the infamous Dolce & Gabbana ad, and “American’s Next Top Model.”

Jay Smooth speaks to the Asher Roth tweet about “nappy headed hos” and offers some great insights as to how to maintain proper boundaries when blacks and whites form mixed-race communities.

NEW! More with Don Charnas (found here):

frankie-bioThis post is dedicated to Frankie Manning.  Frankie died this morning of complications related to pneumonia   He was one month shy of his 95th birthday.  I will really miss him.  Frankie is a lindy hop legend.  He choreographed the clip below and is the dancer in the overalls.

In the 1980s, there was a lindy hop revival.  Lindy hop is a partner dance invented by African American youth in Harlem dancing to swing music in the early 1930s. Named after the “hopping” of the Atlantic by Charles Lindbergh Jr., it became wildly popular in the 1930s and ‘40s, traveling from the East to the West Coast and from black to white youth. Since its resurgence, Lindy Hoppers have enjoyed a national scene with websites, workshops, competitions, and city-wide social events that draw national and international crowds.

Though lindy hop was invented by African Americans, lindy hoppers today are primarily white.  These contemporary dancers look to old movie clips of famous black dancers as inspiration.  And this is where things get interesting:  The old clips feature profoundly talented black dancers, but the context in which they are dancing is important. Professional black musicians, choreographers, and dancers had to make the same concessions that other black entertainers at the time made. That is, they were required to capitulate to white producers and directors who presented black people to white audiences. These movies portrayed black people in ways that white people were comfortable with: blacks were musical, entertaining, athletic (even animalistic), outrageous (even wild), not-so-smart, happy-go-lucky, etc.

So what we see in the old clips that contemporary lindy hoppers idolize is not a pure manifestation of lindy hop, but a manifestation of the dance infused by racism. While lindy hoppers today look at those old clips with nothing short of reverance, they are mostly naive to the fact that the dancing they are emulating was a product made to confirm white people’s beliefs about black people.  Let’s look at how this plays out:

This clip, from the movie Hellzapoppin’ (1941) is perhaps the most inspirational clip in the contemporary lindy hopper’s arsenal:

By the way, the dancers are in “service” outfits because of the way lindy hop scenes featuring black dancers were included in movies.   Typically they would have no relationship to the plot; they would occur out of nowhere and then disappear.  This was so that the movie studios could edit out the scene when the movie was going to be shown to those white audiences that were hostile to seeing any positive representation of black people at all.  If you want to see how the scene above emerged (black “help” suddenly discovering musical instruments and spontaneously congregating), you can watch the extended clip here.

The clip features a dance troop called Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers. You can see other famous dance segments in Boy! What A Girl! and Day At The Races.

The clip below, from the Ultimate Lindy Hop Showdown (2006), reveals how powerfully contemporary lindy hoppers have been influenced by clips like the ones above.  Watch for how the styling, moves, and trick reflects the clips above:

Another good example can be found here (but the angle, audio, and visual quality are not very good).

So we have a set of (mostly) white dancers who naively and wholeheartedly emulate a set of black dancers whose performances, now 70 to 80 years old, were produced for mostly white audiences and adjusted according to the racial ethos of the time.  On the one hand, it’s neat that the dance is still alive; it’s wonderful to see it embodied, and with so much enthusiasm, so many years later.  And certainly no ill will can be fairly attributed to today’s dancers.  On the other hand, it’s troubling that the dance was appropriated then (for white audiences) and that it is that appropriation that lives on (for mostly white dancers).  Then again, without those dancers, there would likely be no revival at all.  And without those clips, however imperfect, the dance might have remained in obscurity, lost with the bodies of the original dancers.

As a white lindy hopper myself, for over ten years now, who desperately loves this dance, I find this to be a deep conundrum.

I don’t know what Frankie would have had to say about this critique.  But I do know that he loved lindy hop to his last days and he was grateful for the revival.  Here he is dancing with Dawn Hampton, another legend of lindy hop, at the age of 94:

I’lll miss you, Frankie. And I’ll keep on dancing, embodying, with ambivalence, all the great contradictions of the dance and the history of this country.


UPDATE: A couple commenters asked how, exactly, the dance was changed in order to appeal to white audiences.  This is actually really difficult to say, since few films of social dancing (black dancers dancing only for other black dancers) exist.  But we have some theories.  Evan, in the comments, had this suggestion:

For white audiences of the time, Jazz was Hot Black jungle music – Black people were sex crazy hedonists, and you can see it in the moves, the exaggerated body undulation. the speed. the sweat. the rhythmical drum.

It was like watching a tribe around a fire.

I’m with Evan.  I’d like to also add that, as a person with a trained eye for lindy hop, I see two things in those clips:

(1) I see incredibly effective technique. Unbelievable strength and precision. It’s fantastic.  (By the way, Frankie explained that, by the time they got to the take you see in the Hellzapoppin’ clip, they’d performed that routine more than 20 times in a row… they were amazing athletes.)

(2) But I also see, layered onto and facilitated by that technique, an effort to make the dance appear more out-of-control than it is. They are wild-ing the dance.

At least, that’s how it looks to me.

More than that, though.  As a dancer who has also been inspired by those clips, I know how to do that.  I know how to exaggerate the out-of-control look.  I won’t go into the technical details (I did, and then deleted!), but it’s do-able.  And it’s not that it’s not cool… adding the drama is fun and exciting to watch… but there’s a historical reason why lindy hop has that dimension and that is worth thinking about.

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.

Stephen W. sent in a link to a music video promoting the National Guard.   He saw the video before a screening of Taken in Sioux Falls, SD. At the moment, the National Guard website (warning: noisy) features Kid Rock and Dale Earnhardt Jr.  The opening graphics, set to a snippet of Rock’s Warrior, feature a military helicopter followed by a race car and then a picture of an anonymous African-American National Guard member with the rock star and car star:


A few clicks into the website leads you to this music video:

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In the photographs made available, pictures of Kid Rock’s life as a rock star are mixed with pictures of people in the National Guard, and the lines between the two blur:





Some observations on the marketing of military service:

First, the glorification of military service is an American phenomenon.  (See this post which features an American and a Swedish military recruitment commercial back-to-back.  The difference is quite amazing.)  In this video, the glorification is particularly acute when the light-skinned driver of the Hummer manages to avoid hitting the blue-eyed, olive-skinned, dark-haired boy and then comes out with his giant gun to kick the ball back to him, inspiring a look of awe from the child who’s country he is likely (given the politics in the last 8 years) invading.  We’re left, assured, that the U.S. military are all around good folk.

Second, in this case we have military service being marketed with celebrity tie-ins.  The website deliberately blurs the line between being a famous rock star, a celebrated race car driver, and a member of the National Guard.  Similarly, this Air Force recruitment ad blurs the line between various extreme sports and military service:

These links between military service, skateboarding, and being a rock star are disingenuous, to say the least.  And it reminds me of a series of recruitment ads I’ve been seeing lately that highlight the super cool jobs you could end up doing in the Air Force (like being a fighter pilot). I don’t know about you, but both of my family members who joined the military (in their cases, the Army) ended up being bus drivers.

Third, which celebrities are being used to market the National Guard tells us something about who they are trying to recruit.  Clearly, they are reaching out to young, working class, perhaps rural, white men.  This is not part of the National Guard marketing aimed specifically at this group, the entire National Guard website (warning: noisy), at this time, is entirely devoted to this theme. It speaks to who fights American wars?  Studies have shown that, while once military service was required of elites, this changed during Vietnam.  Today military service is overwhelmingly performed by working- and middle-class men.

Finally, the re-framing of the role from “soldier” to “warrior,” one who wages war, is very interesting.  I’d love to hear your thoughts about this.

More fodder for discussion, if you need it:

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.

The ownership of corporations under parent companies concentrates profits and profit motives, often in ways that undermine the progressive or conservative causes that the subsidiary companies purport to promote. Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream is famous for its progressive and countercultural flavors and activities.

A tribute to the countercultural bands, Phish and The Grateful Dead:

A pacifist message:

The Barack Obama inspired flavor, Yes Pecan:

Alas, in 2000 Ben and Jerry’s was bought by Unilever, the company that brings us (pseudofeminist) Dove, (misogynistic) Axe, and (racist) Fair and Lovely products (examples herehere, here, here, here, here, here, and here).

Oh, to bring the irony full circle, Unilever owns Slimfast too.

Don’t shoot the messenger.

Hat tip to Jezebel.

Below is a video, found via The Daily Dish, of a girl, maybe four or five, mimicking the dancing in a music video featuring Beyonce.  She’s amazing!  Watch her go:


Okay… now for sociological comments… these are all Gwen’s ideas, by the way, even though I’m posting it:

We often think of childhood socialization as a top-down process.  That is, we imagine that children are empty vessels and adults, mostly parents maybe, fill them up with whatever they please.  It may be true that the parents of this little girl actively, even aggressively, encouraged her to learn this dance.  But it’s also possible that this is driven by that little girl.  In which case, it may illustrate how kids can take an active part in their own socialization.  Clearly these parents don’t mind that their daughter is watching Beyonce, but she may be taking the initiative to emulate a public figure she’s seeing in the media (which surely includes messages about how to look, dress, etc.).  Even if these parents don’t like everything about that message (or other models she might follow), they can’t actually protect her from the ever-present messages about femininity that are all around her, which are going to affect how she thinks about herself, what she should be, 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.