Nikki L. sent us a link to this fascinating Tickle Me Elmo commercial.  In introduces a new Tickle Me Elmo product, “Tickle Hands.”

The ad takes place on what appears to be an urban street (reminiscent of Sesame Street).  Two of the kids appear white, while the other two look (probably deliberately vaguely) “racial,” maybe Asian and Latino (perhaps biracial).  At the very end of the commercial the kids pose in front of a brick wall with a picture of Elmo graffiti-style.  Two of them look like they’re flashing gang signs and Elmo, no joke, says “Yeahhhhhh Booooy.”  Here’s a screen shot of the moment:


So let’s trace the evolution of the gangster meme.

1.  Government policy strips urban centers of resources, jobs leave (along with useful things like grocery stores), housing prices fall and the poor become concentrated, and those with means move to the suburbs.  With few “above ground” economic options, people turn to “underground” economies.  With only the “underclass” left, politicians (who tend to listen more to those with economic power and cultural clout) continue policies that disinvest in urban communities of color.  Say “goodbye” to things like nice parks and excellent fire protection.

2.  In a world where obeying the rules gets you nowhere fast, violence flourishes.

3.  The suffering and resourcefulness of young black, Latino, and Asian men in these communities appeals to a (mostly) white “mainstream” America for whom depictions of men of color doing violence confirms their beliefs about white superiority and advanced “civilization.”  Hip hop and rap music becomes a huge money maker for music studios and producers (and a handful of men of color).

4.  As hip hop and rap become commodified, they are depoliticized.  The “oppositional consciousness” that once characterized these art forms becomes largely lost.  For the most part, any artist that wants to “make it” has to be and say what producers think that mainstream Americans want them to do and say.

5.  Now depoliticized, being “hard” and “urban” becomes synonymous with being “cool.”  Everyone wants to be cool.

6.  Being “gangster” is appropriated by white suburban youth.

7.  Stripped of any meaning, it filters down to younger and younger kids.

Enter: Tickle Me Elmo “tickle hand” gang signs.

For more examples of this phenomenon, see these advertising images at a shoe store, Beyonce’s House of Dereon clothing line for girls, the marketing for the Alvin and the Chipmunks remake, and these candy “grills.”


Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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.

Behold “a visualization of the contiguous United States, colored by distance to the nearest [of the about 13,000] domestic McDonald’s” developed by Stephen Von Worley at Weather Sealed:


Von Worley writes:

As expected, McDonald’s cluster at the population centers and hug the highway grid.  East of the Mississippi, there’s wall-to-wall coverage, except for a handful of meager gaps centered on the Adirondacks, inland Maine, the Everglades, and outlying West Virginia.

For maximum McSparseness, we look westward, towards the deepest, darkest holes in our map: the barren deserts of central Nevada, the arid hills of southeastern Oregon, the rugged wilderness of Idaho’s Salmon River Mountains, and the conspicuous well of blackness on the high plains of northwestern South Dakota.  There, in a patch of rolling grassland, loosely hemmed in by Bismarck, Dickinson, Pierre, and the greater Rapid City-Spearfish-Sturgis metropolitan area, we find our answer.

Between the tiny Dakotan hamlets of Meadow and Glad Valley lies the McFarthest Spot: 107 miles distant from the nearest McDonald’s, as the crow flies, and 145 miles by car!

Suffer a Big Mac Attack out there, and you’re hurtin’ for certain!

Via a blog I’ve been borrowing a lot from lately, Chart Porn.


Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Robin L. sent us this great visual, from Flare (via), that uses U.S. census data to show how work type has changed over time.  The image below displays the percentage of men (blue) and women (pink) in each job between 1850 and 2000:


If you go to the interactive, you can see what percentage of all workers were of any given type, by sex, for each year.

You can also look at work by gender.  Look at how women’s participation in paid work has increased over time (but watch out for the shortened y axis):


The trend for men is down and I can’t think of a good reason for why (you?), though the source explains that some modern jobs are left out because they use occupational categories from 1950.


You can also look at each job individually.  This is the image for farm laborers (again, with a short y axis):


This data is great for comparative purposes, but leaves a bit to be desired in terms of capturing the whole picture because of the missing occupations.


Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Cross-posted at Montclair Socioblog.

Claude the brand consultant was consulting with me – i.e., he was picking up the cappuccino tab at Starbuck’s. He was about to start teaching a course called something like “Communications and Public Affairs,” and not being an academic (though he’s a really good teacher), he wanted some advice on the syllabus.

We finally got around to the idea that Messages about Issues had to be tailored for specific Audiences or Publics, particularly their Interests and Values. (Those capitalized words were possible major headings in the syllabus.)

I immediately thought of the example of Texas and litter. How could you convince Texans to be more respectful of public places and not toss all that crap out onto the roads they drove on? The Ladybird Johnson approach – “Highway Beautification”?


Wrong audience. The people who were littering obviously didn’t care about highway beauty.

The guy you were trying to reach was Bubba, the classic red stater – fiercely individualistic, anti-government, macho. A slob, and probably proud of it. You couldn’t appeal to self-interest since it’s in Bubba’s self-interest to chuck his garbage out the window. Even hefty fines (and they are hefty) would work only if you could catch litterers often enough – unlikely on the Texas highways.

The best way in was Values. But how? “Don’t be a Litterbug, Keep Your Community Clean” would be noo nice, too feminine or babyish, and, like “Pitch In” too collectivist. Instead, Roy Spence and Tim McClure at the Austin ad agency GSD&M had the Texas DOT go with chauvinism – Texas chauvinism. The idea they played on was not that littering was ugly or wrong or costly, but that it hurt Texas. And thus in 1985 was born one of the most famous and effective campaigns in the history of advertising.


With its double meaning of “mess,” it captured Bubba’s patriotism and pugnacity. The bumper stickers were soon everywhere. The TV ads featured famous proud Texans. One of the early ones (so early, I can’t find it on YouTube) featured Too-Tall Jones and Randy White, two of the toughest dudes on the Cowboys defense, picking up roadside trash.

JONES: You see the guy who threw this out the window, you tell him I got a message for him.

WHITE: (picks up a beer can): I got a message for him too.

OFF-CAMERA VOICE: What’s that?

WHITE: (Crushes the beer can with one fist). Well, I kinda need to see him to deliver it.

JONES: Don’t mess with Texas.

Litter in Texas has been reduced by 72%, the campaign is still going strong a quarter-century later, and McLure and Spence have a book about it. My source was Made to Stick by the Heath Brothers (no, jazzers, not thoseHeath brothers), Chip and Dan.

The graphic below is interesting to me in light of the discourse about greenhouse gas emissions.  We often hear about emissions from cars and sometimes about emissions from industry.  I was surprised, then, to see that electricity and heat was such a large contributor to carbon dioxide emissions.  And I feel like land use change and agriculture hardly get discussed at all.


Graphic borrowed from ChartPorn, which also has an interactive graphic that breaks down emissions by country (via Simoleon Sense).


Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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


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 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.

The idea that work and home are in different places was institutionalized only recently in human history (and is still not reality everywhere).  In early American history, most people were farmers.  Both men and women worked at home.  The technological advances that brought industrialization removed work from home.  The factory was invented to house large machinery and many workers.  Enter: wage work, the commute, and wives that “just” stayed home.

Today, the idea that work and home are separate places is largely taken for granted (though this may be reversing a bit) and is, in fact, institutionalized with zoning laws that specify whether space is to be used for work (and what kind), living, or both.

Dmitriy T.M. sent us a link to the images below.  They compare the population of New York City and its boroughs the bottom two-thirds of Manhattan and parts of New Jersey, Brooklyn, and Queens during the day and night.  It reveals nicely how we are organized so as to use different spaces differently.



Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Chris, at Public Criminology, points to an excellent example of how institutional rules can have unintended and counterproductive consequences. In this case, the rule applies to people convicted of committing sex offenses against children. Such offenders, once released from prison, are disallowed from living with 2,500 feet of schools, parks, churches, or any place where children might congregate.

So far so good.

But it turns out that, in Miami, that translates into everywhere. That is, everywhere is within 2,500 feet of one of these places. The yellow dots in this still the places near which sex offenders are not allowed to live:


Parole officers are at a loss and have instructed released offenders to live under a causeway in the middle of Biscayne Bay (see the red arrow). They even check on them every morning to make sure they are there.

These sex offenders, then, are forced into homelessness by rules designed to protect children.

The video below reports on the situation. In addition to the human rights concerns, there is a concern that the living conditions may actually increase the chances of recidivism.  Living under a bridge: (1) is arguably even less enjoyable than prison, (2) smothers hope of ever reintegrating into society, and (3) is not really conducive to self-improvement.

See also our other posts on rules that apply to released sex offenders here and here.

UPDATE: Comments thread closed.


Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.