August 13, 2012, 4:31 pm
Like many people, I spent my summer vacation with my large and fiercely loyal extended family. Unlike many people, my family is mixed. No, I don’t mean mixed race or mixed class, although we are that too, but mixed politically. There are plenty of lefties among us; there are also plenty of conservatives. During the Bush years, I often found it incomprehensible that these people whom I love and respect could vote for a man who got this country into wars they didn’t believe in and cultural battles over gay rights that they actually opposed. Among the Essig Republicans, there are no homophobes or hawks, just people who genuinely believe that the fiscal policies of the GOP are better for this country than the Democratic ones.
Like many people in mixed-political families, I more or less ignore it and focus on what ties us together: eating, eating, and more eating. This month, as I sat…
July 31, 2012, 4:46 pm
Houston gun show, 2007 (photo by Michael Glasgow via Flickr/CC)
Swimming with my family yesterday, we were shocked to learn that a man just down the beach had been attacked by a shark. The usual feelings of fear, shock, helplessness, and gratitude that it wasn’t us ensued. As this story mingled with the story of James Holmes in Colorado, it seemed easy enough to imagine that a shark attack and a mass shooting are similar events: tragedies floating through the summer air randomly attaching to certain bodies while swimming by others.
Of course shark attacks are not at all the same as mass killings. Mass killings are acts of madness that are cultural in nature, not blind animal instinct. More than 60 years ago, Ann Parsons, daughter of one of the mightiest of U.S. sociologists Talcott Parsons, wrote about…
July 22, 2012, 12:14 pm
Over at The Baffler, Steve Almond writes that those of us who think The Daily Show and The Colbert Report are comedic genius are just not smart enough to understand that they’re not that funny. According to Almond, the fact that so many of us revere Stewart and Colbert is
not evidence of a world gone mad so much as an audience gone to lard morally, ignorant of the comic impulse’s more radical virtues. Over the past decade, political humor has proliferated not as a daring form of social commentary, but a reliable profit source. Our high-tech jesters serve as smirking adjuncts to the dysfunctional institutions of modern media and politics, from which all their routines derive. Their net effect is almost entirely therapeutic: they congratulate viewers for their fine habits of thought and feeling while remaining careful never to question the corrupt precepts of the status quo too…
July 15, 2012, 10:19 am
In a post on Disney’s wedding industrial and ideological complex over at Bitch, Michael Braithwaite writes about weddings and how to make them good. For instance, Braithwaite writes that weddings with themes are good since
Themes are an excellent way to incorporate some imagination and a little wonder into adult life, which is maybe why theme weddings have become a bit of “thing” in the last couple of decades, with people getting married on the ocean floor, while rock climbing, etc. I’ve had friends whose weddings followed the theme of their first date, or a particularly meaningful trip taken together. It’s fun! But, more importantly, theme weddings are a great way to reflect something special about the couple—to aesthetically, visually, and atmospherically reinforce what makes a relationship unique. To clarify: Theme weddings are different from package weddings, which are like…
July 9, 2012, 11:08 am
A few years ago one of my daughters, who had not yet fully claimed her feminist card, told me that if I were a good parent, I would be there everyday after school to greet them with a snack and homework help instead of being at work. Outwardly I laughed at her ridiculous mid-century ideas of parenting, but inside the worry that I am not a good enough mother continued to haunt me.
Now recent research by Miriam Liss, Holly Schiffrin and Kathryn Rizzo published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies indicates that the “good” mother, the one who puts her kids’ needs first, who engages in “intensive” parenting, who is always there with a hug and a snack after school as my daughter once longed for, may in fact be more subject to depression, and a parent’s depression is most certainly not good for children.
The research focused on “intensive” parenting, defined as believing that…
July 8, 2012, 12:33 pm
On July 4th Chris Rock tweeted
Happy white peoples independence day the slaves weren’t free but I’m sure they enjoyed fireworks.
I realize that tweets in and of themselves are not that important, but the backlash against this particular one is overburdened with significance. Over at Huffington Post, they have a poll and you can vote whether you find the tweet “funny” or “unpatriotic.” About as many people found it unpatriotic as found it amusing (15.56% to 18.42%). Needless to say, if 15% of readers of the left-leaning Huff Post found Rock’s tweet unpatriotic, the red, white and blue vitriol was ramped up in the right-wing blogosphere. At briebart.com, John Solte wrote about Rock:
Still carrying a grudge against a country that has made Chris Rock wealthy and famous way beyond where his waning talents should’ve taken him… To divisive racialists like Rock, nothing will ever be…
June 28, 2012, 1:05 pm
Today the Supreme Court has ruled that I can lie about military honors and that I must have health care. A seemingly contradictory set of rulings, perhaps, since one seems to venerate individual freedom and speech protections to the point of absurdity and the other is an attempt to actually impose the common good on individual desires.
The Supreme Court
overturned a federal law that made it a crime to lie about having earned a military decoration, saying that the law was an unconstitutional infringement on free speech.
The ruling was in response to the 2006 Stolen Valor Act, passed after someone stood up at a public meeting and claimed to have been a wounded marine who had been awarded the Medal of Honor. This is good news for those of us who like to win any argument by saying “but I served in Iraq.” I know that’s what I usually do when departmental meetings are not going my way….
June 25, 2012, 6:20 pm
By now everyone and their mother is discussing Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article for the Atlantic claiming that women can’t really have it all: a high-powered career and a happy home life. Slaughter would know. A law professor and then dean at Princeton who got a great gig being the director of policy planning at the State Department, she also had a husband willing to keep the home fires burning. In other words, by Slaughter’s own admission, she had all the privileges in the world and still couldn’t find a way to balance career with being what she assumed would be “good parenting.” Slaughter admits that
such a statement, coming from a high-profile career woman—a role model—would be a terrible signal to younger generations of women. By the end of the evening, she had talked me out of it, but for the remainder of my stint in Washington, I was increasingly aware that the feminist…
June 20, 2012, 10:14 am
Gans (photo at talkinnewyork.com--click on image to get to hosting page)
My dear former professor, Herb Gans, has written a piece in Identities that is causing quite a stir among sociologists, especially cultural sociologists such as myself. The piece, which Gans himself admits is a “polemic” and therefore often unfair, is a rant against cultural sociology for separating itself from what he calls structural sociology. Although this might seem like a purely academic argument, I think it has much broader implications as we look around at the mess this country is in and ask “what is to be done?”
The problem with dividing culture from structure stems from Karl Marx’s base and superstructure. Because not just academics, but many activists, accept this distinction, it continues to haunt how we respond to…
June 19, 2012, 3:44 pm
Ah, the Olympics. A seemingly simple pleasure that comes along every four years, when we watch the best athletes in the world compete. But as with all simple pleasures, this one turns out to be a bit of a hairball, since it is based on the most simplistic binary of all—male and female—a binary that has a tendency to implode on itself. The 2012 Olympics present a case in point.
Faced with the conundrum of sex in elite female athletes, the International Olympic Committee decided it would test for levels of testosterone, and if it is “too high,” it would disqualify the athletes from competing. Simple. Except no one knows what “normal” levels of testosterone in elite athletes might be or even whether there is any relationship between high levels of testosterone and superior athletic performance.
According to Katrina Karkazis and Rebecca Jordan-Young, medical anthropologists at…
June 11, 2012, 1:49 pm
A tantalizing article in The Guardian by Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist at the University of Virginia, offers us a theory about why the Dems are losing. It’s not the economy, but moral vision that is bringing them down.
According to Haidt,
politics at the national level is more like religion than it is like shopping. It’s more about a moral vision that unifies a nation and calls it to greatness than it is about self-interest or specific policies. In most countries, the right tends to see that more clearly than the left. In America the Republicans did the hard work of drafting their moral vision in the 1970s, and Ronald Reagan was their eloquent spokesman. Patriotism, social order, strong families, personal responsibility (not government safety nets) and free enterprise. Those are values, not government programs.
This “morality” of the GOP contrasts with Democrats/liberals in …
June 3, 2012, 1:51 pm
Two stories this week struck me as cases of asking the wrong questions and therefore getting the wrong answers. The first was Mayor Bloomberg’s campaign to ban sodas larger than 16 ounces in New York City. According to Bloomberg, the question is why are Americans so fat and the answer is soda. The second was the John Edwards case and the framing of it as one of sin and whether or not the sinner can be redeemed. Or as Katia Hetter at CNN put it, “Can Cheaters Change?”
But what if we asked different questions about both of these issues?
Instead of asking “Why are Americans so fat?” Bloomberg might have asked other questions like “Why are advertisers of non-food products, like soda, allowed to target children when tobacco no longer is?” or “Why are obesity- related illnesses like diabetes not randomly distributed throughout the population, but instead inversely related to…
May 31, 2012, 12:08 pm
(Image from Khalid Albaih via Flickr/CC)
Myth Number 1: black Americans are more homophobic than white Americans
Myth Number 2: President Obama lost support among black voters when he came out in support of gay marriage.
The claim that African-Americans are more homophobic than white Americans is one of those head-scratching, what could possibly be the purpose of such a white lie kind of claims. When Prop 8 was passed in California, some white leaders in the gay-marriage movement blamed it on black voters. A simple calculation of how few black voters there are in California should have nipped such a flowering of untruth in the bud, but alas, there it was, out in the world, flourishing. This despite the fact that the very white Mormon Church spent a ton of money making sure marriage rights were not …
May 26, 2012, 6:25 pm
Maybe it’s the start of the holiday weekend, that I just submitted my grades, that I just got a new grill, but I have been thinking a lot about eating and eating meat in particular. Which is why I so didn’t need to read this story (warning: stop now if you are hoping to eat a hot dog this weekend. No really, stop!).
Mao Sugiyama, a self-described “asexual” from Tokyo, cooked up, seasoned and served his own genitalia to five diners at a swanky banquet in Japan last month.
Just days after Sugiyama’s 22nd birthday, the artist underwent elective genital-removal surgery, divvied up the severed penis shaft, testicles, and scrotal skin between five people, and garnished it with button mushrooms and Italian parsley.
The sociological imagination fails me. There is nothing to do but turn to my more anthropological guideposts. The first and most obvious thing to say, a la Levi-Strauss, is that…
May 23, 2012, 10:10 am
" . . . and your pension and benefits too . . . " (photo by Flickr/CC user outcast104)
Just a few short years ago, vampires ruled. Twilight, True Blood, and other cultural obsessions posited the vampire as perfection–a strong predator who is not merely beautiful, but never ages. Joan Rivers with a mixed martial arts fighter’s body.
But perhaps it is a sign of our times that these ubervampires have morphed into the far more campy ones in Dark Shadows. As Americans lost our appetite for the sort of blood-sucking predators who ruled Hollywood and Wall Street, vampires no longer haunted our cultural imaginary as heroes, but as villains. By the time Matt Taibbi used the phrase “vampire squid” to describe Goldman Sacks in 2009, the vampire had lost his mojo.
So perhaps it should be no surprise that the …
May 17, 2012, 4:24 pm
We all know the GOP ain’t exactly feminist. After all, many Republicans want to control women’s reproductive lives, destroy equal pay for equal work laws, and limit civil rights and privileges to women who marry men. But the GOP-controlled House bill on violence against women that passed last night has been called by The American Bar Association
a retreat from the battle against domestic and sexual violence.
Although the Violence Against Women Act has previously enjoyed bipartisan support, in the current and highly ideological climate, Republicans in the House wanted to take away key protections for battered women. They also did not want to extend domestic violence protections to LGBT citizens, illegal aliens, and American Indians.
That’s why Jezebel calls the GOP House version of the bill “The violence against SOME women act.” According to Jezebel, the House bill is supported…
May 10, 2012, 3:35 pm
Fifteen years ago, Obama supported gay marriage, then he started “evolving” on the issue, and then yesterday he came out in support of gay marriage with a powerful statement that
At a certain point, I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.
Needless to say, this statement is incredibly important. As Richard Socarides wrote over at The New Yorker,
President Barack Obama’s announcement today that he fully supports marriage equality for gay and lesbian Americans is historic. It will certainly go down in record books with events like Stonewall as an important milestone in the equal-rights movement.
Whatever made the President change his mind, there is little doubt that coming out in favor of gay marriage is a political risk. How much of one remains to be seen, but the Right…