The New York Times has an article about how our collective memories on Eastern European Jewish life were shaped by a book called ‘A Vanished World,’ by Roman Vishniac. In the back of it, there are two pictures, below.
The caption reads: “The father is hiding from the Endecy (members of the National Democratic Party). His son signals him that they are approaching. Warsaw, 1938.” Supplemental text indicates that a lynch mob was coming. Upon closer inspection, it seems that Vishniac did a great deal of falsification after the war: about the number of pictures he took, about the fact he used a hidden camera (one can see his reflection in the eyes of some of his subjects), and that some of his pictures were staged. The worst, however, was that he altered captions, like these, to heighten dramatic scenes well after the war.
It reminds me of the Tuvia Grossman controversy, wherein an incorrect caption fused in the world’s memory a scene of an Israeli policeman beating Palestinians. Usually a good example to pair with Howard Becker’s Telling About Society.
Recently, Sociological Images has a nice discussion about how the ‘Florida Family Policy Council’ circulated an image of a lesbian couple who wanted to adopt a child, to alert their members of a recent judge’s ruling. Stereotypes abound. Guess which one was the couple seeking the adoption, and which was the image that was circulated. For what it’s worth, the group says that image on the right was of another couple also seeking adoption and that they’re sorry for the mix up.
One of my all-time favorite sociology books is Cressey’s The Taxi-Dance Hall. It is rich, deep, and lively. It chronicles the social interactions that arise from turn-of-the-last-century immigrants moving to a new city without their families and girlfriends, and how all sorts seek out the attentions of women through these dance halls. A ticket per dance (thus: ‘Taxi-Dance’):
The patrons of the taxi-dance hall constitute a variegated assortment. The brown-skinned Filipino rubs elbows with the stolid European Slav. (…) Gray-haired, mustached men of sixty dance a slow, uncertain one-step in response to the vivacious jigging of their youthful companions (…) Then there are pudgy men of forty or fifty who dance awkwardly (…) Young men are there too, boisterous youths who enter in groups of three and four and hang together at the outskirts of the side-line spectators. (…) May appear to be recent industrial recruits from the country, eager to experience some of the thrills of city life. Others may be foot-loose globe-trotters, hobo journeymen ‘traveling on their trade,’ for whom the normal steps in feminine acquaintanceship must be sped up. Still others, however, constitute a different type and suggest the sleekly groomed, suave young ‘business men’ of questionable antecedents. (…) Finally, there are a few men, handicapped by physical disabilities, for whom the taxi-dancer’s obligation to accept all-comers makes the establishment a haven of refuge. The dwarfed, maimed, and pock-marked all find social acceptance here.
And, for an updated version of this, New York Magazine has a fascinating article on bailarina bars: places for Spanish-speaking immigrant women to make money dancing for new immigrants and orthodox Jews. $2 a dance, $40 an hour, $500 a night. From the article:
Rosa started working at the Flamingo three years ago. The club had a reputation as one of the best bailarina bars in the city, and she’d been looking for a move up. She liked the fact that they opened at 4 or 5 p.m.—rather than 10 p.m. like most clubs. And Flamingo customers tended to go straight to the dance floor rather than sitting around and checking out the women for free. Plus, a phalanx of cameras, security guards, and bouncers put the kibosh on drug dealing, gang activity, and hands venturing too far below bailarinas’ waists. Rosa thought she’d make more money and have a better work environment.
Last week, a student mentioned something that reminded me of this. There is a website called ‘GameCrush’ that matches (presumably) boys and men with women to play video games with for $6.60 per game. According to one website, you can set your gaming mood from ‘dirty’ all the way to ‘filthy.’ I have to take their word for it, because a.) I don’t play those kinds of games, and b.) the website crashed due to over-demand on their servers.
One of my standards is to crib from David Foster Wallace’s Commencement Speech at Kenyon College, ever since I assigned the Best American Non-Required Reading a few years back. I thought I posted it here, but I think that the link was to a site that had a copyright request to take it down. It’s here, for now, in its entirety. I think that this is just a lovely way to introduce thinking about theory, and then head off into talking about The Cave, etc. In part:
Here’s another didactic little story. There are these two guys sitting together in a bar in the remote Alaskan wilderness. One of the guys is religious, the other is an atheist, and the two are arguing about the existence of God with that special intensity that comes after about the fourth beer. And the atheist says: “Look, it’s not like I don’t have actual reasons for not believing in God. It’s not like I haven’t ever experimented with the whole God and prayer thing. Just last month I got caught away from the camp in that terrible blizzard, and I was totally lost and I couldn’t see a thing, and it was fifty below, and so I tried it: I fell to my knees in the snow and cried out ‘Oh, God, if there is a God, I’m lost in this blizzard, and I’m gonna die if you don’t help me.'” And now, in the bar, the religious guy looks at the atheist all puzzled. “Well then you must believe now,” he says, “After all, here you are, alive.” The atheist just rolls his eyes. “No, man, all that was was a couple Eskimos happened to come wandering by and showed me the way back to camp.”
It’s easy to run this story through kind of a standard liberal arts analysis: the exact same experience can mean two totally different things to two different people, given those people’s two different belief templates and two different ways of constructing meaning from experience. Because we prize tolerance and diversity of belief, nowhere in our liberal arts analysis do we want to claim that one guy’s interpretation is true and the other guy’s is false or bad. Which is fine, except we also never end up talking about just where these individual templates and beliefs come from. Meaning, where they come from INSIDE the two guys. As if a person’s most basic orientation toward the world, and the meaning of his experience were somehow just hard-wired, like height or shoe-size; or automatically absorbed from the culture, like language. As if how we construct meaning were not actually a matter of personal, intentional choice.
Three years ago, I admit that I watched my fair share of Ok Go’s catchy homespun video:
They were pretty successful, and made in my estimation an ok band into a bit of an internet sensation. And then there were follow-ups. But lately, it seems the band’s label has been giving them flack for their online content. This led to an interesting open letter on their website. Nothing too surprising, but a good introduction to what happens when hype-machine and capitalism don’t mesh so well and a band wants to make a career:
…But where are they gonna find money if no one buys music? One target is radio stations (there’s lots of articles out there. here’s one: http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/20…ouse-senate.ars ). And another is our friend The Internutz. As you’ve no doubt noticed, sites like YouTube, MySpace, and Blahzayblahblah.cn run ads on copyrighted content. (…) The labels are hurting and they need every penny they can find, so they’ve demanded a piece of the action. They got all huffy a couple years ago and threatened all sorts of legal terror and eventually all four majors struck deals with YouTube which pay them tiny, tiny sums of money every time one of their videos gets played. Seems like a fair enough solution, right? YouTube gets to keep the content, and the labels get some income.
The catch: the software that pays out those tiny sums doesn’t pay if a video is embedded. This means our label doesn’t get their hard-won share of the pie if our video is played on your blog, so (surprise, surprise) they won’t let us be on your blog. (…)
Let’s take a wider view for a second. What we’re really talking about here is the shift in the way we think about music. We’re stuck between two worlds: the world of ten years ago, where music was privately owned in discreet little chunks (CDs), and a new one that seems to be emerging, where music is universally publicly accessible. The thing is, only one of these worlds has a (somewhat) stable system in place for funding music and all of its associated nuts-and-bolts logistics, and, even if it were possible, none of us would willingly return to that world. Aside from the smug assholes who ran labels, who’d want a system where a handful of corporate overlords shove crap down our throats? All the same, if music is going to be more than a hobby, someone, literally, has to pay the piper. So we’ve got this ridiculous situation where the machinery of the old system is frantically trying to contort and reshape and rewire itself to run without actually selling music. It’s like a car trying to figure out how to run without gas, or a fish trying to learn to breath air.
The end result? EMI won’t ‘let them let fans’ post their content. Hmpf.
That’s the subtitle of a book I just finished, Carl Wilson‘s Let’s Talk About Love: Journey to the End of Taste, which is the 57th in a series of books that center on and spin off of a single album by 33 1/3. This one is on Celene Dion, and was passed along to me last weekend. It is a tour de force, much like the album itself, as it swirls through cultural criticism, global hegemony, individual identification, class, etc. by relying upon Bourdieu, Adorno, Sennett, Duncan Watts, and Richard Peterson. It provides the most sociologists between the covers of a non-academic book outside of Malcolm Gladwell.
In order to explore why Dion can be so successful and yet is so hated, Wilson has a nice moment recounting Komar and Melamid’s ‘Most Wanted’ and ‘Least Wanted’ series, which surveyed the aesthetic likes and dislikes in a variety of countries and painted the results. It turns out that, on balance, Americans–and everyone else–like natural landscapes and the color blue. The look of aesthetic democracy looks likes the image to the left. (The ‘Worst’ and global comparisons are available here.)
Wilson then connects to Watts’ Music Lab 14,000-person study, which asked visitors to listen and rate songs from artists whom they had never heard of. There were two groups: One that saw the titles of the songs and the artists and some saw how many times a song was downloaded, and the other group could see how many people who were in their own ‘taste culture’ (i.e., those who express similar musical preferences). As he explains it in a 2007 New York Times Magazine article:
This setup let us test the possibility of prediction in two very direct ways. First, if people know what they like regardless of what they think other people like, the most successful songs should draw about the same amount of the total market share in both the independent and social-influence conditions — that is, hits shouldn’t be any bigger just because the people downloading them know what other people downloaded. And second, the very same songs — the “best” ones — should become hits in all social-influence worlds.
What we found, however, was exactly the opposite. In all the social-influence worlds, the most popular songs were much more popular (and the least popular songs were less popular) than in the independent condition. At the same time, however, the particular songs that became hits were different in different worlds, just as cumulative-advantage theory would predict. Introducing social influence into human decision making, in other words, didn’t just make the hits bigger; it also made them more unpredictable.
Watts et al. found that a song that is ranked in the top five in the ‘blind’ market has a 50 percent chance to achieve that rating in the second group.
Ok. So markets shape our tastes. To see the scholarly output of this project go to Matthew Salganik’s website.
Short story long, I cannot wait to teach this in a Culture class, as it is not only a great introduction to a diverse span of cultural theory and research, but lively writing that I think students would really engage with, even emulate. The fact that it is Celene Dion makes it all the better.
I’ve been interested in the iPhone as a research device for a while (Data Logger is a free iPhone app that allows you to geotag and track all sorts of input), but there’s a few movements on using the iPhone as an educational device. Is it a tool, or another example of the digital divide? More thoughts to come.
It is technology that has made them different, and as we see what this technology can do we need to recognize you can’t kill the instinct the technology produces; we can only criminalize it. We can’t stop our kids from using it; we can only drive it underground. We can’t make our kids passive again; we can only make them, quote, “pirates.” And is that good? We live in this weird time, it’s kind of age of prohibitions, where in many areas of our life, we live life constantly against the law. Ordinary people live life against the law, and that’s what I — we — are doing to our kids. They live life knowing they live it against the law. That realization is extraordinarily corrosive, extraordinarily corrupting. And in a democracy we ought to be able to do better. Do better, at least for them, if not for opening for business. –Lawrence Lessig
My research for a paper on ethnographic characters has taken me back over a century of sociological thinking and there has been no better resource than The Mead Project. I realize that this is something that I should share with anyone who visits this site. I have been digging into Thomas and Park, and there’s been a lot of great, seemingly forgotten texts here. Enjoy.
An Op-Ed piece by Charles Blow notes that analysts give the music industry 10 years:
A study last year conducted by members of PRS for Music, a nonprofit royalty collection agency, found that of the 13 million songs for sale online last year, 10 million never got a single buyer and 80 percent of all revenue came from about 52,000 songs. That’s less than one percent of the songs.
The NYTimes has a nice graphic on the fadeout.
The New Yorker has an article about ticket sales, TicketMaster and LiveNation, ‘The Price of the Ticket.’ Within, John Seabrook interviews Princeton Economist states that, there’s “still an element of rock concerts that is more like a party than a commodities market,” and that it bears resemblance to the gift exchange.
Related, here‘s a piece on how the publishing industry, as it exists today, is doomed.
David Lynch’s Interview Project begins.
A fun piece in the NYTimes on the possibility of an emoticon in a 1862 article on a President Lincoln address. Jennifer 8. Lee does a great job sniffing out the possibility, as well as pointing us to the Wikipedia page, which includes examples of them from the late 1800s. The examples below were published in the March 30 1881 issue of Puck. I found the differences between eastern and western emoticon styles to be of particular interest. Western styles ‘read’ horizontal, while eastern ones are vertical. Western smile: : ) Eastern smile: (^_^) Western surprise: :0 Eastern surprise: (0.o)
Of course, the ‘fun/fluff’ aspect of it gives way to the deeper ways that the media shapes the messege. One of the things I found to be particularly pursuasive about the ‘pro-proto-emotion’ arguements was that the reprinting of Lincoln’s speech required typesetting, and the setter had to make the mistake of placing a space before the semicolon as well as the semicolon itself. Two mistakes. These things go well with thinking about texting (Times has an older article called ‘Text Generation Gap: U R 2 Old (JK)’) and reading (‘Online, R U Really Reading?’)
In preparing to talk about representations of reality, and thinking about the Dogma 95 movement in film, I came across this amazing flash animation of images and stories of life living in Jakarta, Kibera, Caracas, and Dharavi, called ‘The Places We Live.’ It’s unbelievably riveting, and I cannot wait to teach Urban again, although it’s going to be great for Media, Technology, and Sociology. (Also, check out this amazing stop-action film of a plane flying over glowing cities at night.)