Tuesday, November 8, 2011

November Fatigue

Awfully tired and unusually so at this point in the semester. The fall semester almost never feels like a grind, but this one does. Maybe it's because I'm always two steps behind. Or maybe it's the work-life juggling act. Chasing around my two boys is fun but it takes a ton of energy! I am usually high energy throughout the fall semester, but I've been relatively low-key this time around. The fact that it rains on most of my teaching days doesn't help!

Today happens to be a beautiful sunny day, and I slept well last night (very rare), so I'm recharging a bit today and hoping to shake off the fatigue. Sabbatical is right around the corner. I have been conscious about not coasting to sabbatical. As much as I am looking forward to my sabbatical in the spring semester, I have worked hard to not act like I'm already on sabbatical! So I've done my best this fall in preparing classes and teaching them, along with advising students with their academic and career affairs, plus meeting my responsibilities as chairperson, and keeping up with research and writing. Still, I wonder if my impending sabbatical has subconsciously slowed me down a bit this semester. I'll do what I can to recover some energy without totally relying on caffeine. Wish me luck!

I close by saying "no complaints." How can anyone complain with a sabbatical approaching? I only wonder if people experience a drop in energy prior to their actual sabbatical?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Using "Otis" by Jay-Z and Kanye West to Talk about Social Class

First, allow me to acknowledge the source of this teaching exercise. Karl Bakeman (tweeting from @wwnsoc at the time) retweeted something from Nikki Jones (@socprofjones). She recently tweeted "Best critique I've seen of Jay-Z and Kanye's 'Otis' - from the Black Youth Project" and included a link to an article.

Having recently heard the "Otis" song on the radio, I was curious to read the critique. I found the criticism to be very interesting and insightful. Basically, it boils down to saying that the song is over-the-top in terms of bragging about money and material goods. If you watch the video, you'll see the standard visuals: expensive cars, watches, sneakers, and beautiful women. In the song, there are references to supermodels, champagne, diamonds, private jets, and money. Kanye sings about his "other, other Benz." All of this, according to the article, is shallow and out of touch. This is no time for such an excessive display of riches, the writer says. In tough economic times with a high unemployment rate, the song and video offer an unnecessary show of a luxurious lifestyle. Furthermore, the writer says, this is not what their audience wants to hear. In essence, it's overkill.

I liked all of the author's points, and went to my Introduction to Sociology class on a Friday morning to discuss the video and the author's viewpoints. I showed the video and asked for reactions. During the discussion I brought up points from the article. I found that students (at least those who spoke out) disagreed with the writer. They didn't find the video to be over-the-top or "in your face." One student described Jay-Z as someone who embodies the "rags-to-riches" story. Another said that Jay-Z and Kayne would be criticized if they were singing about the streets, or being in jail, or glamorizing a criminal style. In other words, he argued, they'd get criticized for singing about the streets or singing about being rich. So they can't win. Another student said that people continue to "drool over" the materialistic lifestyle that is rapped about in the song. So, the student said, people do like to hear this kind of song. None of my students voiced an opinion that was in agreement with the critique.

I came away from the class thinking that people firmly believe in the American Dream. No matter that the economy is stalled and millions of Americans are struggling. People still cling to the Horatio Alger myth (anyone who tries hard enough can get ahead). I suppose that people like to see the outcomes of this hard work (material goods and riches). If it's presented in hyperbolic fashion, so be it.

I'm curious what students at other colleges and universities think about this song and video. Do they relate to it? Find it entertaining? Does anyone find it to be repulsive? Foolish? Or out of touch? In any case, the exercise makes for a good discussion about social class.