Monday, December 19, 2011

Not In The Holiday Spirit (Yet)

This past weekend, on Saturday night, my wife and I got a babysitter to watch our two boys. Instead of a romantic night out (mistake #1), we took a practical route and used the night to catch up on Christmas shopping. We started with a quick meal at Generic Chain Restaurant (mistake #2), because of its proximity to stores we wanted to patronize. The food was actually decent, but the atmosphere was bland. When a group of workers gathered together to sing happy birthday to a customer (Holy restaurant cliche, Batman), I was ready to leave. We stopped at Lame Craft Store to get a few ornaments and other trinkets, then headed to Pretend Your House Is Like The Ones On HGTV Store to get a few gifts, then went to the mall to Cute And Cheap Clothes For Kids Store to pick up a few things, and ended at Very Expensive Toy Store to buy $40 Legos for our 4-year-old. My wife and I agreed that neither of us were properly in the holiday spirit. We couldn't pinpoint why. Job stress? Life stress? General holiday stress? I think maybe it has something to do with Consumption Pressure (not sure why I capitalized Consumption and Pressure, but hey, it's a blog). I made an obvious observation that you never feel like you're done shopping. It always feels like you can buy one more thing. And sometimes you have a sense that what you bought just isn't good enough. And why the hell do we spend so much time buying things that people don't need? Granted, I say this from a middle-class perspective. Our family and friends don't need anything. I know that plenty of people do need lots of things. I also know there are good gifts for people who fortunately don't need things. A nice bottle of wine from France makes a good gift for my brother, and a gift certificate to my mother's favorite salon makes a nice gift for her. But the running around to get STUFF doesn't feel satisfying. Maybe I'm just a grinch.

Sunday felt a little different. We took the kids to a tree farm and picked out a nice little Christmas tree. That baby cost $48, then we spent a few more bucks at the gift shop, then a few more dollars on hot dogs and fresh cut french fries (yum). Later on, when the tree was decorated, I felt a little bit of the holiday spirit.

Then, today, I found a nice surprise in my office mailbox: two candy canes. How cute is this, one was a pink candy cane with Dora the Explorer all over it, the other one green with SpongeBob Squarepants all over it. And no card or note. Just somebody who decided to leave two candy canes in my mailbox. That made me happy. I thought to myself: "This makes more sense to me. Leaving fun little items for people without identifying yourself as the gift giver. This is good. Just thinking of someone, recognizing someone in some small way, and not looking for credit. That seems like the holiday spirit."

Well, hopefully I'll lighten up by Christmas. Having kids is supposed to automatically make you enjoy Christmas. And I am excited for my kids. But consumption has a funny way of making you feel empty inside. Anonymous gifts, however, might generate joy and spark some spirit. In any case, happy holidays. Did I really end with a cliche?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Athletes and Religion: The Case of Tim Tebow

I don't know much about Tim Tebow. I do know that he's a Christian. To use 21st century terminology, that's his brand. My impression is that he is serious and sincere in his religious convictions. And my impression is that media outlets have largely approved his displays of religious beliefs both on and off the football field.

I would love to hear a discussion about this. Maybe the subject has already been discussed at length, but I haven't heard it. If ESPN has covered it, I wouldn't know, because I find it painful to watch ESPN. And national sports talk radio shows strike me as boring and distasteful; for example, Jim Rome. But this does seem like a topic that Rome would delve into during his show.

What interests me about the general topic of athletes and religion is the question of appropriate (or inappropriate) displays of religious beliefs on the football field. Of course, what's considered appropriate or inappropriate is a subjective call. That's what makes it interesting. Over the years, I've listened to media figures talk about athletes who point to the sky after scoring a touchdown in negative ways. I've heard many a media personality condemn teammates who circle in the end zone to join in prayer. Overall, I would say that athletes who demonstrate their religious beliefs on the field of play have encountered disapproval. But with Tim Tebow, I'm not sure that's the case. But I defer to people who watch sports and cover sports for a living. They would know more about the tone and content of coverage with regard to Tebow.

If Tebow has generally received positive (or even neutral) coverage about his on-field displays of religious beliefs, that begs the question Why? If he has in fact been treated with respect for his religious convictions, I'm curious to know why this might be. I emphasize that I'm not exactly sure of how he's been treated, so that's why I'd love to hear more about the matter. I came across one story that describes mixed reactions to Tebow. The story includes a link to the website, which has pictures of people apparently imitating Tebow. Some of it's for laughs, some of it seems staged, so it's hard to tell if it's "all in good fun," or mockery, or something else.

I do want to mention race as a possible factor here. Over the years, athletes who faced criticism for on-field displays of religious beliefs have generally been black players. Is Tebow getting a positive response, in part, because he's a white player? Or because he's a white quarterback? I am posing these questions for discussion, I am not posing them as facts or as my opinion. As I've said, I don't know enough about how Tebow's been handled by media so far. I just wonder if race is part of the issue in this case. So I put all of this out there for contemplation and consideration.

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.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Talking occupations with my 4-year-old son

This is a short video of my conversation with my four-year-old son about occupations. He would like to be a teacher, thinks only boys are firefighters, doesn't want to be an "Army guy," and doesn't know what a plumber is. Don't worry, I'll explain that women fight fires too!

It's interesting to think about how children form their ideas about different occupations. My son responded positively to the question about being a garbage collector--I wonder if and when his views will change, considering it's a job that is ranked low in terms of prestige.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Broke and Famous

In the future there will be two categories of people: broke and famous.
79% of the population will be broke, 21% will be famous.
But that’s okay because everybody will have the chance to be famous.
Everyone will be monitored 24/7/365 and every action recorded permanently.
That’s how they will decide who gets to be famous.
It will have the intended benefit of ending crime.
(People will stop committing crime once they realize they will be caught and punished immediately. Even white-collar crime will be punished.)
The streets will also be totally clean because littering will bring immediate punishment.
At first people will bemoan the end of privacy but complaints will stop after people see how nice it is when there is no crime and the streets are clean. Plus there is the chance of being famous.
And it should be said that it won’t be horrible to be broke.
Basically the conditions will be tolerable enough so that nobody minds too much.
Everyone will be able to pay their rent and have enough to eat.
How we gonna eat? Just watch The Jetsons.
They will also require immunizations for everybody, free of charge.
Plus they are going to turn January into Equality Month. Everybody will have exactly the same amount of possessions and money for one month. It will take a lot of maneuvering but they can figure out how to do it.
So everyone will get to taste equality for 31 days.
Why January? Gotta start the New Year out right, right?
People will be rewarded with lots of cash if they demonstrate proficiency in another language.
They finally figured out that two languages are better than one.
Only one news channel will exist and it will be called HOTT News.
All the anchors and reporters and pundits and sportscasters and meteorologists will be models.
There won’t be any hate on HOTT News because it will replace all the other news channels that will lose ratings when they run out of ways to hate. (It turns out that hate has an expiration date.)
People will embrace the change because HOTT News is gonna make tolerance sexy.
Music will be pretty good too because they will ban lyrics.
So there won’t be any violent and misogynist songs.
Don’t worry, there will still be plenty of good music. It’s amazing what they can do with JAZZ.
(If you’re wondering what happens if people listen to songs with lyrics they already have, the answer is they will be punished immediately. Don’t worry, HOTT news will make censorship sexy.)
So there will be broke and famous people, no crime, clean streets, free immunizations, rent and food paid for, more multilingualism, censorship, and tolerance. It won’t be a perfect situation but it will be good enough. They finally figured out that if conditions are good enough and if beautiful people say everything is gonna be alright and people stand a decent chance of being famous then people will shut up.
The end.

Author's note: my attempt to use creative writing to glimpse the future.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

I'm HOTT. Except I'm Not.

I got an e-mail yesterday informing me I'm included in an article on a website called It's a list of the best and worst professors in the U.S. The list is compiled based on reviews from It's not news to anyone that isn't scientific. We know that it's basically a haphazard sample of student opinions. That doesn't mean that the comments are worthless, but it does mean that they aren't representative of the population of students who have taken a professor's classes. I'm on the list of "best professors"--I suppose that's better than being on the list of worst professors. The author of the article boils down my ratings by saying "most of the students say he is 'amazing', 'interesting' and 'HOTT.' For the record, only one student said I'm HOTT. I'm not sure what the extra T means, but I assume it's good. I'm flattered that someone thinks I'm HOTT, but I assure you that I'm not. (Today I look like I'm going to a casting call for a Dockers commercial. Only I wouldn't be hired, because I'm short). I don't think I'm unattractive, I'm only saying that at least 99 out of 100 people in a room wouldn't describe me as HOTT (or HOT).

The writer goes on to say "Beyond being easy on the eyes, it seems that Niagara students also enjoy the ease of his classes and the entertainment value of his lectures." The author correctly points out that most of my reviews come from students in SOC 101. This is no small point. I teach several classes: Social Psychology, Race & Ethnicity, Research Methods, and Introduction to Sociology. The way I teach SOC 101 is very different from how I teach upper-level courses. I do see how my Intro class is perceived as easy (although it might be "easy" because I teach it well--just a thought). However, I certainly don't love being reduced to someone who is "easy on the eyes" and "easy." I doubt that's how a representative sample of my students would describe me.

There are worst things in the world than being characterized as a "talented teacher" who is "totally cute" (those are other phrases in the article). If I may say so, I do think I'm a talented teacher. "Totally cute" is a long stretch. I guess I can't pick and choose adjectives. And I'm not mad at the writer--she's only working with the "data" from Furthermore, I sent my picture to a writer for when she was writing a similar story earlier this year. I figured "why not." As long as she was writing a story, I might as well send a picture. So I sent a picture of me with my son Troy, who inspires me in life.

So I write this not out of frustration or because I'm upset. I write it to reflect on what it means to supposedly be one of the best professors in the nation. And to emphasize what we already know: that a haphazard sample of comments should be taken with a huge grain of salt. Come find me at a conference (or do a Google image search) and you'll agree that I'm not HOTT.

Ultimately, I think this post reflects my concern about not being taken seriously. Who wants to be labeled an "easy professor" who is "entertaining" and "totally cute"? Even if I am entertaining, or cute (debatable), there's more to me than that.

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Private Lives of Students

We don't always know what's happening in the lives of our students. Sometimes we forget that their lives are complicated. They're not just our students. They deal with family problems, they have jobs, they have social lives and social problems. They deal with stress, just as we do. Often our students show up in class with the appearance of being bored, or tired, or disengaged. Sometimes they really are just tired. Hell, sometimes they're hungover. But in some cases there's more to the story. Much more. I think it's important to remember that students deal with a lot of different feelings and emotions, so we shouldn't take it personally when they are tired or disengaged in class. It's hard not to be offended if someone is "out of it" during class. We might rush to judgment and get upset when they aren't involved in class discussions and don't seem singularly focused on the class content.

So where is all this coming from?

On a few occasions this semester, students have confided in me about personal problems they've experienced. A few students have shared very personal information with me to explain why they've missed class or will miss an exam. I'm not trying to be mysterious here; it's just that I would never violate their privacy or their confidence. So let's just say I've learned that some of my students are going through (and have gone through) some very difficult situations. They are the kinds of things I would have had enormous trouble dealing with as a 20-year-old (or as a 30-year-old, for that matter). I admire these students for coping with significant challenges in their lives. I worry about them because it would be hard to get through such difficult situations. And it puts into perspective what goes on in the lives of students. More happens to them than we might think. As said, sometimes a tired student is just tired. Sometimes a student really is just bored. Sometimes they drank too much the night before. But a lot of times, there's more to the story. So I err on the side of reserving judgment. I err on the side of not assuming. I have come to understand that a lot goes on in the lives of students, and it's impossible for many of them to come to class with a clear mind and clear head. For my part, I try to be compassionate and sympathetic (AND FLEXIBLE) when it comes to extending deadlines for assignments or rescheduling exams (not in case of hangovers, obviously). In short, I don't automatically give a student a hard time if they show up late or if they are disengaged in class. I try instead to be understanding and helpful. In short, I try to be supportive.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Good Day

It was Monday. I never know what Mondays are going to bring. Wife is out the door at 8:00 and my parents come by 9:30 to watch our sons for the day. It's my job to get the baby down for a nap by 9:00 (he "sleeps in" until 6:30 in the morning if we're lucky) and then head out the door in time to review my notes for 11:15 class. Sometimes baby Mack decides to give me a hard time and resist his morning nap. But yesterday he cooperated and hit the sack with no fight at all. I came down the stairs feeling like a champion, and finished getting ready for work. Only one problem: I forgot to brush my teeth. Well, I could head up the stairs to the bathroom and risk waking him up, or not brush my teeth. Of course, we have the creakiest stairs in the world, so hell no I'm not going back upstairs. My parents arrive and we chat for a few minutes, and I head out the door with time to go to the convenience store. I grab a toothbrush and toothpaste and enjoy my half hour ride to work. I settle into my office by 10:15, brush my teeth in the bathroom down the hall, and prepare for class with nearly an hour to spare. So far, so good. The day proceeds without drama. Wonderful. I teach two classes--I'm not amazing in either one, but I get the job done. I'm composed and professional for office hours and stay on top of e-mail and administrative tasks. I'm relaxed when I chat with colleagues and students. 5:00 comes fast so I shut down for the day and pick up the kids at my parents' house. Baby Mack has snot flying out of his nose, which quickly gets transferred to my nice red shirt. It's all good, all of my other shirts have booger residue too. It comes with the territory. We have a fairly pleasant ride home. I'm starved, so I crush some leftover pasta and vegetables and feel good about the day. My parents call. I forgot Mack's giraffe at their house, a little crutch he'll need for daycare on Wednesday. Oh well, I'll figure it out tomorrow. Right now it's time to wind down. We all get a good night's sleep. 4-year-old Troy sleeps until 6:40 and Mack actually sleeps until 7:00, something that almost never happens. I head downstairs with the boys and upon opening the dining room shade I see that my car door has been open all night. Somehow I forgot to close it after we got home yesterday. As luck would have it, the battery isn't dead. There's probably a squirrel hiding in my car, but so be it. It was a good day and today looks bright too.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

To Parents of Sociology Majors

Dear Mom or Dad,

If your son or daughter is majoring in Sociology, don't worry. He or she will get a job. I won't claim that a Sociology major is a fast track to being rich, but I do think it can enrich a person's life and well-being. Seriously. If your child is majoring in Sociology, it probably means your child has a deep curiosity about the world. It probably means your child doesn't take things for granted, that (s)he doesn't view things as being "obvious" or "common sense." Your son or daughter is likely attracted to Sociology in order to make sense of the world. Simply put, your child is a thinker, and that's a good thing. The Sociology major develops critical thinking skills. The Sociology major develops problem-solving skills. The Sociology major develops communication skills. And a Sociology major is a sign that a student takes an interest in diversity and can work well with others.

Okay, you say, that's fine, even nice, but how about some practicality here? No problem. Think of all the jobs that aren't tied to a specific major. The person who sold you your last car probably has a college degree. But they didn't major in Car Sales. The person who helped you buy auto insurance or home insurance has a college degree. But they didn't graduate with an Insurance degree. The person you call when you have questions about your health insurance plan is likely to be a college graduate--and they didn't graduate in Health Insurance. You get the point. There are lots of jobs that don't exclude Sociology graduates. Keep in mind that if you don't pay your bills, you might get a call from a debt collector--and who knows, the worker might have a degree in Sociology!

Alright, maybe those jobs don't excite your mind and maybe your son or daughter wouldn't be happy at those jobs. Well, let's look at other options. Is your child thinking about law school? A degree in Sociology is good preparation for law school. Does your child want to help people? Meaning, might they go into Social Work or Counseling? To move up the ladder, they'll eventually earn a Master's degree in Social Work or in Counseling -- and a degree in Sociology won't prevent them from getting into those graduate programs!

Maybe your son or daughter would like to travel abroad to make a difference in lesser developed countries. Surely you've heard of the Peace Corps -- a perfect opportunity for Sociology majors! Maybe your child (who won't be a child forever--face it, they're actually grownups!) would like to teach English in Japan or Korea. Again, perfect for a Sociology major. If that's too much adventure for your taste, maybe you can convince your son or daughter to make a difference at home -- see AmeriCorps for example.

I've only scratched the surface here. There is much more available to the Sociology major. Sociology majors work in jobs that assist developmentally disabled individuals. They work in jobs that educate and counsel young people who are from disadvantaged (and sometimes troubled) backgrounds. They work in law enforcement.

In sum, Sociology majors do lots of things. In my experience as a Sociology professor who has talked careers with many students over the years, I find that students in Sociology are eager to help people and make a difference in life. They aren't always motivated by money and material goods. But don't worry, to major in Sociology is not to end up living in the Poor House. You can make a good living as a Sociology major. And what good is it if your child has a major that is more directly connected to making a lot of money but that major doesn't make your child happy? The happier your child is, the harder they will work at school. If they love Sociology, they will do well in Sociology. They will find a path to a job, even if the path bends now and again. Please don't stifle your child's interest in Sociology. Encourage it! Tell them to earn good grades and to get an internship. Tell them to volunteer during the school year and in summer. You know that life is about relationships and connections. And so teach your child to make connections through internships and volunteer opportunities (examples are United Way and Habitat for Humanity).

On a final and personal note: I majored in Psychology as an undergraduate. I decided to pursue a Ph.D. in Sociology. My friend's father was an influential administrator in our local school system. He encouraged me to get a graduate degree in Psychology so that he could get me job at the local high school as a counselor. I followed my heart and earned my Ph.D. in Sociology instead. Now I am Associate Professor of Sociology at Niagara University and have been Chairperson of the department for five years. Not everybody who studies Sociology will end up being a professor someday, but it's my hope that Sociology leads them to happiness and fulfillment, as it did for me.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Just Another Day

Our baby woke up at 1:30 in the morning. No problem, I hurry to his bedroom to feed him a bottle, and he's back down to sleep. He wakes up again at 5:30. My wife's turn. This time, our little guy doesn't go back to sleep. He's UP! I take him downstairs to start the day, and my wife grabs twenty more minutes of sleep. I hang out with our tired baby until our 4-year-old joins us by 6:30. He's an early riser too--6:30 is close to sleeping in for him. I pound coffee to try to get moving but fail to eat breakfast. So I'm jittery and tired. Tina's upstairs getting ready for work, and after she gets everything organized for the boys, she heads out for work at 8:00. My parents are coming soon to watch the boys for the day. By 8:30 the baby is ready for a nap, so I try to put him down. Not happening. The sound of my baby crying doesn't bother me. The sound of my baby screaming does. Unfortunately he opts for screaming, so I take him out of the crib. I call my parents. "Don't worry about coming here. I'll bring the boys on my way to work." I throw my work bags into the car (for some reason I can't consolidate all my books and folders into one bag), toss in my lunch, and add the kids' stuff. Off to their grandparents we go. So what if the baby didn't nap, I figure he'll sleep in the car. Wishful thinking. Little baby is delirious and laughing at anything and everything. Thankfully 4-year-old Troy is behaving. He's just happy to be in his pajamas (it was the only way to coax him into the car. He was expecting to be home today). I can't exactly drop off the boys and run to work, because baby Mack has gone from delirious to exhausted. He's on the edge of screaming again. He'd probably like his mom right about now, but I'll do. He looks at me and puts out his hands. That tears my heart apart everytime. I bring him upstairs to the room that used to be my brother's bedroom. I sit in a rocking chair and get the baby to sleep. I'm afraid my wife is going to call home to check on us, and that she'll be worried if no one answers. So I stand up, continue to rock the baby, and fire off a text to let her know where we are. I look at the clock--I've got class in about an hour. After a little catnap, I hand little Mack off to my mom, leave, and race to a drive-thru. I just need a little more coffee. I get to my office at 10:30, which leaves me time to eat a banana and yogurt. I make a few minutes for small talk with colleagues and pretend everything is fine. At 11:00 I head to class and do a solid job teaching Introduction to Sociology. I'm back in my office by 12:30. "I can do this, I can do this" I say, realizing I've been up since 5:30, have held back tears at least three times in the morning, and feel like I've already put in an honest day's work. But I've got one more class to teach this afternoon, plus office hours. My day isn't over until 5:00. Then I have to pick the boys up and drive home. I can do this, I can do this, I think.

Author's note: This is a work of non-fiction.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

An Example of Social Location

Saw this story today on TV news in Buffalo, NY. Girls are not allowed to play football in a particular league. The director of the league cited safety reasons. I wonder if smaller boys are not allowed to play because of safety reasons? If the child wants to play, and her parents want her to play, I say give her the opportunity to play!

In any case, this is certainly an example of social location. Our locations in life (our gender, race, and social class positions, to name a few) influence what happens to us in society. Simply by virtue of being female, girls are being denied a sport opportunity. Can you say inequality?

* * * * * *

Update 12/18/2014: Another example of social location is having a social class position that affords you the possibility of hiring a "fitness concierge." If you don't know what a fitness concierge is, you can read about it in this New York Times article. I wouldn't have known there is such a thing as fitness concierge if I hadn't read the article. It's one thing (and one social location) to belong to a gym, it's another thing (and another social location) to be able to pay for a fitness concierge. 

Monday, September 5, 2011

Alone, Well Enough

A couple of years ago it seemed like everybody was in their own world, lost in their headphones, focused on keeping to themselves. Now it seems like everybody is connected all the time (see Facebook). People seem eager to be part of something, to be a valued piece of a network. Has the balance shifted to near-constant interaction and connectivity? Can anyone strike a balance between solitary contentedness and social interaction? Does anyone care to?

Author's note: this post is just a simple thought that occurred to me during a quiet moment this morning.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The First Day of Class

My approach to the first day of class is to keep it simple. I think too much is made of the first day. I'm not saying it's unimportant, I just think one doesn't have to be cute or clever on the first day. There's so much in the teaching and learning literature about the first day of class. I think the second day of class is much more important (more on that another time). On the first day my goal is to show that I'm an energetic and enthusiastic professor. My plan for the first day of my SOC 101 class this year is to develop a definition and description of sociology. I find that students who are new to sociology already have a sense of what sociology is. I just have to draw it out of them and work with what they give me. I simply say "Give me a word or phrase that has to do with sociology. It's okay if you're not sure." That usually produces plenty of content to establish a solid definition of sociology and the topics of interest to sociologists. It also allows me to differentiate sociology from psychology. It's a basic exercise that involves students. That allows me to show students that I want them to contribute to class. If I'm already encouraging them to speak on the first day, then obviously I'm expecting (and encouraging) them to speak during every class. That's my goal, rather than spend time on introductions and icebreakers. It's not that I hate icebreakers, I just figure they've had enough icebreakers during orientation and in other classes.

That's pretty much how I keep it simple on the first day. I introduce everyone to sociology, go over the syllabus, encourage them to visit me during office hours, and tell them to be ready for a fun and interesting course!

PS if you're wondering how to teach the incoming first-year cohort, here are two essential things you need to know to prepare to teach 18-year-olds in 2017:

Friday, September 2, 2011

Sociological Song

Heard this song today for the first time: "My Boys" by Taken by Trees.

Here are some of my favorite lyrics from the song:

"There isn't much that I feel I need."

"I don't care for fancy things."

"I don't mean to seem like I care about material things like a social status, I just want four walls and adobe slabs for my boys."

It's a nice song about working hard and taking pride in doing so. Pride is the goal instead of social status and material possessions. Love it!

Note: the song is an adaptation of "My Girls" by Animal Collective.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Tell Me What to Do App

Are you unable to make good decisions? Do you find it hard to get out of your own way? Is it impossible for you to make the right call? If so, you're in luck! The "Tell Me What to Do" app is available now and promises to be the hottest item in 2012.

Unhappy in a relationship, but don't know if you should end it? Or are you tired of being single and thinking of getting back with your ex? The app will tell you what to do! Unsure if you should tell friends and family that you're really a raging conservative who loves Glenn Beck books? Consult the tell me what to do app! Can't figure out if you should go shopping the day after Thanksgiving with the masses? Already planning to be a super consumer but not sure what to buy? No problem, the tell me what to do app will figure it out for you! Are you confused by people who aren't exactly like you? Don't know what to say to them? If so, the tell me what to do app provides an easy fix! Have you lost your moral compass? Are you lacking in ethics? No problem, the tell me what to do app is a master of knowing exactly what to do and when to do it!

Why bother with your own decisions when an app can make them for you? Imagine how much more efficient your life would be if you didn't have to worry about any life choices. The app can tell all of us what to do! Order now!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Cornel West

This is a good read: Cornel West's op-ed in the New York Times...

West offers a powerful critique of American culture and American politicians. No doubt our treatment of our impoverished and elderly citizens is deplorable, and the persistent racism in our society is tragic. We've come so far but still have so far to go.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Church Sign - "Forget About Yourself"

I took this picture yesterday in Kenmore, NY. Have to say, I wouldn't mind dropping in for this sermon. "Forget About Yourself" is an interesting message, but good luck achieving it in this culture! It seems to me that "Forget About Yourself" is a countercultural message considering the Me-Me-Me-Me-Me society in America. Nonetheless, it's intriguing to see a message that goes against the grain.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Sheepdogs - "I Don't Know"

Love this song. Has a good 70s feel to it.

What do you think the song means?

I think a key passage in the song is "Lookin' back at me, is more than mystery, letters and pages of ancient history." This is obviously open to interpretation, but it sounds to me like the writer is referring to journals or diaries he has in storage. Maybe he's reading through those old journals and barely recognizes himself. Maybe there's a younger version of himself that is much different from the person he's become. But, despite growing up, he still feels confusion and anxiety about his path in life. Perhaps this is why he pleads "Somebody please help me!" and "I don't know, help me!" It sounds like there's some urgency in figuring out his next set of moves and choices.

Just a thought. What do you think?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Church Sign

I've taken an interest in signs outside of churches. In my neighborhood, there are lots of signs outside churches -- some with Bible verses, others with clever thoughts. I'm going to start collecting pictures of them as another way to investigate the social world. I found this one to be especially clever (taken in Kenmore, NY). I suspect I'll find that many of the messages communicate specific values to parishioners and the general public.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Cool Buttons

Wish I was at ASA conference to score these!!! Saw them on Norton Sociology twitter feed.

Owly Images

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Happy Song

No sociological analysis today. Just a song that makes me happy. "Bad Street" by Twin Sister.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Doing Gender

"Doing Gender" is a classic sociological concept developed by Candace West and Don Zimmerman. Their article "Doing Gender" was published in Gender & Society (Vol. 1, No. 2, June 1987, pp. 125-151). Here are summary points about doing gender, based on their article.

1. "Doing gender” means that gender is a routine accomplishment in everyday life.

2. We “do gender” every day, all the time. It's an ongoing activity. We can’t avoid doing gender.

3. We do gender in interaction. 

4. Gender is not simply what a person is, it is something that a person does, in interaction with others. It is a product of social interaction. A production. A construction. A social construction.

5. And we do gender knowing that we will be judged by others. In other words, we are accountable for our gender performances. In this video, sociologist C.J. Pascoe brilliantly explains how the boundaries of masculinity are policed in social interaction in high school. (If video link to interview doesn't work, use this link to watch Pascoe discuss the use of homophobic taunts to police masculinity in interaction). 

6. If we behave outside the boundaries of normative gender scripts, we risk being judged harshly by others.

7. Keep in mind that, from an early age, we learn about “doing gender.”

8. Little girls are taught to value their appearance more so than little boys.

9. Little boys are taught different things than little girls.

10. “Be a big boy” and “Be a big girl” are different messages that convey different meanings about “appropriate” gender behaviors. This means not only "don't be a baby" but to learn how to "competently" be a boy or girl.

11. In this process, boys and girls begin to monitor their own behavior and the behavior of their peers in terms of whether the gender behavior is “appropriate.” (Appropriate, according to normative gender behaviors). The authors write: "And note, to "do" gender is not always to live up to normative conceptions of femininity or masculinity; it is to engage in behavior at the risk of gender assessment" (p. 136). 

12. Sociologist Tristan Bridges gives an excellent example of how we do gender with wallets and purses.

13. Doing gender can result in social stratification: if, in doing gender, men are being dominant and women are being submissive, this results in power differences and hierarchy!

14. Those who behave outside the lines of gender norms are, in effect, challenging the gender status quo.

The concept "doing gender" came to mind when I saw a wedding party at Erie Basin Marina in Buffalo. The bridesmaids wore bright pink dresses, and the groomsmen wore black tuxedos. I took a picture while walking by a wedding party. If you look closely, you'll notice two brides in the picture. Turns out two wedding parties were at the Marina for photographs. Both brides are wearing traditional white wedding gowns. Think of many weddings you've been to: all eyes are on the bride. It's her day. She's the princess, he's the prince who waits for her to walk down the aisle. Quite often, the bride's father "gives her away" to her new husband. It's all an exercise in normative gender roles. In that context, it's interesting to think about same-sex marriages and to contemplate how same-sex marriages challenge gender norms.

Monday, August 8, 2011

On PowerPoint

I won't call PowerPoint a villain. That's too strong, in my opinion. I don't see it necessarily as an enemy to good teaching and learning. I will also say that PowerPoint is definitely not a superhero. In no way do I see it as rescuing teachers and students. So if it's neither villain nor superhero, what is it? What does it do to our teaching? At best, what does PowerPoint accomplish? At worst, how does PowerPoint get in the way of good teaching and learning?

In general, I'm not a fan of PowerPoint. It seems to me like an extra option that one might get when buying a car or cell phone. Just because it's available doesn't mean I have to use it. But just because I don't love it doesn't mean others can't make good use of it. I understand how PowerPoint can effectively organize information and efficiently distribute it. I can see how the animation of text and the inclusion of graphics can help to gain and maintain the attention of students. I even use it once in a blue moon myself. It's just another tool in the box for me. Not as vital as a hammer or screwdriver. Just the 100th tool in my box that I can use on a rainy day. Sorry for the mixed metaphors.

I am not against the use of PowerPoint. I only ask people to reflect on the purpose for using it. I also ask people to think about how often they should use it. Using PowerPoint once in a while is very different than using it day in, day out. Take the students' perspective: how awful must it be to settle into a PowerPoint presentation every single class? I am a proponent of mixed methods: using a variety of teaching techniques to engage students and actively involve students in their learning. If PowerPoint is one of those techniques, wonderful. I just don't see how the regular use of it enhances learning (that's not just my personal opinion, there is some academic literature to support that viewpoint). By the way, if one looks long enough at the literature, one can find evidence to bolster one's point of view about PowerPoint.

Bottom line: we all know that technology doesn't do the teaching for us. We are the teachers; technologies aid our teaching. No one would say that using PowerPoint as a crutch is a good idea. If PowerPoint helps you be a great teacher, go for it. Does it? If PowerPoint is your default mode of instruction, ask why that's so. Teaching is a blend of style and content, a constant challenge of presenting information in an interesting way that results in students learning that content, and then being able to apply what they've learned in some way. What tools help you achieve your teaching goals? What tools make you a better teacher?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Another Sociological License Plate

Added a new sociological license plate to my collection today....

For more on sociological license plates, see this blog:

An Honorable Man

I was lucky enough to run into an honorable man. Just when I thought I had life figured out, he shook my view of the world. He did it by appealing to my conscience and pointing me in the right direction. You're fortunate if you meet such a person in your lifetime. In my adult life I have witnessed too many people acting primarily in terms of self-interest and self-preservation. Not to mention self-pity and self-absorption ("What's best for me? How does this help me? I can't catch a break.") We always have room to grow, so we're lucky to occasionally meet people that make us better.

Author's note: this post was inspired by an actual event in my life. I characterize it as creative non-fiction.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Race & Ethnicity: A Writing Assignment

When it comes to race and ethnicity, everybody has a story to tell. Everyone talks about race. They might talk about it privately, but they talk about it. Race is no doubt a common ingredient in conversations. I'm going to try a new assignment in my Race & Ethnicity course this semester, and most likely will tie the assignment to presentations at the end of the semester.

The assignment: Write a diary to keep track of the things you say and hear about race. Are there themes in your conversations about race? What do you overhear people saying about race? In addition to conversations about race that you're privy to, use the diary to keep track of your own thoughts and reflections about race and ethnicity. For example, use the diary to record your observations about race in public places. Write at least one entry per week throughout the semester. Plan to turn your diary in at the midpoint of the semester so that the entries can be checked for appropriate progress. Plan to turn your final diary into a five page paper in which you reflect upon and discuss your thoughts, observations, and conversations about race and ethnicity during the semester.

Note: I think I'll have students do brief presentations (approximately 10 minutes) in which they summarize their diaries, which will hopefully produce some follow-up Q & A from their peers.

Any feedback on this idea? Suggestions for making it an effective assignment? I welcome comments.

Click here for a collection of resources for teaching and learning about race and ethnicity.

Strain Theory: A Student's Perspective

Thank God Sociology class is over. My professor just rambled on about something called Strain Theory. He went on and on about Robert Merton. I think he's in love with Robert Merton. He came in and drew this ridiculous chart on the board with plus and minus signs. I could barely see it. There's a bunch of categories that don't make a lot of sense. Something about bank robbers being innovators. Whatever. I stopped listening after ten minutes. At the end of class he gave a speech about how the categories probably aren't the most important part of the theory. And that we shouldn't get too consumed about plus and minus signs. So why did he spend the entire class working on that idiotic chart? He finished his speech by saying the crucial part of the theory is thinking about the disjunction between cultural goals and approved means for obtaining those goals. He said Merton was interested in how people responded to the pressure of not being able to obtain the cultural goals. That everyone is aware of the goals, but sometimes lack of opportunities or resources make it impossible to obtain those goals. That creates strain, and strain produces deviance. He mentioned that some people respond by scaling down the goals or rejecting them altogether. Okay, all of that made sense. He got my attention with his little speech. So why did he wait until the end of class to say that? And why didn't he let us talk about it?

If I was teaching Strain Theory I would focus attention on the cultural goals and the acceptable ways to achieve the goals. And then I would get into the categories and have students give some of their own examples. And then I would have students write a story about one of the categories. For example, they could write a story about someone who took the path of ritualism or retreatism. Or they could write a story about someone who didn't take a deviant path. So they could write about someone who stayed on the socially acceptable road. That would be a fun class, and we would all learn more in the process.

The End.

Author's note: I wrote this story after thinking about what it must be like for students to listen to someone teach Strain Theory in a traditional, linear, textbook fashion. I doubt students love strain theory as much as we do. Don't be afraid to teach Strain Theory in an alternative way. The textbook presentation of Strain Theory is typically stale. So it's up to us to bring it alive.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sociology of Parties: A Writing Exercise

Parties offer an opportunity to apply the sociological perspective. Consider these sociological questions about parties you've been to recently:

1. Was the party racially and ethnically diverse? Or, were most people from the same racial and ethnic categories?

2. Did interaction primarily take place along gender lines? In other words, did men and women tend to separate into groups to talk? Or was there a lot of interaction between men and women? How would you describe the interaction between men and women?

3. What was the party environment like? What kind of behavior did the environment invite? Think about it: a keg party with loud music invites a certain kind of behavior, whereas an upscale party with fancy appetizers, mellow music, and people wearing formal attire invites different behavior.

4. How often were people using their cell phones at the party? Was there a ton of texting and phone calls happening, or were people more focused on face-to-face interaction?

5. What were people talking about at the party? School? Work? Relationships? Complaints? Money? Things?

6. What strategies did people use to get and maintain attention at parties? Did they dress a certain way to gain attention? Speak loudly? Interrupt? What else did they do to become the center of attention?

These are just some questions to consider. You don't have to answer all the questions, nor or these the only questions you can discuss. No doubt there are other observations to make at parties that involve social behavior. The key is to reflect on sociological aspects of parties you've attended in your life.

In terms of format, you can write about the sociology of parties in traditional essay form. In other words, you can respond in a straightforward way. Or, if you like creative writing or want to try it, you can write about the sociology of parties by writing a story. In other words, compose a story about a party (or parties) that contains sociological themes and ideas. The story can be fiction or non-fiction.

A note to instructors: keep in mind that students might write about drinking escapades. The first time I gave this assignment, I was surprised by how much they wrote about drinking. So consider including some parameters with regard to storytelling about drinking. 

One more note: when I give this assignment, the required word count is 1000. 

Friday, July 29, 2011

Status Symbol with Sociological License Plate

Today I saw a convertible BMW -- quite a status symbol in its own right -- plus a sociological license plate to draw more attention to the car. The license plate said "Mr Single" -- apparently to announce the owner's availability. Driving a sporty and expensive BMW with a license plate that informs the world that you aren't married is rather interesting social behavior. I had my wife take a picture of me next to the car (just another fun Friday night out doing Sociology)!

Here's a link to a blog I recently wrote to explain what I mean by the phrase "sociological license plates":

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Attention of Students

"In whatever instructional setting, the first charge to the teacher is to get and to hold the attention of students because interest (motivation) is a prerequisite condition for effective learning." This quote is from The Essence of Good Teaching, by Stanford C. Ericksen (1984). Wouldn't it be interesting to follow around a student for a day, and watch them settle into each of their classes? Wouldn't it be interesting to see how the student's attention is held (or not held) by his/her instructors? And how do various teaching styles and modes of presenting material help or hamper an instructor's ability to gain and maintain the attention of students? Hmmm.

An exercise for students: for one day, keep a diary that describes your attention span in each of your classes. Was the instructor able to keep your attention? If so, how? If not, why not? Generally speaking, what do instructors do well to maintain your attention? What do instructors do to lose your attention? Finally, what is your responsibility for paying attention?

Taking Stock of Your Life

The 1980s are sometimes thought of as a cultural wasteland, particularly in terms of music. I fall into the trap occasionally by making fun of the 80s. But then I remember some of the great artists that came of age in the 1980s: Madonna, Prince, U2, and Public Enemy are just a few examples. And then there are brilliant songs from the 80s to consider, like "Once in a Lifetime" by Talking Heads, from 1981. What a genius song about life. People in their 30s and beyond might find special meaning in the song, but I think the song offers an opportunity for anyone at any age to take stock of their life. "You may ask yourself, well, how did I get here" is a line that suggests people are surprised to find themselves in a certain place in life--that perhaps they haven't had full control of where they ended up. "You may ask yourself, am I right, am I wrong" is one of the lines that challenges listeners to think about the path their life has taken. "You may say to yourself, my God, what have I done" is a line that speaks to people who have made questionable decisions and whose lives have gone off track. No matter where you are in life, this song has something for you. Enjoy it and take a moment to take stock of your life! How much control do you think you have over what happens to you?

Here's the song:

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Very Short Story about PowerPoint

"And I have to say," said the PowerPoint skeptic, "even a good PowerPoint presentation doesn't look very good." He continued: "It's as if a basic and not especially impressive product was rolled out, and educators at large accepted it as the way forward." He finished: "At the end of the day, how good is PowerPoint as a product? Why do so many people accept it? Are there not so many better ways?" The End.

Author's note: story was inspired by Catherine Adams, "PowerPoint, habits of mind, and classroom culture," Journal of Curriculum Studies, 2006, Vol. 38, No. 4, 389-411.

Monday, July 25, 2011

How Babies Influence People

He's only seven months old, but my son Mack has a lot of influence. He has the ability to stop people in their tracks and to facilitate interaction. I've lived in my neighborhood for six years but only know a few of my neighbors. I'm lucky if I can get a nod or a hello from most of the people on the street. But once I put little Mack in the stroller, the game changes. Recently a middle-aged man was walking with a bag of groceries. Upon seeing Mack, he dropped to his knees in front of the stroller to greet him. A woman who I'd never seen before Mack was born has stopped us to chat a few times and to try to get him to smile. Other people wave and smile when we walk by. "How's the baby today?" is a question that people will ask from their porches. But when I'm alone, I'm left alone. I like the influence that Mack has on people. I have the simple belief that neighbors should be friendly and at least be on a "hi" basis. I don't see the point of ignoring your neighbors. If it weren't for babies and dogs, I wonder how much less interaction there would be.

Of course, Mack is not the only infant to influence people. Most of the parties I go to these days include lots of children. My social circle is full of parents and their kids. So I spend a lot of time around children. So much conversation centers around parenting. We fawn over each other's babies and say things like "Your baby is so cute!" and "Oh my God, your baby is beautiful!" That leads to comparing notes about parenting practices and other small talk. Babies really are talented at starting and sustaining conversations. That's a lot of influence for a group of people who can't talk or walk!

Friday, July 22, 2011

What is Sociology? A Definition by Poem

So much depends upon
race, class, gender, sexuality, ability,
culture, subcultures, deviance,
marriage, family, relationships,
power, status, privilege,
connections, resources, property,
media, technology, peers, schools,
religion, health, economy,
and so much more.

Author's note: Inspired by "The Red Wheelbarrow" by William Carlos Williams

Relationships: What's in it for me?

One of my favorite tunes from the last couple of years is "What's In It For?" by Avi Buffalo. The question posed throughout the song is "What's in it for me?" The cynical part of me loves that question and thinks that's the question that people have in mind when it comes to their relationships. When I last taught my Social Psychology course, I played this song and asked students if they think that people approach their relationships with the mindset of "What's in it for me?" I was surprised by how many students said yes. Many of my students believed that people do in fact enter and exit relationships based on what's in it for them. I used this song as a way of thinking about social exchange theory, which basically looks at relationships as a series of exchanges. A relationship supposedly means there is a lot of give and take (reciprocity), but social exchange theory suggests that people are much more interested in the take component. Simply put, if a person isn't getting enough, they are dissatisfied, and they might end the relationship. I think the Avi Buffalo song is an anthem for social exchange theory. What do you think: Do people approach their relationships primarily with a mindset of "What's in it for me?"

Here's the video:

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Lake

We drove to a nice little beach in a small town. The Confederate flag we saw just outside the town threw us off, and so did the sight of a woman jumping out of her car with a shotgun. It seemed she was chasing after some form of vermin. It was one of those “Where the hell are we?” moments. So be it. We were there for a swim, not to make friends. The beach offers an interesting snapshot of American society. At this particular beach, overweight kids trudged around and waded through the water. Out of shape parents redirected their children and begged them to behave. One skinny woman chain-smoked on her blanket while listening to Van Halen. I sure do love Van Halen. An ice cream truck stopped by with an assortment of $1.50 treats. I selected the Star Bar and devoured it. Tina (my girlfriend) and I talked about having kids someday. Every time a kid did something stupid, we said we should wait. Every time a kid did something cute, we smiled and said we should hurry. “I’m not getting younger,” I like to say, “And parenting is a young man’s game.” We discussed the size of our house and our tiny yard and wondered if what we had was suitable for children. We talked about the reality of not having much and not expecting to have much more anytime soon. And we wondered if that mattered when it comes to having kids. “Babies just need a lot of love,” Tina likes to say, “They don’t care about possessions.” Amen. We held hands and walked into the water, chatted with some old folks, and were entranced by the goofy teenagers that surrounded us. A group of boys jumped off the dock wearing shorts instead of bathing suits. All of them had underwear hanging out of their shorts, no doubt their fashion norm. None of them seemed to like the water very much. None of them were skilled at swimming. All of them were awkward and worked overtime to strike a cool pose. Teenagers like to impress each other. Actually, I think everyone likes to impress each other. The Star Bar didn’t satisfy my hunger. I’m always hungry, but this time I was starving. Tina and I decided to drive back home to our favorite restaurant. Payday was still a few days away, but we had enough cash to grab a good dinner and some beers. I salivated at the thought of ice cold beers. When we arrived we raced to the door, and were crushed to see that it was closed. “SORRY WE’RE CLOSED. ON VACATION.” One of life’s many disappointments. We hit the drive thru at McDonald’s, powered down cheeseburgers and fries in the car, and went to bed as soon as we got home. We talked about our hopes and dreams until we fell asleep. It was the most perfect day I’d had in a long time. The End.

Author's note: This short story is a work of fiction. I consider it a sociological short story.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Influence of Advertising

"When I'm watching my TV, and a man comes on to tell me, how white my shirts can be." Perhaps you recognize those lyrics from "I Can't Get No Satisfaction" by The Rolling Stones. What a classic line about advertising. Can't you picture someone trying to sell you Tide or some other detergent, all of which do the same exact job of cleaning your clothes? So what makes you buy one product instead of the other? Advertising! Well, I suppose product placement in stores matters too (is the product on a good shelf that's eye level, or a low shelf so that you'll barely see it?) Don't forget about peer influence! I can safely say many of us aren't influenced by our friends to buy a certain type of detergent, but surely we are influenced when it comes to items like jeans, sneakers, shoes, handbags, etc. Such everyday items are often used as status symbols to impress our friends. We can buy jeans for $15 at Wal-Mart, but many of us will choose to pay much more for trendy brand names to show them off to our peers. How has advertising influenced you? And how do your peers influence what you buy and wear?


Yesterday I saw a man walking proudly to work. The heat was unbearable, but he walked at a fast pace with his head held high. This was a man with purpose. He carried his lunch bucket, another sign that he was ready for a full day of work. I took all this in while driving by in my air conditioned car. "We need to restore pride to work" was the thought that popped into my head. This man looked like an advertisement for an honest day's pay for an honest day of work. And that seems lost in today's society. So many people unemployed, underemployed, and so many others employed in work that doesn't generate pride and dignity. So many jobs depend on emotion work -- having to pretend to be happy serving customers at check out lines and drive thru's. We consume, therefore we are. But does all of our consumption produce pride, dignity, and purpose for workers?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Hipster Alert

Leaving Tops today on Elmwood Avenue, I saw a person that might be called a hipster. He was a bit too cool for school. The way he carefully wore his cap so that it was slightly askew, along with other hip clothes you won’t generally see people wear to the grocery store, made me think “hipster.” He looked straight ahead to avoid all eye contact—this was a man on a mission (what kind of mission, I can’t guess). He made me think of something radio host Jeremy White recently said on WGR 550. He made a remark about hipsters on Elmwood Avenue who can’t bother to talk to you. I got a good laugh out of that one. I know what he meant. I like to think I know something about hipsters. I used to live around them. I very briefly lived in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, which is a hotbed of hipster activity. Those hipsters definitely walk without smiling, nodding, or doing anything that could be construed as friendly. I guess being aloof is part of the hipster code. I’m not sure what’s cool about being unfriendly. This all sounds awfully stereotypical, so allow me to make the obvious point that everyone on Elmwood Avenue or in Williamsburg is not a hipster, nor is every hipster on the planet unfriendly. This is only to say that the person who we are inclined to call “hipster” seems to be unfriendly to strangers and appears to take great care in crafting a careless appearance. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what hipsters do or figuring out what a hipster is (although such topics are fun to discuss). What does matter, I believe, is why people in general can’t be friendly to the people around them. When walking around in public space, is it so hard to crack a smile or manage a nod?

Update on 2/13/2013:
For a more sophisticated sociological consideration of hipsters, see this post at The Society Pages. In the post, Andrew Lindner makes several good points, including this one: "hipster" is a broad category that encompasses so many different groups as to be utterly worthless. He also says: "We can continue to use the adjectival “hipster” to refer to the aesthetic style, but social scientists would be better off being more specific about the group of people they’re describing (e.g., young, rich, educated, fashion forward, liberals, bohemians, music fans, etc.)." Agreed.

Food and Social Class

Below is a link to an excellent blog about food and social class. The author makes several good points in the blog. Food and social class are definitely connected. In my case, I grew up on home-cooked meals that were enjoyed around the dining room table with my family. We ate well and ate healthy. Outside home, my friends and I spent a ton of time at a pizzeria in our neighborhood, so we ate a lot of pizza and other unhealthy food. We also ate more than our fair share of hamburgers and hot dogs at a local place on Hyde Park Boulevard that was called Luzi's. I like to say that the owner created the first value meal. Way before you could Supersize meals at McDonald's, Luzi's figured out you could package a burger with fries and a soda and people would go for it. So I'm thankful to my parents for providing good meals at home (and making us sit together at the table) and in our working-class/middle-class neighborhood there certainly weren't any health food stores -- mostly fast-food places and junk food in locally owned convenience stores.

Here's the link to the blog about food and social class:

As the author asks, what connections do you see between your social class position and the way you eat?

People are...

One of my favorite songs is "People are Strange" by The Doors. One of the lines is "People are strange when you're a stranger." I would say that people are strange, period! I don't necessarily mean that as a bad thing. I just think people are strange. Sometimes people are strangely beautiful. Other times they're just strange. How would you describe people? Here's a simple exercise: Start a sentence with the words "People are" and finish it in five different ways. What experiences and observations led you to use the five different descriptions? Go ahead, tell us what you think about people. People are...

Sunday, July 17, 2011

End of a Story I Haven't Written Yet

And so he rode off into the sunset, listening to Billy Idol. And people thought that was strange. The end.

The Vulgar Society

People seem to be getting more vulgar. Granted, it’s hard to measure vulgarity. So it’s not exactly scientific for me to say people are more vulgar than they used to be. All I can say is I observe a lot of vulgarity. Yesterday, while at the beach, I saw a guy with a t-shirt that said “I have a big….” Below the text was a graphic of a rooster. I have a big you know what. How clever. Today I drove alongside a car with a bumper sticker that said “Don’t be a dick.” The driver (a guy) also had a sticker on his car that said “Don’t be a bitch.” In terms of obscenity, he’s equal opportunity. Beyond these examples, I would like to point to the everyday use of curse words. How long do you have to be in public space before you hear someone swear? Five minutes? Ten? Don’t get me wrong, my language isn’t 100% clean. I swear. But I watch what I say in public. And by listening to what other people say in public, I have to say, people just love to (over)use foul language.

Original post: 7/17/11

Update: 9/4/11...

This morning I went to Panera (a mistake in itself, as walking into Panera makes me feel like I'm in the middle of a bad vacation). A group of older men were sitting around a table--keep in mind this is 7:45 a.m. One of them said "Mother****er" four times before I ordered. While waiting for my order I heard him drop at least three more F bombs. What kind of fool sits in a Panera on a Sunday morning and curses in every single sentence? Somebody help us all.

Update: 10/5/14...

Here are pictures I've taken that illustrate what I mean by the phrase "vulgar society":

2017 update: Donald Trump.


I deactivated my Twitter account after tweeting for a year and a half. I enjoyed tweeting and kind of like Twitter. On the other hand, it continued to occur to me that Twitter is stupid. Forgive the lack of sophistication, but "stupid" is the word that kept popping into my head. I don't think you're stupid if you use Twitter. But it really does seem to be stupid on a few levels. First, there's the annoying tendency of people to report their daily thoughts and activities. Second, there's the foolish self-surveillance aspect whereby you tell people exactly where you are if you use a mobile device to tweet. That doesn't seem very smart. Third, Twitter seems to meet everyone's need to feel important and maybe even a little famous. Twitter was tailor made for athletes, politicians, and celebrities. The rest of us just want a taste of our fifteen minutes, I guess.

Original post: July 2011

Update: November 2011

I'm back on Twitter. Like any relationship, there are push and pull factors. "Break up to make up." At the end of the day, Twitter fascinates me. So I am pulled in again and part of the fiasco. So let's go.

Update: December 2012

I can't get enough of Twitter. It's made me aware of so much sociology that I otherwise would have missed. It's connected me with interesting and smart people I otherwise would never have known in any way. I'm exposed to more ideas--so many more ideas. It's funny, silly, campy, informative, intriguing. The more I became familiar with it, and the better I came to understand the medium, the more I enjoyed and appreciated it. I think my initial post reflects a misunderstanding of the medium at the time, and I was wrong to only focus on some negative aspects about Twitter.

Update: March 2013

Sometimes I pursue attention on Twitter, sometimes I give credit where I think it's due, sometimes I just acknowledge the work of others, sometimes I try to circulate something I find interesting, sometimes I express myself, sometimes I allow myself the pleasure of being silly, sometimes I watch what others are doing and how they interact with each other. As a student of all things social, I find it essential to be on Twitter.

Update: July 2013

Twitter is an imperfect medium. How about that for your obvious statement of the day? A case can be made against Twitter, as Joe Nocera makes one here, but such standard fare criticism fails to properly recognize that Twitter is a positive force in many users' lives, and in some cases contributes to the well-being of people. For a well-researched perspective on Twitter, I recommend Dhiraj Murthy's book. Murthy doesn't tell us Twitter is the best thing since sliced bread. That is to say, he doesn't come off as a spokesperson for Twitter. Rather, he comes off as a reasonable-sounding person who has thought through (and carefully researched) the positive aspects of Twitter. When I say that Twitter contributes to the well-being of people, I have in mind chapter seven in his book. The chapter ("Twitter and Health") makes the point that people use Twitter to explore treatment options, find referrals, and as a support network. He also identifies downsides regarding Twitter and health (for example, privacy concerns). Twitter is a mixed bag.

There are lots of ways to use Twitter. I like it as a short form option. The short form complements the long form. I don't love Twitter every day of my life. Twitter actually frustrates me quite a bit (kind of like television). It's okay not to like everything about it. I try to understand Twitter and sometimes enjoy the experience. 

We Don't Need No Thought Control

I’ve heard “Another Brick in the Wall” by Pink Floyd approximately 7,000 times in my life. But on this beautiful Sunday morning the line “We don’t need no thought control” stood out to me in a new way. It made me think of cable news and general punditry that surrounds it. The cable news talking heads offer unlimited opinions without facilitating critical thought. Sometimes, people with different views appear on a set and exchange perspectives. But even in those cases the segments are short, news of the day scrolls across the bottom of the screen, voices usually raise, people tend to get cut off, and then it’s over. The next conversation is always the least satisfying. Some of my best days are when I don’t watch the news. The news isn’t news anymore. It feels more like thought control.