Monday, October 31, 2016

Happy Halloween!

There are many ways to look at Halloween sociologically. One way is simply as an American holiday, how interesting and different it is. When I was in Japan it was clear how different it was. As an American, I wanted to celebrate this holiday, but imagine being in a different culture dressed up as some creature or character - how strange that would look. And then to think of handing out candy and/or asking strangers for candy - how odd this would seem to a non-American. So, a few other Americans and myself found an American restaurant where they were hosting a Halloween party and we limited our celebrating to within that establishment where it would not be violatng Japanese norms.

Another way sociologists look at Halloween is through the costumes Americans wear and what they represent about our culture. Notice all of the costumes that promote sexism and misogony. There are so many costumes that seem to be accepted just for the day but they are sexy _____(fill in the blank). Checkout this post for a number of examples of the sexualization of girls' costumes. The message is that if you are a female, it is okay to dress up like these things as long as you are sexy and you use your body as an object to be gawked at. sexy (slutty) nurse, police officer, whatever...And this is even happening for young kids. Costumes can also promote racial stereotypes as in this post. Checkout these people being sociologically mindful by posting pictures that are against racially stereotyped costumes.  Checkout this poetry slam by four girls who are exposing this truth:

Another way to look at it is through the American values, especially consumerism.  Over the last few decades America has transitioned from a producer country to a consumer country. Both industrially and locally, we were a country that produced things. When we needed something, we made it, whether it was a car in a factory or a tomato in our garden or a Halloween costume at home. Now we have become a culture of consumers as typified in Halloween. Kids pick out their costume and then parents buy it. So when the trick or treaters come by, sometimes you'll see 4 or 5 of the same costume whether it's batman or a princess. I remember growing up and my mom struggling to find a way to make a costume for me. Sometimes it involved sewing, makeup, or creative use of materials. But it was always unique, creative and authentic; it was productive. I think that the contemporary thinking would be that if a costume is homemade, it doesn't look as good or as polished as a store bought one. And the assumption might also be that a homemade one is cheap. And so the value becomes consume; buy one at the store. So, culturally we are becoming as bland as our industrially produced tomatoes; a whole lot of us buying things exactly the same rather than growing our own tomatoes or making our own costumes.

Do you remember hearing, "Be careful of unwrapped candy and have parents check the candy before you eat it?" These ideas were popularized through the mass media as detailed in Barry Glasner's book Culture of Fear. But it took a sociologist, Joel Best, to research and publish that this was a myth propagated through the popular culture. See this post about the sociologist who discovered this urban legend.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

American Culture and Tues With Morrie (3 of 3)

Happiness v. Work, Personal Achievement, Success, Materialism
What are some ways that Mitch values hard work, achievement, success? Is this true for you or your parents? Does this start in high school or even sooner? What ways? Is it possible to obtain a different type of success? Think about (click here for more info) the Nothing assignment and how we connect what we do to who we are as people. Our culture constructs a reality where we are not allowed to just be. We must be doing at all times; it is valuing personal achievement, time, work, competition, materialism and success. Note that happiness is never a a part of the equation.  The hegemonic assumption is that happiness simply comes with those values.  See this post about happiness and it's relationship to money.  Contrast these values with the values that Michael Buettner writes about in his book Thrive.  What are the lessons you learned from Thrive?  How would you like to live your life differently after reading this?  What would be a message you would like to share with the rest of your classmates who don't have the privilege of being in our class?  This value cluster also reminds me of this joke about an American businessman and a Mexican fisherman

American Culture and Tues With Morrie (2 of 3)

Understanding and Applying the American value cluster of Independence, Freedom, Individualism & Personal Control v. Dependency

1.  Individually, reflect on Tuesdays with Morrie.  What are some examples within the movie of characters being individualistic (as opposed to being dependent)?  How does the value of Individualism combine with the value of personal control?  Cite examples from the movie.

2.  What are some ways that you see the values of individualism and personal control shaping your own life or the lives of your parents/siblings/friends?

-------------Do not continue until instructed to do so------------------------

3.    After you discussed number one above in your small group, do you understand how the American cultural values can shape individuals’ lives?
If yes, what was one example from your group partners that was a good example?
If no, why not?  What questions do you have?

------------Do not continue until instructed to do so------------------------

4.  Close your eyes.  Think of someone influential in your life.  Now write down who you thought about and why you thought about that person.

When you are finished, click here.

In what ways are Americans afraid of being dependent on others? Do you think that this is related to our value of independence and freedom? In what ways do you depend on other people? Does this bother you? Another great example of these values influencing us negatively is explored in this TED talk by Brene Brown. She speaks about vulnerability and our culture. We want to numb our feelings of vulnerability, but in doing so we also numb our feelings of connection to others and our sense of worthiness which allows us to feel love and happiness.
The feeling of individualism and independence that creates this lack of invulnerability may also detach us from feelings of gratitude that help contribute to our happiness.

Friday, October 7, 2016

American Culture and Tues With Morrie (1of 3)

Tuesdays with Morrie can be a case study in examining American values.  If we think with sociological mindfulness we can see how these values become a part of who we are and how we help to promote the values.  Then, we can start to choose how and when the values influence us.  This can help us prioritize our life.  Here is a link to a story about priorities.

Death v. Materialism, Individualism
Are Americans afraid of death? Is death a taboo topic? Why do you think this is the case? How might our feelings about death be related to our materialism? I also think that our feelings about death are rooted in our culture's individualism. See this post about the way our culture associates individualism with grieving one's death.  That is why I think most students would say the movie was a sad movie (at least parts of it) even though those same students would admit that Morrie doesn't want them to be sad.  Morrie himself explains,"Don't be so sad because I'm going to die Mitch...Death ends a life but not a relationship..." And Morrie explains, I'll still love you and you'll always love me.

 Love v. Individualism, Materialism
Do you think that Americans are afraid to love each other, or show that they love each other? If we are afraid to love, why might that be? Does our culture socially construct our reality so that we are afraid to love? What values in our culture might make us feel this way? How can we overcome this? What is the difference between the value of “romantic love” and real love - the love Morrie talks about?   I think these different types of love are related to American values too.  See this post for more on the idea of romantic love vs. real love.  How is this a part of your life?

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Tuesdays With Morrie

We watched Tuesdays With Morrie as an example of American culture. Watch it here on mediacast. The movie reflects on both American norms and taboos and on American values.

As you watch the movie, look for all of the ways that the American values  affect Mitch and look for the ways that Morrie talks about those values.
Try to think about how those values show up in your own life and in your parents' lives.

Here is a list of quotes from the book.