Thursday, April 14, 2011

Election Debate

Did you watch the Election Debate(s)? I did not, and not on purpose either, I didn't know what time they were on, and when I turned on my T.V. they were over. Poor planning on my part you say? Ok point taken. I should have found out in advance when they were on, and what channel to tune into. To my credit though, There really wasn't much reminding me to do so. I mean a UFC fight gets more coverage and more advertisements than the fight for control of Parliament. Something is wrong here. Dave Meslin, on a TED talks lecture explained that there are solutions to this problem. There is an 'antidote to apathy' where politics are concerned. He argues that politics and civic involvement should be encouraged in the same manner as participation in the private sector. He says the government should advertise in the same way as Nike.

I agree, but only to a point. The problem with advertisements in the private sector is that they are often misleading. Advertisers aren't allowed to lie but they are allowed to play to our emotions and leave out the facts. Political parties are allowed to leave out facts (they often do), they aren't allowed to lie (though they often do) but they are allowed to play to our emotions. However, political parties don't seem very good though at getting us emotionally involved in their campaigns. I'll admit that I've had tears well up in my eyes after watching a long-distance phone commercial, but never after a political party commercial. In fact the commercials of political parties are not engaging at all. They are low budget, and obviously so. I'm not proposing that the budgets for political campaigns increase, just that they be spent more effectively. The commercials for campaigns should tell us about the party platforms, and why we should care. This is where the pandering to our emotions could come in. eg "Are you or a loved on on a long waiting list for a specialist? Have you been waiting too long to see a Doctor? Vote for the NDP in the next election, on May 2nd, 2011. The NDP has a plan to improve the health care system." or How about a home improvement commercial : [Kids playing in the front yard of home undergoing renovations.] "The Liberal Party is about to make it much easier for you to catch up on home improvements with the green renovation tax Credit. all you have to do is choose environmentally responsible renovations and we'll give you a break on your taxes. Whats more, we'll even provide better options for daycare, so you can get the work done while you children are a safe distance away."

Ok, so obviously I'm never going to be in advertising, but you get the point right? Campaign party commercials need to be appealing to us. We need to have a reason to vote for a particular party. What most campaign commercials do now though, is tell us how all the parties have failed. I've parts of the debate and it looks like the debate focused on what has, and will go wrong. To be honest that's not what I want to hear. I want to hear what the parties have planned to make Canada better. Coca-cola doesn't advertise by telling you why Pepsi is bad, they just tell you to buy Coke.

The debate itself should have been advertised better. Perhaps  in the same way as a new season of a reality show is. I propose that the parliamentary debates be advertised like the cat fights on reality T.V. (The Real Housewives of D.C. Promo

 Ok I'm kidding a little, but wouldn't it be funny to see Layton's video diary about how Harper?

Mr Meslin says that "we live in a world that actively discourages engagement by constantly putting obstacle and barriers in our way." He notes that advertisements for city planning changes aren't easy to understand and aren't engaging. The commercials for the English debate were non-existent to me. I watch the CBC every now and then, and I listen to CBC radio at work but I still missed the debate. I would argue that this is due in part to the lack of information about the debate. I know when the Real Housewives of DC is one even though I've never watched an episode, yet I had no idea when the debate was on. I think that if the government really wants voter turn out to improve, then they need to change their strategies. They need to start marketing voting in a different way. They need to appeal to a younger audiences. This can be done in a variety of different ways, and changing the marketing style is only a small part of the solution.

Ok here is the debate as best I could find it.

Even if you still don't care about civic engagement, you should watch Dave Meslin's talk anyways. I was inspired, and I hope you are too!
Dave Meslin: The antidote to apathy Video on

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

I heart Adele!

Last night Adele was on MTV Canada and I am in Love. She performed a few songs and chatted with the hosts about her newly released album, her love of country and hip hop as well as ex-boyfriends. Now usually when I watch these sorts of interviews I'm left thinking "I wonder what she's really like." This interview, however, made me feel like I have gotten to know Adele a bit. The interviews were short, and probably Adele knew the questions in advance but her answers seemed real and unrehearsed. She was shown a surprise clip from a teacher at her Alma matter (The Brit School) and she 'started blubbering' (her words not mine.) This reaction seemed really real to me and I felt like she had a connection with her teachers and that they liked her. I also get the feeling that Adele is a powerful woman and a good role model. I don't feel like she's like Taylor Swift or Hillary Duff who are really trying to be a good role model by following the path of what a stereotypically good girl is supposed to be. Having good role models too look to for guidence is important, not only for young girls but for grown women as well. Hochschild(1990) has argued that much of our gender ideology comes from a combination of relevent cultral ideals and personal experineces. I would argue that a role model, such as Adele, can provide positive cultural ideals. It's important to know that it is possible to be a strong, independent woman and be successful.  I really feel like Adele is successful because she is just being herself- a powerful, down to earth, level headed, soulful, sweet, smart woman.
Here are some of the reasons why I think Adele is a good role model, not just for girls but for all people.
1. She's not crazy into drugs or sex or money (or at least if she is, she fooled me.)
2. She's not selling herself as a sex symbol. She is a very beautiful woman but she's not defined by her status as a sex symbol (like many other female pop artists are. i.e. Britney, Xtina, Lady Gaga, Ke$ha etc.) I'm sure someone out there is thinking "that’s because she doesn't look like a sex symbol" i.e. she's not a size 2. But let’s remember Jennifer Hudson, who before her huge weight loss still marketed herself partially on her status as a sexy (albeit curvy) singer. I really get the feeling that Adele doesn’t care at all if people think she's sexy. (But maybe I'm being biased because I like her music so much.)
3. She's doesn’t use diminutive or strictly polite language. Adele said that the Brit school was in was "a shit area." She wasn't afraid to throw in slang or swears into the conversation and it seemed completely normal.  Hopper (2003) has suggested that women often speak in a more polite manner, avoiding swears and slang because it is less socially acceptable for women to swear than men. Others have suggested that people in positions of relatively less power tend to speak in a more polite manner because they can't risk being rude. Either way, Adele didn't come off rude, but she certainly didn't come off as a typical polite, sweet docile little girl that many (adult) pop stars do. (Contrast Adele to J.Lo, Mariah Carey or Britney Spears who are painfully polite and sweet all the time. Also you could contrast Adele to an Avril Lavigne who swears a lot but it still comes off as forced.)
4. She talked about past boyfriends and how they influenced/ treated her. The host asked her what her ideal man would be and she replied "like him [ex-boyfriend] but more respectful." Apparently Adele values being treated with respect which is such a great thing to say. I really hope that women and girls who look to her as a role model really take that to heart.
5. She likes country artists because she "immediately believes them." She also likes hip-hop because of the way that rappers manipulate words and the progression in the songs. I like that she just has something good to say about other genres of music that makes sense. (Unlike Britney Spears who has said she just likes whatever makes her want to move.)
6. She's got talent. Ok I guess having talent doesn't make you a good role model, but she's using her talent in a productive way, and that makes her a good role model. She writes her own lyrics, she works hard and she's grateful for the success she's received.

While Adele may not claim the Feminist label, I don't think many would object if I were to say that she embodies it. She is a hard working female who has yet to fulfill any female stereotypes. She may not be out championing for the rights of women, but she is setting a good example of how a successful woman can behave.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

It's Britney Bitch!

Britney Spears is back, again. How many times does she have to fade into obscurity and then make a comeback before people stop caring? Probably a few more times, since I too am eager to judge and make fun of her once again. Don't get me wrong, Ms. Spears has made some classic contributions to music history with songs like "I'm a Slave 4 U" and "Hit Me Baby One More Time" however I just can't understand why everyone is so excited for her next album. I think it comes down to the fact that we love a comeback, even when we never liked the original. This got me wondering, why do we love them so much. Here are a few possible theoretical understanding of why we are excited to see what Britney has in store for us this time:

Marxist: A lot of money is going to be made by some already rich record labels. A cynical, sinister understanding of the motivations for the release of this next album could be that it all comes down to money. and we as consumers are being manipulated by the bourgeoisie record label execs. Every time Britney releases a new album, at least one of the singles hits (close to) the top of the charts. This leads to increased album sales which leads to more money. So why not make Britney continually release new albums you ask? For three reasons reasons
  1. It takes time to make an album and very few artists are able to cut an album, tour, and then cut another album in sequence without a break. Making music and touring  is exhausting both physically and mentally. (In Britney case, very mentally exhausting which can lead to ... wel, you know- head shaving, umbrella attacks, infant drivers, ect.) 
  2. Even a very good artist can over saturate the market and thus her popularity will decline and each release will make less than it could have. So it makes sense to avoid this and make her go away untill we are happy to see her again.
  3.  Britney was never that good in the first place. Yes I said it, get over it. Even in her hay day, nobody exclaimed what an amazing vocal talent she was, or how powerful and moving her music was. In fact most critics noted that Britney is very likely lip-syncing to bad music that is carefully produced so that the general population doesn't notice how bad it really is. They need to make her visits with the public short enough to mask her lack of talent.

Feminist: Ok now maybe I'm taking a leap of faith here, but  I'm pretty sure most feminists would probably dislike Britney and what she stands for. (I'm a Slave 4 U -> put the feminist movement back  a very long time considering women haven't been considered property (ie slaves) in a few decades.)  Maybe men like when Spears has a comeback because it leads other women to emulate her persona a become more docile (and slutty). But women love Britney too (and I really dislike the argument that these women are brainwashed popular media run by men.)  We need to understand why women love her. Maybe it's because for a short time we like to see women in the media who we know are not perfect (she stopped being a perfect replica of a barbie when she dropped her baby.) I'm a little shaky on this argument as you can see, I don't fully understand why competent women like Britney Spears. (Myself included, I have a bizarre affection for her and have even caught myself defending her music- "it's good to dance to")

Social-Functionalist- This theory might posit that a comeback reifies the notion that hard work is rewarded. We are glad to see Britney make a comeback because we are confident that she worked hard for it. She should serve as an example to others, so that they too will work hard to make it on top again. (This theory sucks though because all of structural functionalist theory completely ignores the fact that not every one who works hard is rewarded, and not everyone who is rewarded worked hard for it. We don't live in a meritocracy Britney Spears may be a hard worker but there might be another reason why this White girl has managed to make so many comebacks while other Non-White artists are held to stricter standards.)

My theory- We like her costumes because usually they are sparkly and shiny and we like her live shows because thy have lots of pyrotechnics. We also like to talk about how crazy she is and a comeback likely signals more craziness to come!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Poor Charlie Sheen ?

I really don't know if I should feel sorry for Cahrlie Sheen or not. I mean he's 'winning' right and who feels sorry for winners? No one, because they won, and we are supposed to feel bad for losers only. Maybe  I should just feel bad for laughing at him and  the ridiculous things he has said.

Maybe I am feeling a little bit of  Schadenfreude  (the term in German for taking pleasure in the misery of others, often translated as 'shameful joy'.) I feel like I shouldn't be laughing, but I am anyways, which reminds me of Hoschilds idea of 'feeling rules'. According to Arlie Hoschild (1979), our emotions and reactions are governed by 'feeling rules.' this theory basically says that people will manage their emotions in order to feel the emotion that is appropriate to the situation. But what am I supposed to do if I can't figure out if my reactions are appropriate in the first place. I'm going to blame my lack of knowledge of appropriate emotional behaviour on my culture.

 This dilemma, I am arguing, has been created by a culture that regularly derives joy from watching the once successful fail. We love to read magazines about who has 'gotten fat' and who's husband cheated on them. We can get pleasure from knowing that someones else's life, at least for the moment, is worse than our own;  but only if that person once occupied a status better than our own. If Charlie Sheen had never been famous and was simply a (possibly) recovering addict, I certainly would not laugh at his situation.   When I laugh at someone, like Charlie Sheen  (who I would argue is in need of some psychological guidance) I do feel a bit guilty, but only a little bit. I think that I have decided that that tiny bit of guilt can be successfully stowed away so that I can enjoy myself if only for a minute.  I think I will continue to make jokes about being 'on a drug named Charlie Sheen' and 'bi winning' and having a brain that "fires in a way that is not from this particular realm."

For the Charlie Sheen interview that this blog is based on, go to

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Lupe Fiasco - All Black Everthing

Wow, this new track by Lupe Fiasco is amazing! The lyrics are so crazy good, I fell in love instantly! I'm so excited about this song, I though I would just quickly write down a few thoughts.  Lupe Fiasco has always been a pretty good emcee (in my eyes) but I never really realised how informed his lyrics were until I heard this track. Lupe Fiasco is the latest in a long line of 'conscious' emcees who use hip hop as an outlet for raising awareness about racism as well as offering an ideological understanding of this concept. (If you're interested in this sort of thing, I would suggest checking out Public Enemy, Krs-One, Kanye West, Grand Master Flash to start with.)

This song is basically Lupe Fiasco telling the world about his fantasy where racism has never existed. He starts the song by inventing a history in which Black people were never exploited, or forced to be slaves. Instead the U.S. was a society built upon equality: "Constitution written by the W.E.B. Dubois/ Were no reconstructions, Civil War got avoided /Little black Sambo grows up to be a lawyer" ( all lyrics taken from : W.E.B. Dubois of course is one the most famous sociologists. Debois was a Black man living in the USA at a time when racism was standard practice.Slavery had been abolished almost 100 years before Debois wrote "The Souls of Black Folks," but practises like segregation were still legal.  Debois thought the solutions to a more equitable relationship between Blacks and Whites could be attained through better education and a more responsible  and representative government.

Lupe Fiasco muses about an America where "keeping it real is not an understood concept" because no one has been so oppressed that they have to remember what it was like to bee so poor. In his fantasy there are no Bloods or Crips because there was no animosity between the groups and "Matter of fact no hood to attack in." Lupe is directly pointing slavery and the systemic poverty as the causes of  gangs and gang wars.

This song could be seen as a call to action, rather than just an observation of society. Lupe raps:
 " Uh, and I know it’s just a fantasy
I cordially invite you to ask why can’t it be?
Now we can do nothing bout the past
But we can do something about the future that we have
We can make fast or we can make it last"
But the actions that one must to take to realise this fantasy is unclear. Without offering any concrete solutions though, this song really is just an optimistic fantasy. W.E.B. Debois, in his calls for action would offer concrete solution to his fellow Black men. He urged Black people to become politically conscious. He wanted people to vote for those that were sympathetic to the situation of Black people.  Additionally he wanted better education to be made available to Black students. In his time, even though he was a brilliant scholar, he was prohibited from attending many universities. Even though such prohibitions have long been lifted, I'm quite sure Debois, if he were alive today, would be rallying for higher enrollment and graduation rates of Black at top universities. Debois also believed that the White man had a role to play helping to attain an equitable society. He believed the the police needed to be held accountable for injustices against Black people.
Obviously there is a lot more going on in this song that could easily be related to many other theorists, I just chose Dubois because a. I <3 him, and b. so does Lupe Fiasco (apparently.)
What I found really funny though, was that most of the chatter (posts) about this song, especially those on the page where the lyrics came from is about whether or not Lupe is dissing 50 cent in this song. I personally feel like that's besides the point. I'd way rather discuss how this song relates to society and weather thins like gang wars really can be blamed on slavery. Certainly the history of prejudice and racism needs to be included in a discussion about the gang was between the Blood and the Crips, but I think that poverty is just as likely and explanation as racism (the 2 often go hand in had though so its hard to separate them apart.)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Like a Little and The Dirty: Two Sides of the Same Coin?

This is my very first blog post ever, so be gentle.

Yesterday, in my sociology of communities course we were talking about network theories and  ended up talking about several different social networking sites. I was introduced to two new websites :The Dirty and Like at Little. These two sites are basically polar opposites but they have a number of similarities as well. The dirty made me want to cry (ok not really because I don't cry, but it if I did, it would have). The purpose of this site is to post pictures and mean comments of trashy people who have (usually) done mean things to the person posting the picture. Provocatively dressed girls are called out as sluts and men are called out when they act like jerks. Like a Little on the other hand, almost melted my ice cold heart. On this site, people post comments about the crushes they have and the cute people they see. This site is intended to facilitate anonymous online flirting. These sites left me wondering what is their purpose? How are they created and sustained socially? Are they really all that different?

I found it so surprising that sites like are so popular. At first glance, I couldn't imagine why anyone would choose to spend their time calling other people mean names. But I kept reading the posts. I ended up spending an hour basically reading one sided bitchy cat-fights. Strangely, the more I read, the more I thought about how much I'd like to post a picture of my terrible ex-roommate. But I didn't post her picture (even though I would have just cause for doing so.) I'm still a little puzzled as to what type of person would post such mean things. What separates me from people who have sent in these pictures? Am I different type of person than they are? But maybe it's not really a type of person, but rather a type of subculture.  I would argue that the only way these sites are even able to exist is due to the anonymity with which users can post comments. I bet if it was easy to track down the people who have sent in the photos, they would be less prolific. The truth is though, that rather than becoming less prolific sites aimed at airing out other peoples' dirty laundry are becoming more popular. When there are no consequences for action such as calling an ex friend a 'dirty slut,' then these comments essentially become socially sanctioned. In this cyber subculture, there are no rules because there are (arguably) no consequences.

According to Claude Fischer (1975) urban life allows for subcultures to be formed, intensified and diffused because of increased population density. I wonder if he would have predicted that subcultures would be able to do so regardless of  physical population density via the internet. Many of the people who frequent this site have likely never met each other. whats required in this case, for 'population density is  So if someone visits this site fairly regularly, then the comments and pictures they are seeing become normalized. They become part of a subculture where posting pictures and making comments about people they don't like is not only  entirely normal but actually encouraged (Fischer might say these ideas are becoming intensified). I bet Louis Wirth would see this website as evidence that this urban society is indeed becoming more unstable and mobile. Evidence that people today are forced into states of anomie due to the pressures of population density. However this argument cannot explain the existence of the other website I've mentioned.

The other website,  allows users to express inclinations towards integration and connections with others. Rather than segregating and destabilizing, this site could be evidence that the internet, and urban settings by extension, can open up more opportunities for building communities (aka subcultures.) This website seems to be evidence that people can still be nice to each other. Again though, it is the anonymous nature of the website that is facilitating these comments. Like a Little is often less anonymous than The Dirty though, and often the people posting could potentially find each other in real life. This site then, offers a stronger possibility of consequences; but they seem less frightening than the consequences that would follow a post on The Dirty. Like a Little also left me feeling a bit sad though. I am a bit disheartened that instead of actually telling people we think they're cute, we have relegated ourselves to anonymous virtual communication.

Although The Dirty and Like a Little could be said to have little in common I would argue that the same social pressures and underlying forces are at work in both these sites.  Maybe population density has nothing to do with the creation of this anonymous subculture. However these sites require a certain amount of traffic to be worthwhile. The level of traffic on the sites could be conceptualized as a type of population density. Both of these sites share the purpose of allowing users to post anonymous comments. These sites are in fact sustained by the anonymity they provide. They provide opportunities to communicate with the world without fear of the consequences. The traffic (read: population density) coupled with the anonymity these sites provide allow them to be an outlet for communications that otherwise might not be possible. But is this a good thing? Should we really be happy about the fact that now we can call our friends dirty sluts without them knowing we are responsible for their heartbreak? Should we be so afraid of actual interaction that anonymously flirting online has become an attractive alternative?

Maybe its too much to hope that everyone could just like each other and say nice things all the time.  But at least couldn't we live by the old rule "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all." ( I realise that, clearly, I can't live by that rule. Simply by posting this I am effectively anonymously calling out both these websites.)