Posts Tagged ‘Social Class’

ESPN’s recent documentary, O.J.: Made in America provides an excellent look at the complicated intersections of race and class in the U.S. The five-part series documents how O.J. Simpson rose to fame as a Heisman trophy winner at USC, the first NFL player to rush for over 2,000 yards in a season, and a trend-setting spokesperson for various corporations.

Born in the San Francisco projects, Simpson’s trajectory mirrors that of many Horatio Alger characters. That it occurred in the 1960s made Simpson a perfect example for those who argued (like many today) that if Blacks would just keep their heads down, work hard, and buy into the values of White America, success and acceptance would follow. Interviews from the time indicate that Simpson largely bought into this idea himself.

For me, the relationship between Simpson and race was the most interesting aspect of the documentary. His charisma and success on the football field allowed him to largely transcend the racial restrictions of the time and live a life surrounded by wealthy Whites. Despite this, the trial for the murders he committed (and nearly everybody in the documentary – even his friends – is convinced that he committed them) became a referendum on race in L.A. following the Rodney King trial. Anger at the LAPD’s racial injustice led to a nation that was sharply divided along racial lines about Simpson’s acquittal by a mostly-Black jury but the trial also made Simpson Black again in the eyes of the public and a pariah among his former White friends.

Today, Simpson is in prison as a result of a ridiculously long sentence for a relatively minor crime in which he attempted to steal sports memorabilia that he believed had been stolen from him. Those in the documentary believe that this sentence is essentially payback for Simpson getting away with murder, which was itself payback for Rodney King. Some even blame Simpson’s mid-’90s trial for exacerbating the racial divide in the U.S. The juxtaposition of White and Black interviewees and their views on particular issues is also revealing, even if the conclusions that I took from these comparisons are not likely those that members of the Trump demographic are likely to draw.

Overall, I highly recommend all five parts. I watched most of them on demand through my cable provider and they are also available on ESPN’s Watch ESPN website. Be aware, though, that there are a number of descriptions (including recordings of 911 calls) of Simpson’s domestic violence prior to the murders and a few extremely graphic images of the murdered bodies of Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman that I had to look away from during the discussion of the trial. There may be some short portions that could be used for class discussions, though the issues involved are probably best considered with a complete viewing.

“Like” Memoirs of a SLACer on Facebook to receive updates and links via your news feed (sometimes frequently, sometimes less so).

Read Full Post »

It is not secret sociological knowledge that a lot more people consider themselves to be “middle class” than a strict definition of the term implies. At CNN.com, for example, you can report whether you feel middle class and then enter data on where you live to find out what the middle household income quintile is for your county. Despite the fact that I feel middle class, my income is slightly above this range for my own residence. The housing market in my area is a good example of the relativity of social class. I don’t feel particularly wealthy because housing here is expensive. Technically, this is false, but the sorts of homes that I would want to live in are expensive, so I perceive that housing is expensive overall and, thus, that my income is not high relative to the cost of housing.

This sort of reasoning led Jesse Klein, a student at the University of Michigan, to state that although her family makes over $250,000 per year, they are middle class. Growing up in Silicon Valley makes it easy to understand Klein’s perception, as this Yahoo Finance article points out. It does not, however, change the fact that Klein’s family is among the wealthiest in the country. The fact that a few households make more doesn’t change this, even if a lot of those households are around Klein’s. Her argument that she is middle class despite her family’s ability to afford out-of-state tuition at the University of Michigan also calls her perceptions into question. Like Klein, a Vancouver couple recently got some negative attention for complaining about the fact that their $360,000 salary would not cover their expenses.

It is interesting that Klein’s family income is also the number that President Obama used in his campaigns to distinguish the wealthy because less than 2% of American households have incomes above that amount. The response during his campaigns seemed to be, though, that $250,000 didn’t sound like that much. To somebody making $50,000 per year, $250,000 might sound (however unrealistically) within the realm of possibility. When discussing income (not to mention wealth), then, it is particularly important to provide a broader context about the nation as a whole. $250,000 isn’t just a number, it is a number that we can compare to the national median and earnings along the entire income range. Klein’s might not feel like her family is wealthy in Silicon Valley, but when she considers the fact that they make more than nearly every family in the country and can afford to do things that most Americans cannot, her feelings may change.

“Like” Memoirs of a SLACer on Facebook to receive updates and links about my income via your news feed.

Read Full Post »

Following my post about the deserving poor from the other day, here is a humorous take on the undeserving rich (via Jalopnik):

This seems like the type of person who might catch affluenza (and now the humor is gone…).

“Like” Memoirs of a SLACer on Facebook to receive updates and links via your news feed (but only if you drive a “Ferari”).

Read Full Post »

Today is December 15, which means that there are 10 more days to gear up for Christmas or, alternatively, ten more days until you will stop hearing “Jingle Bell Rock” everywhere you go. In either case, here are some snarky Christmas-themed posts to pass the time:

2014: Christmas as social control

2013: Christmas at Fox News

2012: Kevin McCallister, murderer?

2012: Toys for rich and poor

2012: Toys for boys and girls

2012: Thoughts on Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

2011: Holiday advertising gone wrong (a.k.a. the Folgers commercial)

2010: The world’s most offensive Christmas song

2009: Christmas spells relief

Christmas Bonus: A subscription to the Jelly of the Month Club? No, its the Hater’s Guide to the Williams-Sonoma Catalog for 2012, 2013, and 2014

“Like” Memoirs of a SLACer on Facebook and I promise I will stop playing “Jingle Bell Rock” (and doing the dance from Mean Girls).

Read Full Post »

Amanda Hess at Slate reports on ESPN’s documentary The Price of Gold, which focuses on Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan and features an interesting look into the ways that appearance and social class interconnect in the world of figure skating. Hess writes:

As Nanette Burstein’s documentary makes clear, the Kerrigan-Harding affair unfolded in a commercial landscape in which economic potential hinges on appearance as much as it does athleticism. By the early ’90s, Kerrigan and Harding were toe-to-toe in American figure skating competition, but when it came to monetizing their skills, Kerrigan was skating on an elevated plain. Though both athletes emerged from working-class backgrounds, Kerrigan was blessed with patrician good looks and a sophisticated air that easily courted corporate sponsorships and Hollywood attention. “Nancy looked like she was wealthy,” is how Boston Globe reporter John Powers puts it in the documentary. Harding, counters Connie Chung, was the “girl with frizzy blonde hair from the wrong side of the tracks.” And their performance styles reinforced the divide: While Harding powered through technical routines, Kerrigan danced.

And so Kerrigan’s face soon became as famous as her feats on the ice. She began raking in endorsements early in her career, filming spots for Campbell’s soup, L’Oreal, and Reebok; in 1992, she starred in a televised Christmas special. But even when Harding became the first American woman to land a triple axel in competition, in 1991, no one wanted her to sell anything. “She was a great skater. I was a great skater. But she was treated like this big queen,” Harding says in the documentary. “She’s a princess, and I’m a pile of crap.” At one point in the film, Harding recalls wearing a bright-pink costume in competition that she had sewn herself. “It was really pretty!” she says. But “one of the judges came up to me afterwards and said … ‘If you ever wear anything like that again at a U.S. championship, you will never do another one.’” Harding shot back that until the judges gave her $5,000 to buy a designer piece, “You can get out of my face!” Meanwhile, as Sarah Marshall detailed in The Believer this month, Kerrigan had Vera Wang designing her costumes gratis.

Although the scandal involving Harding and Kerrigan happened over 20 years ago, the situation has not necessarily changed for female athletes. Hess notes:

Last year, Maria Sharapova earned almost twice as much endorsement money as Serena Williams—$23 million to $12 million—even though Williams has racked up twice as many points as Sharapova in singles competitions over the past year and has beaten Sharapova 14 consecutive times. Twelve mil is still a decent amount of scratch—and Sharapova is also an excellent player—but the fact remains that Williams has to work harder to make less money.

Read Full Post »

Buying gendered gifts for children.

Using toys to perpetuate class inequality.

Being surrounded by assholes who are intent on crushing your dreams.


The world’s most offensive Christmas song.

Read Full Post »

With Santa’s yearly visit just a week away, toys are on the mind of many children. Sociologists often talk about the gendered nature of toys, and I recently discussed one Swedish company’s efforts to advertise toys in a gender-neutral way, but a recent New York Times article* looks at a divide that we are less likely to focus on: social class.

In the article, Gina Bellafante argues that the types of toys sold at Walmart and Toys R Us differ greatly from those from more upscale stores focused on learning and creativity. In her most quotable paragraph, Bellafante writes:

In the way that we have considered food deserts — those parts of the city in which stores seem to stock primarily the food groups Doritos and Pepsi — we might begin to think, in essence, about toy deserts and the implications of a commercial system in which the least-privileged children are choked off from the recreations most explicitly geared toward creativity and achievement.

She concludes with the counterpoint that puzzles and other upscale toys have not been proven to bolster children’s cognitive abilities, but I think it would be interesting to study whether children in wealthier homes do, in fact, play with different types of toys. I also think it would be interesting to see whether they actively ask for these toys or whether their Christmas lists look like those of their less fortunate counterparts.

*I saw this a while ago via The Society Pages but forgot about it when the grading storm struck again. Thankfully, another post at The Society Pages reminded me about it.

Read Full Post »

In line with my post the other day about my decision to require students to meet with me, and suffering for that decision, Bradley Koch at Soc’ing Out Loud has a recent post about student reactions after receiving a grade that was lower than they expected. He discusses four ideal types of students: those who do nothing, those who drop the course, those who get angry, and those who seek advice during office hours. I’ve also encountered these general reactions (and I’m similarly frustrated by those who drop a course after receiving a single poor grade on an assignment) but I think that he misses an important group of students in his discussion of those who do nothing. He writes:

Most students do nothing. They show up as if nothing has changed. I suspect that these are the students who have done well on their assignments and those who are too lazy to actually open the email attachment that includes comments and their score.

In addition to those who have done well and those who are lazy are those who are intimidated by the thought of meeting with professors. While he notes that many students at his institution are from privileged backgrounds, lots of sociological research tells us that many students who are raised in working class and poor homes are much less likely to approach a professor and ask for help. Even if they do approach their professors for help, they are also more likely to be uncomfortable about meeting with us.

I don’t know what to do about this problem, but it is definitely something to take into consideration when reflecting on student reactions.


Read Full Post »

If you want to talk to your students about class consciousness without getting too political (and without having to rely on pictures of Santa Claus), one approach is to talk about something that is not overly politicized: vacations. This article by Claude Fischer from the Boston Review looks at vacation length in the US and Europe through the lens of class consciousness. Additionally, these graphs from Sociological Images can be used to provide students with more data.

Read Full Post »