A Chicken or Egg Question

1 Jun

I have always wondered why middle schoolers, or teenagers in the U.S. are always thought to be rebels and little devils. Many parents dread the day when their children enter teenage years. And my friends told me how lucky I am to have never gone to middle school in the U.S, because everyone in middle school is so miserable and they take their misery out on everyone else.

Duane from the Little Miss Sunshine

I understand that there are psychological reasons for teenager’s rebellion. But I also think that how teenagers are depicted in the movies play a significant role. Movies reflect the values, beliefs of a society. It is a mirror of its culture. But at the same time, we should not ignore their reinforcing effect on the values and phenomena of a society. It has priming effect. If one watch a violent movie, he/she will behave more aggressively afterwards. If we take a look at the majority of teenagers depicted in the American movies, we can’t fail to notice their anger, insecurity and hostile attitude towards the world around them.  Such depictions could be an accurate reflection of reality, yet they also reinforce the behavior, and to some extent trigger it. Continue reading

Barbie Commercials Across the Decades and the Implications on Female Identity and Objectification

20 Apr

In the past weeks, the Law and Mind Sciences blogposts have included observations about media influences and gender, including  Misogyny in MusicMindfulness and Identity in the context of yogurt advertisements, and the conformity in appearances at HLS job interviews.   As these posts described, pop culture,  advertisements, and cultural norms all have the power to influence  perceptions of gender. No where does this media influence appear to have a wider or longer lasting impact than Barbie. From the first Barbie television advertisement ever (portrayed in the above video) to the introduction of Ken, to current television advertising, Barbie has maintained a prominent presence as a commercial phenomenon, a fashion icon, and source of gender socialization.

The focus of investigations and attitudes towards Barbie differ, but all seem to recognize that the Barbie is not just a doll, but a cultural phenomenon. Since Barbie first arrived at the World Toy Fair in 1959, wearing a Zebra bikini and stilettos, over a billion Barbies have been produced in 150 countries.  According to Mattel on Barbie’s 50th Anniversary in 2009, 90%  of U.S. girls ages 3-10 own at least one Barbie doll. In a Newsweek article commenting on this anniversary, Eliza Grey described Barbie as “the original bimbo, a relic of postwar paternalism that teaches its young to worship at the altar of blond hair, peach skin and formidable cleavage atop a waistline the size of a pinkie ring.”

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You Are Not So Smart

19 Apr

This great post by Rachel the week before last reminded me of an excellent blog I came across recently and thought meshed really well with the themes we address here. Over at You Are Not So Smart: A Celebration of Self Delusion, a self-described “journalist who loves psychology, technology and the internet” is summing up all manner of ways that our own brain doesn’t work the way we like to think it does.

For instance, in a recent post called The Sunk Cost Fallacy, the author gives a great explanation for something I’ve always wondered: what exactly is the appeal of Facebook games like FarmVille? He explains how humans experience loss more acutely than gain, so when we’ve invested time or money in something, we are extremely reluctant to abandon it even after we’ve quit having fun, earning profits, or whatever else led us to the activity in the first place. We routinely throw good money in after bad, as the saying goes.

After the jump: my thoughts on the legal implications of this and other You Are Not So Smart topics. Continue reading

Colorblind (But Not Really)

19 Apr

Aunt Vivian: Gee, when Janice described him she didn’t mention that he was…tall. Not that I have a problem with people who are…tall.
Uncle Lester: My cousin used to date a girl who was…tall.
Uncle Phil: Heck, the boy go to a predominantly…tall school.
Will: Now, am I alone on this or didn’t y’all notice he was white?

~ Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (Episode #2.6, Guess Who’s Coming to Marry)

In a short article in the February/March 2009 issue of Scientific American Mind, Siri Carpenter discusses two studies done by psychologists at Tufts and Harvard indicating that people who avoid mentioning race may actually appear more prejudiced. In the experiment, one white participant was paired up with one black participant, and they were each given the same set of photographs of random people. The black participant would choose a photograph, and the white participant had to figure out as quickly as possible which photograph his/her partner had chosen by asking him/her questions about each one in succession. The study was designed so that the matching process would go much faster if the white participant asked about the race of the person in the photograph. Significantly, the study found that the “intrepid few” who asked about race were deemed less prejudiced by black observers than the vast majority of white participants who didn’t mention race at all.

If that finding is accurate and generally applicable, then we as a society have totally f***ed up in making it a taboo to mention someone’s race. We have conflated defining someone by their race with simply acknowledging their race.

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Trampling People While Whistling Rights: Normative Visions, Judicial Realities in Times of Terror

18 Apr

Everybody's Got to Do Their Part

Marbury v. Madison, Miranda, and Brown v. Board of Education are hallmarks of a judicial canon that preaches a heroic vision of Constitutional Law arbitrated in our highest tribunal. These cases tell a story of the judicial process that reflects a flattering normative vision of the American government. These are the cases that may be most likely to be emphasized when a middle or high school student is first introduced to judicial review. Running concurrently alongside this set of cases is an antinomian canon, constituted of cases such as Dred Scott, Plessy v. Ferguson, and Bush v. Gore, that tells a story of the court as a political institution, embedded in the culture of its time. A particularly notable subset of these decisions occur during wartime. In cases such as Korematsu, the Supreme Court upholds dramatic, discriminatory suspensions of civil liberties that are justified on the basis of necessity, created by a perceived existential threat. Then, inevitably, the existential threat disappears, the threat that the case generated begins to seem overblown and ridiculous, the decision is dismissed as an unfortunate mistake, there’s a general sense that we’ll ‘do better next time’, and then next time comes, and the whole cycle inevitably repeats itself.  Particularly notable, in cases such as Korematsu, is our general view of WWII – a heroic time for the ‘Greatest Generation’, and our relative shame about the Korematsu decision. This bifurcation is a more complicated stance than the universal scorn that we now hold for slavery, and a representative decision of that stance, such as Dred Scott. But is there more to these judicial opinions than mere hypocricy? Continue reading

Mindfulness and Identity in the context of Yogurt.

17 Apr

Sarah Haskins showing us that a proper woman always has the correct baking utensil handy.

Persons invest self feelings in their possessions.

In his piece, “Essays on the Social Situation of Mental Patients and Other Inmates,” author Erving Goffman makes this basic observations that property means something to people, and the choices we make about what to own and what to buy define us to a large extent.  This is true even when one considers the humble container of yogurt.

Yogurt does not seem like something about which people should have strong associations.  It’s one of those things that you buy in the grocery store every once in a while when you have vague feelings of guilt about the Cheetos you’ve been eating recently and want to make a gesture towards positive dietary decision-making (the argument could be made that this particular experience cannot be generalized… I leave the ultimate verdict to the reader).  However, a series of television ads illustrates the principle that food choice – even yogurt- can hold a lot of meaning.  Yogurt consumption is clearly associated here with being a woman, and particularly with a certain class of women.  In an excellent video, comedian Sarah Haskins pokes fun at this connection and its frequent use in the media.  I’m not sure that WordPress.com allows for embedding video from this platform, so I give it to you here.  I submit that the extra click is worth it entirely.

Haskins recognizes that these commercials generalize from some sort of shared ‘women’s experience’ to boost their products’ appeal.  This use of a generic “everyperson” to tie a product with a particular emotion is quite common  – witness the phenomenon of women eating salad or go to the numerous other Target Women parodies about cleaning, cougars, shoes and more to see how companies consciously use (or reinforce?  or create?) certain stereotypes about (upper-middle class) women to create successful reality TV shows or reinforce brand loyalty.  Women eat salad, they like shoes, and they frequently complain about bridesmaids’ dresses and short men… the list could go on.  Car commercials, which cater to men, have a certain stereotype as well.  The best commercials slyly acknowledge certain cultural norms that they are playing upon, and also use them to their advantage. Continue reading

Democracy as Ideological Engine

17 Apr

A recent worldwide study recently showed the dramatic effect of social situational factors on what we would generally view as dispositionist character traits. The study, entitled Markets, Religion, Community Size, and the Evolution of Fairness and Punishment, tested, through games, the fairness and punishment instincts in 15 diverse world populations. The authors found that market integration positively correlated with measures of fairness, while community size correlated positively with punishment instincts. The authors believe the study emphasizes that ‘prosociality is not solely the product of an innate psychology, but also reflects norms and institutions that have emerged over the course of human history.’ In large, market based societies, norms of fairness and punishment developed, evolutionarily, in order to help ensure the continued successful completion of mutually beneficial market transactions.

Get yer Ideologies here.

The institution of democracy strongly lurks in the background of John Jost’s paper on the elective affinities of political ideology. Jost, primarily through surveys of the populations of Western democracies, writes of how political ideologies are correlated, to a very high degree, with a person’s internal psychological traits. Jost emphasizes both top down processes, such as  ideological dissemination by elites, and bottom up processes, cognitive internal functions that lead an individual to adopt overall ideologies in accordance with their psychological needs. Jost  These two processes divide into a superstructure, a socially constructed public discourse, and a substructure, the functional and motivational attributes of individuals. Jost leaves relatively vague, in the paper, the methods of interaction between the superstructure and the substructure. I believe that lurking in Jost’s paper is the role of democracy in driving the process of elective affiliation which Jost describes. Continue reading

Ke$ha’s Critique of Misogyny in Music

16 Apr

Let me begin by saying that I am really, really excited to be posting about Ke$ha.  But before I get to her, some preliminaries are in order.  I don’t think it is too controversial for me to say that rap music is, and has been, very misogynistic.  From “Bitches Ain’t Shit” on Dr. Dre’s 1992 classic album The Chronic to “Area Codes” by Ludacris and the late Nate Dogg (“I got hoes in different area codes”) to just about every Eminem song (e.g. “I’ll put Anthrax on a Tampax and slap you till you can’t stand”), rap music is a genre rife with objectification of women.

Two recent songs have stuck out in particular for me.  The first, again by Eminem, is “Love The Way You Lie.”  The song, which features Rihanna (herself a recent victim of domestic violence), maintains a mainly positive message, with Eminem acknowledging and apologizing for a past emotionally and physically abusive relationship.  All is well until the last couplet: “If she ever tries to —-ing leave again, I’m gonna tie her to the bed and set the house on fire.”

The other song is “Runaway” by Kanye West, a song which (although it’s admittedly quite early) will probably garner a Grammy nomination for Song of the Year.  Again the song appears to have somewhat of a positive message, with Kanye acknowledging his flaws and past transgressions (“You’ve been putting up with my sh– for way too long…run away from me”).  However, the second verse of the song, by guest Pusha T, returns to misogyny and objectification.  To paraphrase (and clean up), the verse basically says: “I admit that I cheated on you, but I know you won’t leave because all the things I buy you will make you forget about it.  Women just want us to buy stuff for them, but they should know that every bag, blouse, and bracelet we buy for them comes with a price tag; namely, infidelity and general lack of respect.”

My first concern, which I hope to address in my upcoming interview with Diane Rosenfeld, is the effect these lyrics (along with TV and film portrayals) have on shaping social conceptions of gender roles and domestic violence.

My second concern, and more Ke$ha, after the jump!

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