Author Archives: David Mayeda
In much of the western world, December and January mark months during the year we dub, the holiday season. For many of us, this entails purchasing gifts for loved ones, receiving gifts in return, celebrating time with loved ones, and making New Years resolutions. People who celebrate Christmas – whether that be for religious or non-religious purposes – frequently do so by ornamenting their homes with festive decorations. But where do all those decorations come from? In this post, David Mayeda uses Karl Marx’s concept of alienation to analyze the production of Christmas ornaments, most of which are made in the Chinese city of Yiwu.
As most of our readers should know, Karl Marx is one of sociology’s founding members. Marx viewed society through a lens of contentious production relations, in which the proletariat class (those who could only use their bodies as currency within the system) was exploited by the bourgeoisie (those who owned the means of production).
According to Marx, in their exploitation, the proletariat would become alienated from society in four different, but related and simultaneous ways: alienated from (1) the objects s/he produces, (2) the processes of production; (3) him/herself; and (4) the broader community of humankind. Now let’s return to this post’s example.
As The Guardian explains, over 60% of the world’s Christmas decorations are made in roughly 600 factories, located in the Chinese city of Yiwu:
- Christened “China’s Christmas village”, Yiwu is home to 600 factories that collectively churn out over 60% of all the world’s Christmas decorations and accessories, from glowing fibre-optic trees to felt Santa hats. The “elves” that staff these factories are mainly migrant labourers, working 12 hours a day for a maximum of £200 to £300 [USD $312 to $468] a month – and it turns out they’re not entirely sure what Christmas is.
In 1991, Philomena Essed wrote an important book titled Everyday Racism: An Interdisciplinary Theory. In her seminal text, Essed outlines how seemingly subtle and innocuous interactions between majority group members and women of color are muddled with racism. Essed termed these interactions, “everyday racism.” Other scholars in social psychology have called everyday racist acts “microaggressions.” In this post, David Mayeda discusses a recent commercial from Australia and his own research with Maori and Pacific students in Aotearoa New Zealand to illustrate the power of everyday racism and what he and his colleagues term, everyday colonialism.
Before I get into this post, check out this recent commercial that demonstrates what indigenous peoples in Australia (Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders) must cope with on a regular, everyday basis.
Here at SociologyInFocus, a sociological topic we tend to neglect is colonialism. First let’s define imperialism – “the practice, the theory, and the attitudes of a dominating metropolitan centre ruling a distant territory; ‘colonialism’, which is almost always a consequence of imperialism, is the implanting of settlements on distant territory” (Ashcroft, Griffiths, & Tiffin, 2002, p. 46). In short, colonialism is imperialism put into action.
Today, old school colonialism is less prevalent. Instead what we tend to see are modern remnants of colonialism operating systemically through what scholars call “neo-colonialsim.” In neo-colonial settings, previously colonized states have gained political independence from the colonial powers of yester-year. However, contemporary political, social and economic arrangements persist that keep indigenous peoples pushed to society’s margins and in a state of perpetual structural disadvantage. Thus, colonialism lives on even if we don’t realize it. Continue reading
Wow, the Seattle Seahawks blew out the Denver Broncos in this year’s Super Bowl! How many of you saw that coming? If you believe in the saying, “Defense wins championships,” you might have predicted a Seattle victory. Speaking of defense, one member of Seattle’s “Legion of Boom” received mounds of media attention in the weeks leading up to Super Bowl Sunday – cornerback Richard Sherman. An athletic play by Sherman two weeks earlier thwarted a San Francisco 49ers drive and sealed Seattle’s trip to Super Bowl 48. However, it was Sherman’s postgame interview and the attention it generated that caused all kinds of controversy. In this post, David Mayeda uses this case to illustrate the concept of racialized code words.
Like other sectors of society, sport serves as a site where constructions of race are developed and contested on a regular basis. Throughout history, sport has always responded to broader race politics, while simultaneously firing back at the racialized patterns seen off the field.
We see it less now than in decades past. Today’s celebrity athletes are more constricted by corporate-driven politics and a less active push for social justice. Now in the twenty-first century, much of society likes to feel we have reached a place where perceptions of race and behavioral racism no longer matter, or only emerge among fringe, extremist groups outside the mainstream. The thing is, racism is still quite pervasive throughout society. It’s simply changed.
Public response to talented black men
As described above, following Seattle’s win over San Francisco about three weeks ago, Richard Sherman was interviewed by side-line reporter Erin Andrews. In the interview, an animated Sherman asserted his status as the League’s top cornerback, while verbally deriding 49er wide-receiver Michael Crabtree, and doing so by staring angrily into the camera. Sherman and Crabtree had developed a mild rivalry; both are African American. Continue reading
Malala Yousafzai has received an immense amount of media attention in the past few years, and rightfully so. Just last week here at SIF, Mediha Din took a conflict theory approach to discuss Malala’s global influence as the young activist continues to advocate for girls’ rights to education. In this post, David Mayeda continues to examine Malala’s social impact, dissecting why Malala’s popularity has risen so dramatically in western society, and why other very related stories go virtually unnoticed.
As explained previously in SIF, Malala Yousafzai is a 16-year-old girl from Pakistan now residing in England. Roughly two years ago when living in Pakistan, Malala was shot in the head by Taliban gunmen after she gained noteriety as an outspoken advocate for gender equity in education. A survivor of this horrific act, Malala continues her staunch social activism and has received extensive praise by the west for her actions. Check out her amazing interview on The Daily Show, where at one point she leaves Jonathan Stewart utterly speechless:
Considering the conditions that impact girls and women in Pakistan, it is not surprising, given her incredible conviction, that Malala spoke out for gender equity. Moving beyond educational gender disparities, in 2011, Pakistan was ranked as the world’s third most dangerous country in the world to be female. As reported by TrustLaw, in Pakistan: Continue reading
Tom Hanks’ latest box office film, Captain Phillips, is making waves. According to one source, the film has already garnered $58 million in domestic ticket sales, and $63 million globally. For those of you unfamiliar with the film, it recounts a story that played out in real life off the coast of Somalia in 2009, when a group of Somali pirates took Captain Richard Phillips and his ship – the Maersk Alabama – hostage in an attempt to hold him for ransom. These events were aired in real time on numerous mainstream American news outlets. In this post, David Mayeda contextualizes Captain Phillips’ narrative, explaining how it falls into a “protectionist scenario” that makes for typical Hollywood drama.
As Nathan Palmer pointed out way back in November of 2011, Hollywood has a way of recycling ideas such that viewers can consume moderately new ideas and easily digest them through familiar formulaic scripts. One of the dominant formulas that makes for a fiscally successful Hollywood action flick is that of the “protectionist scenario.” Carol Stabile notes that this scenario includes characters that fall into one of three categories (bullet points not in original text):
- “the protected or victim (the person violated by the villain);
- the threat or villain (the person who attacks the victim); and
- the protector or hero (the person who protects or rescues the victim or promises such aid)” (p. 107).
We see the protectionist scenario play out in numerous forms of mainstream media; Captain Phillips is no exception. Even when the real Captain Richard Phillips was kidnapped in 2009 and held for ransom as the United States Navy Seals prepared their rescue mission, one could almost feel the protectionist scenario developing in real life. Captain Phillips was the victim, the Somali pirates the villains, and the American military the heroes. Hence, it is no surprise the story dominated mainstream news and was eventually reconstructed into Hollywood entertainment.
Though movie previews are very short and only provide a taste of the full film, the victim-villain-hero labels are blatantly apparent in the Captain Phillips trailer:
In fact, the Captain Phillips story may be more complex. Some may argue the Captain Phillips character also holds dimensions of heroism, and the Somali pirates, dimensions of victimization (see here). These nuances notwithstanding, the dominant protectionist scenario remains strong. Continue reading
AMC recently aired its final episode of Breaking Bad. With the series now completed, one might wonder how so many viewers could maintain loyalty to protagonist, “Water White,” the dorky low-level crystal methamphetamine producer, turned vicious kingpin, who over five seasons inflicted unbridled violence on a slew of characters. Even Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan expressed a sociologically-driven curiosity with Walt’s ability to emit public sympathy: “I have kind of lost sympathy for Walt along the way…I find it interesting, this sociological phenomenon, that people still root for Walt. Perhaps it says something about the nature of fiction, that viewers have to identify on some level with the protagonist of the show, or maybe he’s just interesting because he is good at what he does.” In this post, David Mayeda breaks down Breaking Bad’s success, accounting for reclaimed masculinity in a failed political economy.
For the few of you out there unfamiliar with AMC’s fictional drama, Breaking Bad tells the story of fumbling high school chemistry teacher with a PhD – Walter White (played by Bryan Cranston) – who “breaks bad” by ditching his conventional teaching gig to produce and eventually traffic crystal methamphetamine across New Mexico and the greater American Southwest. Key in the series’ storyline is that Walt is a conventional family man, deeply in love with his pregnant wife, Skyler, and teenage son, Walt Jr., who suffers from cerebral palsy. That’s a lot of financial responsibility for any high school teacher. To make matters seemingly impossible, Walt is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Hence Walt works in tandem with former pupil, Jesse Pinkman, to start cooking meth in hopes of making enough money for his family’s long-term future.
Over the course of five seasons, Walter White transforms from a dorky, emasculated high school chemistry teacher who cannot provide for his family, to badass drug kingpin, steeped in money and power. With nothing to lose, Walt’s ascent stems from an incessantly growing cunningness, elite intellectual acumen, and at times, departure from his once conventional moral compass. Viewers have watched Walt kill rival drug dealers, associates and kingpins, stand idly by while Jesse’s love interest dies; we even know Walt poisoned a young child. Despite these departures from conventional morality, a substantial portion of Breaking Bad‘s viewers still sympathize with, even cheer for Walt. How can this be?
Sociologically speaking, the answer lies in Walt’s ability to establish a kind of hegemonic masculinity under dreadful circumstances that on a different level, also impacted so many Breaking Bad fans. Continue reading
Hey American tough guys, ever consider playing football without pads? And no, not out on the field with your boys for fun (sorry for the gendered language). I mean an actual game, full on, full speed, full contact, full collision. The fact is, you can’t. If official football games were played without pads, athletes would get horrifically injured, even die on a regular basis. Heck, football is dangerous enough with pads and helmets. But down here in the Southern Hemisphere, we have a very speedy collision sport with no pads called rugby. I’m still getting my head around the different sporting forms of rugby that exist. A few things are for certain though – it is big, big business and can be very dangerous, the latter of which you might never know by watching the mainstream media.
Australia’s National Rugby League (NRL) is akin to the United States’ National Football League (NFL). Both organizations represent the pinnacle of male sporting success in their respective parts of the world. Rugby League allows for rather unrestricted tackling between players. Hence the collisions in Rugby League are often times very similar to those we Americans see in the NFL, minus the helmets and pads. Many people in New Zealand – where I now reside – tell me Rugby League is about as violent as a sport can get. Continue reading