Author Archives: Nathan Palmer
You are a strange person living in a strange world. It’s just that you are so much like all the people around you and each day is so much like the next that you slowly come to think of yourself and the world around you as normal. However, part of being a good sociologist is remembering just how strange our everyday world is. In this piece Nathan Palmer goes to the Pitchfork Music Festival to show us how different things look when we “see the familiar as strange”.
Do you know how you can spot a tourist from a local? Tourists look up, taking in the scenery, but locals stay heads down until they get to where they’re going. I am in Chicago this weekend for the Pitchfork Music Festival, so the tourist/local divide is as clear as ever for me. Every time I stop to marvel at some landscape, or look at a sculpture, or especially when I snap a picture, the locals who I share the sidewalk with either roll their eyes or give me a strange look. To the locals there is nothing remarkable- nothing worth looking at, because they’ve seen it a thousand times before. Locals may have more insider knowledge of the area than anyone, but so much of the world they live in has become so familiar that it is now unremarkable and just normal.
Seeing The Familiar As Strange
Sociology asks you to look at your life, your community, your world again for the first time. As a discipline we urge you to “see the familiar as strange”. Become a tourist in your own life, and notice all of the little details that have faded into the background. In many ways sociology is the study of human patterns of behavior. Put another way sociology is the study of the (often boring) routines of life.
The lessons that sociology has to teach you and the answers that sociological methods can provide you lie in the things you’ve always known were true, the assumptions you didn’t even know you were making, and the questions you never thought to ask. This isn’t a mantra or Chicken Soup For The Sociologist’s Soul it’s an approach and an opportunity for you to more deeply understand the world around you.
Seeing The Pitchfork Music Festival As Strange
I thought I’d take you along with me as I roamed the music festival this weekend and show you how I “see the familiar as strange”. Now mind you, a concert is not an everyday thing, but it is highly routinized. Walking around Pitchfork I saw many things that would be familiar to anyone who’s been to a concert before. There were far too many things to sociologically analyze, but I want to at least tell you about three of them.
Moshing & Crowd Surfing:
In any other place, running head long into someone else is called assault. At a concert it’s called fun. Continue reading
Last Monday Jason Collins became the first active male athlete in American team sports to come out as a gay man. On the same day, MTV announced that it was launching a show called Guy Court where men who violated the “guy code” would be punished. In this piece Nathan Palmer explains how these two events are connected by homophobia and discusses the sociological concept of gender policing.
Last Monday Jason Collins published an essay in Sports Illustrated that announced to the world that he was a gay man. This was noteworthy because Collins was the first active male athlete in the big four of American male team sports (i.e. football, baseball, basketball, hockey) to come out. Collins is by no means the first athlete to come out. Many other athletes have come out. In fact, a couple of days before Collins’s announcement Brittney Griner signed an endorsement with Nike to become the first out-and-proud athlete to do so with the company. All that said, it was a big deal. It took a lot of courage on his part.
So the question we should be asking as sociologists is, why? Why was it such a tough decision? Why did it take so long for any active male athlete in major American team sports to come out? The answer is obvious: homophobia, prejudice, and discrimination.
The other question we should be asking is, what does Collins coming out mean for the prevalence of homophobia in the United States? Many commentators on the cable news channels have argued that Collins’s announcement along with the pro-marriage equality victories during the last election cycle signal that open bigotry toward the LGBT community is on a rapid decline. So are they right? Are we about to enter a whole new era of acceptance, respect, and equality? To answer that question, we first need to explore the deep connection between masculinity and homophobia.
Masculinity, especially in the United States is often defined by it’s opposition to femininity. This is the main argument that Sociologist Michael Kimmel makes in his essay, Masculinity as Homophobia. That is, to be a “real man” is to avoid being feminine in any way. If it’s feminine to cry, show fear, or care about the way you look, then any man who does that is seen as “unmanly” and likely to have their “man card” pulled. All of this results in narrowing the definition of masculinity. Put another way, we create this ever shrinking box that all men are expected to conform to or they’ll be punished. Continue reading
White supremacy is often mischaracterized as only a person or group of people (e.g. Neo Nazis & the KKK), but thinking of white supremacy in this way hides too many people who are affected by it. In this post Nathan Palmer will push us to think about white supremacy as an ideology and explore how each of us may personally believe it.
Every year we had a “multi-cultural day” at my elementary school. Usually in January (around Martin Luther King Day) or in February (to “celebrate” Black History Month). We’d eat foods from other cultures (there was always baklava), watch a movie about Dr. Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement, and learn about how racism used to be a problem in the United States. The overall message was clear to all of us kids, “racism is something mean people used to do and if you do anything racist today, you’re a big meanie”.
I can still remember the befuddled look on my teacher’s face when I walked up to her and asked, “If today is multicultural day, then what are the rest of the days?” Her face scrunched together, she folded her arms, and told me, “Oh, just go back to your seat this instant!”
I was thinking about my multicultural day experience recently because last week was the 45th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martine Luther King. The message I learned at these multicultural days (that racism is only a problem at the individual level) I think is largely still present in our society. But in many ways the issue of racism is as much about acts of discrimination as it is about the ideas and ideologies that support prejudice.
The Ideology of White Supremacy
To fully understand white supremacy we have to separate it from the people who identify as white. White supremacy is not a person or group of people, it’s an ideology. Ideology is fancy-sociology-speak for a collection of ideas that work together to affect how we see and understand the world around us. As an ideology, white supremacy encourages us to value white people, white culture, and everything associated with whiteness above the people, culture, and everything associated with people of color. We can encapsulate all of that by using the common white supremacist tagline, “white is right.”
I tried to ignore. I hoped it’d go away. But oh, no… it wouldn’t. So fine I’ll do it. Here is how that annoying yet omnipresent internet meme The Harlem Shake is sociological. In this piece Nathan Palmer uses The Harlem Shake Internet meme to discuss cultural appropriation and how we make meaning of culture.
If you’ve turned on the Internet the last few weeks, then I bet you’ve seen one of the many incarnations of “The Harlem Shake” video. In these formulaic 30 second videos a single masked person dances while the people around him/her go about doing some inane activity like typing on a key board. Then the bass drops and the video cuts to people bafoonishly waving their arms around in a collective pandaemonium and then as quickly as it started the video slowmo’s and a loud “RAWR” plays as the video fades to black. I mean it’s just plain hilarious…
Or at least it was the first time I saw the shtick. But in the weeks since, hundreds of copycat videos have emerged. Here’s just a tiny fraction
I know what you’re thinking. 1. This is SO last week! (I know, believe me) and 2. Why are you talking about this on a sociology blog? To answer your first point: I know right! And to answer your second: “The Harlem Shake” is completely sociological. While I could use the meme to illustrate hundreds of sociological concepts, today I want to talk about cultural appropriation and the active consumption of media.