SOC 86 – Social Class, Race and Popular Culture Robert Wonser SOC 86 – Fall 2013 Popular Culture
Highbrow and Lowbrow • “highbrow” and ”lowbrow” • Phrenological throwback when it was presumed brow size (height of forehead) was thought to be a marker of intelligence • Pejorative label—low culture—activites and amusements lacking in virtue and associated with sexuality and the lower half of the body as opposed to highbrow (being more intellectual of course!). • Does this distinction still hold today?
Taste and Consumption • Taste – one’s preference for particular styles of fashion, music, cinema or other kinds of culture • Consumption – the reception, interpretation and experience of culture • Does social class play a role in determining these? • Ex: food deserts
The Invention of class cultures • 150 years ago Americans enjoyed the same national popular culture consumed and experienced collectively by the masses, by people from all social classes. • What happened? Industrial Revolution • Created a new upper-classes American elite of successful entrepreneurs, bankers and businesspeople. • The nouveau riche descended from common backgrounds, not aristocracy like in Europe. • So initially they drew on trappings of European nobility (family crests, French cuisine, classical art and music)
Mountain Dew • Mountain Dew, for instance, originally based its entire brand around making fun of poor Appalachians, also known as hillbillies. • In the late 40s and early 50s, its label featured the official Mountain Dew mascot "Willy the Hillbilly" and the slogan: "Ya-Hoo! Mountain Dew. It'll tickle yore innards." • The name of the soft drink, of course, refers to the Southern slang for moonshine.
Coke is for White People • Through the 1920s and ’30s, it studiously ignored the African-American market. Promotional material appeared in segregated locations that served both races, but rarely in those that catered to African-Americans alone.
Pepsi is for Black People • Whereas Pepsi and its "negro markets" department went an entirely different direction: • By the late 1940s, black sales representatives worked the Southern Black Belt and Northern black urban areas, black fashion models appeared in Pepsi ads in black publications, and special point-of-purchase displays appeared in stores patronized by African-Americans. The company hired Duke Ellington as a spokesman. Some employees even circulated racist public statements by Robert W. Woodruff, Coke's president.
And there’s this… • Probably a coincidental oversight….
The Invention of Class Cultures • They sought to create distinctions between themselves and everyone else • Conscious efforts at boundary maintenance and social exclusion. • Including “serious” culture for upper classes (classical music, opera etc.)
Class Status and Conspicuous Consumption • Conspicuous consumption status displays that show off one’s wealth through the flagrant consumption of goods and services, particularly those considered wasteful or otherwise lacking in obvious utility • Upper classes distinctly avoid associations with working class; this reverse is not true.
Cultural Capital and Class Reproduction • Cultural tastes have value and can be transferred to others, converted into financial wealth, and ultimately help to reproduce the class structure of our society. This is called, • Cultural capital one’s store of knowledge and proficiency with artistic and cultural styles that are valued by society, and confer prestige and honor upon those associated with them. • Unevenly distributed and usually inherited • Economic capital can be converted into cultural capital as an investment. • For example: ballet and music lessons, foreign travel and private school • Since it is inherited and passed down it helps maintain the class structure Do you know what each fork is used for? Are these the droids you’re looking for?
Cultural Omnivores and Code Switching • Typically affluent consumers, cultural omnivores consumer many kinds of cultural artifacts and have far-ranging tastes • Code-switching the ability to negotiate among multiple and varied cultural worlds simultaneously • How many of you do this?
High vs Popular Cultures • High culture’s audience is much smaller and homogenous • Although they pride themselves on individuality of tastes it is much more homogenous than popular culture’s. • Less high culture be definition is produced than pop • Innovation is rare in both high and pop culture although it is celebrated in high and expected in pop
Tastes and Politics • Although most taste cultures are not explicitly political, all cultural content expresses values that can become political or have political consequences • Sitcoms reveal much about gender relations in society • High culture: may include more extremes in political opinions • Upper-middle culture products are liberal, conservative or centrist • Remaining taste cultures are mainly centrist or conservative in part because of the business ideology of the mass media owners • Media conservatism is more cultural than political; most media self-censorship is directed at sexual or sacrilegious references • Whether or not taste cultures are political may be irrelevant because most are unlikely to notice or care
Some Ways this plays out • Tv and most other media, cater to the largest income generator; the lower-middle class taste culture. • Most others are ignored • High culture garners the bulk of distinction and praise • Low culture and quasi-folk culture receive none • As people move up the economic ladder they also tend to move up the taste hierarchy
How these power dimensions work • These distinctions manifest in all facets of life. • We’ve discussed tv and film in this context but the effects are further reaching than that. • We see housing segregation as well • Where do the well-to-do live?
The Lower Classes? Where do they live? • Where do we in the middle classes live? • This no accident
White Flight and Popular Culture • Disneyland • LAs freeways • Dodger Stadium
White Flight and the Suburban Ideal • Pre WWII LA was very white; LA was once known as “seaport of Iowa” • Encapsulated the utopian aspirations of the suburban society; reinforcing the formation of a suburban white consciousness • White flight describes a structural process by which post war suburbanization helped the racial resegregation of the U.S., dividing presumably white suburbs from concentrations of racialized poverty. • The corollary that is often overlooked is that this allowed for the creation of a suburban white identity (based in part on privatized values)
The FHA • White flight was fueled by the FHAs anti-urban bias; anathema to a secure investment were “the presence of inharmonious racial or nationality groups” • Policies prevented blacks and other nonwhite groups from attaining suburban home ownership • Deed restrictions • “If a neighborhood is to retain stability, it is necessary that properties shall continue to be occupied by the same social and racial classes.” changes in this lead to declining property values. – the FHA’s Underwriting Manual
Favorable Effect on Property Values • English, Germans, Scots, Irish, Scandinavians • North Italians • Bohemians or Czechoslovakians • Poles • Lithuanians • Greeks • Russian Jews of lower class • South Italians • Negroes • Mexicans • We see the formation of a suburban white identity beginning … • For whites, conforming to “American standards of living” helped remove themselves from the FHA’s least wanted list • Simultaneously we begin to see the market approach trumping the public vision; the defeat of public housing in Cold War Los Angeles illustrates the transition to a new political culture that encouraged the spatial and racial fragmentation of the postwar urban region
The Birth of a New Political Identity • Based on suburban home ownership and segregation in opposition to the noir slums • An “anxious, tightfisted conservatvism” that revolved around racialized social issues. • Racial homogeneity, dependence on Cold War economy, high rates of home ownership, flurry of intense real estate development fostered distinct political culture that foreshadowed national politics in the 70s and 80s • Its epicenter? Orange County
Disneyland • Extols the virtues of consumerism, patriarchy, patriotism and small-town midwestern whiteness • Disneyland emphasized cultural motifs of retreat from the public culture of New Deal liberalism and instead asserted a privatized suburban alternative to that culture. • Explicitly in contrast to Coney Island where women could escape the supervision of parents and discover a newfound sexual freedom sanctioned by the modern city and its anonymous venues for heterosocial interaction
Main Street, USA upheld Disney’s faith in the virtues of small town America and symbolized a nostalgic retreat from the decadence of the noir city Homogeneity and dissonance that defined urban culture inspired Walt to create a counterculture of order, regimentation and homogeneity
A “Rage for Order” • To eliminate distractions from the contrived vistas, Disney buried all water, power and sewer lines beneath street level • Each land is completely self contained and cannot be seen from other lands • Forced perspective (trick to make objects appear larger, larger at the bottom and smaller on top) used in Sleeping Beauty’s castle and the Matterhorn Bobsleds to guarantee the perfect view from any angle unlike real cities • Employees: “clean and natural without extremes” and “blond, blue-eyed…outdoorsy [and] vacuously pleasant” • Animatronics to replicate the perfect show every time
Race at Disneyland • The Other • Frontierland (in contrast to the marvels of civilization and white modern culture of Tomorrowland) clearly upheld long standing distinctions between white progress and nonwhite “savagery” • Aunt Jemima’s pancake house where Aunt Jemima herself “will serve her famed pancakes and also will sing to entertain her visitors” • The Jungle Cruise – “wild animals and native ‘savages’ attack your craft as it cruises through their jungle privacy” • Americans could use these images to reify their own sense of whiteness, particular in Main Street USA where the Others were conspicuously absent, further reifying Disney’s racialized and deeply nostalgic vision of American “folks”
Suburbanizing the City Center • Dodger fans had to dodge streetcars and trolleys on their way to Ebbets Field in New York • Urban sprawl in LA scared elites • Canceled plans for public housing after residents of Chavez Ravine were removed conveniently left the space vacant for Dodger Stadium, after all, public housing = communism, private use of land = laissez faire • Baseball was a more American alternative to public housing • Dodger stadium would serve as a popular counterpart to the temples of high culture erected upon remnants of Bunker Hill (revitalizing urban blight)
By the 1950s “blight" became invoked as a strategy for privatized, downtown redevelopment, not as it used to be, for improving the living conditions of the urban poor.
The city’s deed to the land explicitly stated that the land was to be used “for public purposes only” • “strings had to be pulled” by the City Housing Authority (CHA, same ones who evicted the ravine residents) by changing the wording of the deed to eliminate that provision
To make way for a private construction
Irony • Disneyland: idealized suburban community and politics of white home ownership • Dodger Stadium: facilitated “whitening” of the city center by fueling a racialized political culture predicated upon a privatized corporate version of downtown redevelopment • Built upon a site originally designated for public housing, Dodger Stadium was both the product of and producer of a shifting political culture that negated social programs (like public housing), favored political subsidies for private development (note the irony…), and heightened simmering racial tensions. • Team name made little sense in Southern California’s freeway metropolis where there are no speeding trolley cars to “dodge” on the way to play ball…
The Red Cars • LA had a light rail system. • Between 1880-1930 most Angelinos depended on the Red Cars: the interurban system of streetcars that radiated outward from downtown Los Angeles, west to Santa Monica, east to Riverside and south to Long Beach. • The automobile, freeway system, GM and Standard Oil ended this
The PE Cars’ Demise • Harry Chandler, publisher and owner of the Los Angeles Times, held major investments in Goodyear Tire, Western Construction Company, Southern California rock and Gravel Company, and Consolidated Rock Products Company and Union Oil. • “The Pink Sheet” was a newspaper section devoted exclusively to the automobile • Editorials against the streetcar were ran • Denunciations declaring the motorists rights over the streetcar’s right of way declining streetcar patronage less incentive to maintain the streetcars they get worse • LA’s first freeway, Arroyo Seco Parkway
These Routes became Freeways And this is what became of our streetcars…
Sutured City: Freeway Metropolis • Unlike the streetcar which promoted interconnectedness among urban dwellers and provided a window onto the city’s distinct neighborhoods, the freeway severed the commute from his urban context and furthered the distance, literally and figuratively between racialized cities and white suburbs. • Whose neighborhoods were bisected? • The freeways go to directly to Disneyland and Dodger Stadium as well as OC and other housing subdivisions; this was no coincidence
Because no one wants their commute bummed out by the sight of poor people…