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November 30, 2009

What Culture Do I Belong To?

Excellent sample paper 1 by A. Abero Fall 2009.

Being born in the United States a Filipino-American, I have always had this underlying feeling of being "different" from the majority of my classmates growing up. Most of my classmates were predominately Caucasian, and I would always be part of the "few" who stood out from the rest. My parents and close relatives (who all immigrated from the Philippines some 30 years ago), never taught my brother or I how to speak Tagalog, which is one of the native languages spoken in the Philippines. My Mom would cook traditional Filipino fare, such as Pancit, a noodle dish, to Adobo, which is any kind of meat (usually pork) that is marinated in soy sauce and other spices). We would also eat a lot of Taco Bell, McDonalds, and Round Table Pizza, the typical "American" fast food. Although I knew my heritage is Filipino, having been raised in society that is "American", I associate and relate more to this western culture, rather than my Filipino heritage.

In the text, "Essentials of Sociology. A Down-to- Earth Approach", the author James M. Henslin defines culture as the language, beliefs, values, norms, behaviors, and even material objects that are passed on from one generation to the next (Henslin p.36).
Growing up, the predominant language that was spoken in my house was English. My parents would speak to each other and to their siblings in Tagalog, but never to my brother or myself. I often wonder why they never they taught us to speak in their native language, as I feel that language is an important contributor in what can define and associate people to a culture. The primary way in which people communicate with one another is through language-symbols that can be combined in an infinite number of ways for the purpose of communicating abstract thought (Henslin p. 43). Coming home from college in Seattle one year, I just came off from a long ride on the Greyhound bus. As I was waiting at the Greyhound bus terminal over in downtown Portland for my cousin to pick me up, an older Filipino lady came up and approached me. Immediately she started to speak to me in Tagalog. Now, since my parents and older relatives spoke to each other in Tagalog, I picked up a few words and can even get the gist of what their conversations were about, but never had the ability to respond back. I looked at the older Filipino lady with a sort of blank stare, and I had to stop her in the middle of her sentence and say, "I'm sorry, I do not understand what you are saying." She gave me this look of disgust and appallment. She then asked me, "What? You don't know how to speak Tagalog? Where are you from? Who are your parents?" She acted like it was the most horrible thing on earth that I am full-blooded Filipino, yet I am unable to speak the native language. At that moment, I felt this sort of shame and belittlement inundate my entire body. I felt like a sham, a phony because how could I call myself "Filipino" if I couldn't even speak the language. I had to tell myself that I did nothing wrong, that it was because of the way I was brought up. I didn't grow up in the Filipino society, and my whole life I have only been familiar with American culture.

I always felt, and sometimes still to this day, somewhat robbed of my cultural heritage. I don't have very many Filipino friends, nor have I even been to the Philippines, which I wouldn't even call my native homeland. My parents both had very poor upbringings growing up in the Philippines, and both moved to the United States to have better lives. With raising my brother and I in an American culture, they felt that if they taught us English and raised us in an "American" way, that we would both adapt better to the culture, but still keeping some of the Filipino traditions. The problem with this kind of upbringing is that it creates this sort of cultural confusion.

We are to adapt to and blend in with this society in which we live in, yet we are expected to follow traditions from a culture that we hardly associate with. In the text, it talks about cultural diffusion, in which a group is willing to adapt and change their own ways in order to fit into another society, or norm (Henslin p. 56). This is exactly what my parents did with raising my brother and I, and this, at least for me, has distorted my idea of what culture I should be following. In one hand, I am American because I speak the language, I know all of the cultural norms, and it is the culture I grew up with. On the other hand, I am Filipino because that is my blood heritage, where both of my parents came from, and is the box I check when I fill out those surveys where they ask what ethnic background you are. Sometimes I will check the Asian/Pacific Islander if the survey is not being specific. So you can see how confusing this can get.

With my parents trying to adapt themselves, and my brother and I into this American Culture, there is this question of are we abandoning our Filipino culture? In the text, "Essentials of Sociology", it talks about cultural leveling, a process in which cultures become similar to one another (Henslin p, 56). With adapting to this society with which we live in, in one aspect it can say that we are shamed of who we are, and we do not want to stand out from the "norm" of this society. Another way to look at it is that since my parents chose to move to the United States, they want to be respectful of the American culture by learning and imitating as much as they can of the people and ways of this society as a way of integrating themselves. Does this ultimately mean that we are abandoning out Filipino heritage? Maybe so. With my brother and I growing up in the United States, our way of living and thinking is going to be very different than of someone who was born and raised in the Philippines. In the Philippines, traditionally, the youngest (especially the girl) would have to live with their parents until they find a husband that will take care of them. For myself, I grew up in a culture where once you turn 18 years old, you are free to be independent, and move out of your parent's house. I just recently moved out of my parent's house, and I basically broke all the social norms of Filipino culture. First off, I moved out of my parent's house without being married first. Secondly, my roommate happens to be male. The way I think of it, if my parents wanted to raise children in the United States, then they must find a way to learn to accept that we are going to go by the social norms of the society in which we grew up in.

Having to be Filipino-American female living in an American culture has been struggle for me my entire life. Living in essentially two different cultures has eschewed my relations with both cultures (much more so with the Filipino culture), and maybe only once I visit the Philippines and see the place where my parents grew up, can I then have a better understanding and a newfound sense of pride of my Filipino heritage.

Henslin, James M. 2009. Essentials of Sociology. A Down-to-Earth Approach. Pearson Custom Publishing

November 25, 2009

The effects of the media on our society

An excellent example of paper two by K. K. Winter 2009.

Perception is everything. What we perceive as reality and what is actually truth can be two VERY different things. Propaganda has proven to be an effective medium for imposing certain views on a group. Not all media poses negative results, but for the majority of our society is has become one of negative effects. During World War II, flyers depicted a Japanese soldier attacking an American soldier. Underneath the image was a clip from the newspaper, headline reading "5200 Yank Prisoners killed by Jap torture in Philippines (1)". The government used the media to illustrate the Japanese as harsh, inhumane people who should be killed. This helped increase the amount of soldiers recruited and also helped settle the conscience of the American people. The media was used to change the way that we viewed the Japanese. If the American society viewed the Japanese as human beings, soldiers that were only following orders, it would have been almost inhumane to be Pro-War. The Government wanted the American people to view the Japanese as "mean", so that going to war with them would be the right thing to do. The media negatively effects how we as a society behave and think.

To think about the power wielded by the media can be a staggering thing when you consider that in general, mass media truly dictates what we see, hear, and ultimately what we will use to make an "educated decision". Nothing could demonstrate this more clearly than tobacco and its perceptions prior to private studies conducted beyond the reach of lobbyists and big business. When the surgeon general first took a stand on the subject of tobacco and the possible effects that it could have on short and long term health, the big industries associated with this product fought back by getting doctors to endorse the product as non-hazardous. Ultimately, it took years to get to the bottom of the issue and several millions of dollars spent on lawsuits, studies, and finally the government to condemn tobacco as a hazardous product. What has transpired since has been nothing less than an about-face by any and all companies associated with this product. Does anybody remember the "Winston Cup"? It has been re-named the "Nextel Cup". What about "Joe the camel"? Do you see that character in ANY advertisements today? The answer is no. The reason for this is because "Joe the camel" who was the brand recognition tool for "Camel" cigarettes was considered to be too likable and had too much ability to resonate with children. Do not think for a second that the tobacco companies didn't have this in mind when they created many of their branding tools. They created many things in order to appeal to as broad of an audience as possible. The point I am making is that until we change our perceptions of many things, the status quo will suffice for a very long time in order to help us accept if not embrace that which we do not have full disclosure on. And what affects our perceptions? Any and all information disseminated to us from multiple sources such as the evening news, the internet, the newsstand magazines, and even periodicals such as "the Enquirer" or "Star" magazine.

The media is an agent of socialization. It helps send messages of gender and specific gender roles. In class we discussed the difference between a man/woman and father/mother. I was not surprised when the characteristics we describe of a father/mother are also characteristics of a man/woman. A woman is supposed to be nurturing, loving, and motherly. A man is supposed to be strong, protecting and head of the household. How did we all come up with similar characteristics? It is shown in TV shows, movies, and commercials how men and women are suppose to act. And what happens when a male teenager does not act the way a male is suppose to act? He is made fun of. His peers then make fun of him since he is not following the social norm of the gender roles the media has inflicted on us. The media only shows the positive effects, not the negative repercussions that come with those choices. In the story of the Ladakh people, the younger generation was influenced my western culture. The new road brought western civilization. In turn, the young Ladakh people wanted to become more like Americans and less like their own people (3). They only see the glamorous side of the western culture.

One might have the warm and fuzzy feeling that all is well with so many sources of media to help to educate us on our decision making process, but I would encourage you to look closer. Even when you are in line at the grocery store, go ahead and look at each magazine that you see on the racks while you are waiting to check out. Ever notice how each magazine carries the exact same story? So what is it that gets one to purchase a particular magazine over another? Something about that particular magazine you put in your basket resonated with you in some way to get you to pick it over the rest. Much the same thing occurs when we see stories on the evening news. If a story makes national headlines, you will see that story on every channel, and no matter if you like Wolf Blitzer or Katie Couric, each respective anchor will have just about the same exact story with the same exact details and will tell you the same ending to the story as far as they have been informed on it. So, who is dictating the stories and how they get told? A prime example of how the news can extremely affect the outcome of events can be seen as recently as the election of the President of the United States in the year 2000. At that time, the news began to use "exit polls" to predict the winner of the election. What transpired next was unprecedented: a lawsuit to determine who actually won the election? When the reporters began to declare that one candidate was going to be a clear winner based on exit polls being conducted on the East coast after their polls had closed, people on the West coast (with a full THREE hours of time remaining before THEIR polls closed) began to make a decision to not vote. In their mind, even if they were going to vote for the "losing" candidate, it would make no difference and thus was simply a waste of time. The one right that the founders of this country fought so bravely for to earn the right of equal representation in a small event that we refer to as the Revolutionary War. The same right that millions of our countrymen have gone to war to help defend for lesser fortunate countries to abolish tyranny and oppression in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. And yet here we sit in our own country, letting lobbyists, lawyers and government tell us what is right and what we should think. We allow ourselves to be dictated to and told how we should look, feel, and act in any and all situations. We are allowing ourselves to be conditioned to accept certain things as fact even without all of the information to make a proper decision. This is nothing new...

If we wish to see what is in store if we do nothing to shield ourselves from the affects of mass media, we need do nothing more than allow our brief history to become our teacher. Many books have been written on this subject. George Orwell's book "1984" was written well before that year came to pass. In his book he talks about "Big Brother" and how everything that everybody knows is dispensed by a central agency that determines what people need to know. He also suggests that "Big Brother" will go so far as to rewrite history to suit the needs of the regime at the time. If something comes up that is indisputable yet contradicts current beliefs, then "Big Brother" will go ahead and embrace this "new found knowledge" as if it were always there and then rewrite the history books to reflect how this new knowledge was always the case. Could this happen? Is it already happening? Well, we haven't started burning and banning books just yet and so far it is not considered treasonous to embrace another time or culture, yet. But I believe that things truly are changing. It's not so much about what we accept as moral or acceptable behavior; these are both fluid things and change with the socialization of our species. What was considered unorthodox only 100 years ago such as a woman voting or a black person having civil rights are now as normal as breathing, which brings to light the positive effects of mass media. Without the ability to get an opinion out to the masses, change might not occur as fast or at all. So, the question remains: what is the balance we must strike in order to keep media free and open yet unaffected by the whims and storms that can steer this particular vessel into dark and ominous waters? Do we want our government to determine what we see, hear, and read? If you have read 1984 and allow yourself to be swept up in all of its drama, then you might answer no to this particular suggestion. Which leads us to the other end of this pendulum as it swings: to allow media to run un-tethered and free of any sort of influence. I personally do not believe that either is the right answer. Unfortunately, when we look at any of the above mentioned occurrences, we can see what can transpire. It is a story destined to repeat itself over and over throughout our history and our future. If I could say only one thing on this subject, it would be that we need to use prudence when we make our decisions regarding the future of mass media, much the same as we must use the same prudence to recognize that the latest, greatest diet pill on the market endorsed by doctors and trainers alike must be thoroughly researched to the best of our ability before we decide to take this "magic pill".

To summarize, I will borrow a quote: those who choose to ignore history are destined to repeat it. We will continue to make the same mistakes over and over again. We will allow our leadership to choose what we are exposed to up to the point that we recognize that "power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely" as said by Lord Acton. Once this occurs, we will allow our media outlets to run wild and un-checked until we realize that exposure to all the horrors, beauty, terror and salvation will create a world numb to all of these horrors, beauty, terrors and salvation. Things will slowly begin to mean nothing and what once could create a lasting impression will no longer have such strong effects. And the pendulum will swing...

Works Cited
2. Norberg-Hodge, Helena. "The Pressure to Modernise." ISEC. 27 October 2009.

November 15, 2009

Social Class In The News

Here are some articles that are pertinent to social class and the current economic situation.

UN investigator accuses US of shameful neglect of homeless:

UN special rapporteur says wealthy US ignoring deepening homeless crisis while pumping billions into bank rescues

A United Nations special investigator who was blocked from visiting the US by the Bush administration has accused the American government of pouring billions of dollars into rescuing banks and big business while treating as "invisible" a deepening homeless crisis.

Half of US kids will get food stamps, study says:

Nearly half of all U.S. children and 90 percent of black youngsters will be on food stamps at some point during childhood, and fallout from the current recession could push those numbers even higher, researchers say.

10,000 apply for 90 factory jobs:

In the latest sign of weakness in Louisville-area employment, about 10,000 people applied over three days for 90 jobs building washing machines at General Electric for about $27,000 per year and hefty benefits.

Poverty and disability greatly correlated, new study shows:

Hard economic times are even harder when you have a disability. But poverty and disability don't have to be synonymous -- if we design our policies well.

November 12, 2009

Social Construction & Culture in Recent Bailouts

An excellent example of paper 2 by Katrina Weener, Fall 2009.

Situations that are defined as real are real according to Berger and Luckman. If we believe or are told by a trusted authority that the "value of bailing out financial institutions" is real, then it is real and we/they set about objectifying the, "value of bailing out financial institutions," so that it takes on a life of its own and it becomes part of an objective reality. "Letting banks fail, would ruin the economy," "If Wall Street falls, we all fall," "Why our country has to bail out GM." Finally, when we hear on Fox News that congress is rallying around the Wall Street, Banks and GM to save the economy, we are not surprised; in fact, we think it's the right thing to do. We have done it in the past a couple times; during the Great Depression and the S&L failures in the 1980s. Bailing out financial institutions has become an internalized, shared, and accepted social, "fact," and a Trillion dollars sounds OK.

In the first step of this process, we are presented with and idea, value or concept, that is external from the individual. In this example, the concept that the, "tax payer," should shoulder the responsibility of a bank's (i.e. financial institutions - there are so many I, I won't list them all) lack of integrity (financial and otherwise) was outside the expectation and value norms many tax payers had. Tax payers as individuals have to balance their checkbooks every month. Fiscal responsibility is a hallmark value of the, "the average tax payer." Now the average tax payer was being told that bailing out these irresponsible financial institutions, that did not adhere to their fiscal values, had to be the primary value to preserve their own.

Politicians, bankers and CEOs understand this process VERY well (they should, the revolving door between Wall Street, the Federal Reserve and Financial CEOs has left them well practiced at covering each other's dirty laundry-Representative Marcy Kaptur of Ohio on the Bill Moyers Journal,2009). This new concept needed to be presented to the public just right. And so..., a wave of information, disinformation, and marketing, began to fill the air. We began to become familiar with new terminology, company names; pundits filled the airwaves and TV. What was once vague or completely unknown began to have a face and a vocabulary and a ready-made solution.

This is where the slight of hand becomes boggling and we move into the next stage of social construction. As the public faces of an economic fix began to glow with a solution, they moved the tax payer into a level of objectification that made, "bailing out the financial institutions," take on a life of its own and morphed the concept of a bailout to an objective reality. Here, politicians, investigative boards, and the free press could have begun to point out fallacies in reasoning, the revolving door between Washington and Wall Street, shown earnings that belied the crisis consensus. But that didn't happen. Instead, the bailout became the reality through a combination of deliberate deception, believable authorities (of course that could be questioned now), and the marketing of fear by politicians and broadcast news. The marketing of fear cinched the deal. We heard over and over about the Great Depression and that if we didn't fix this problem quickly we would slide right back into another one. The average tax payer came to believe that the crisis was real and the bailout was a necessary, what else could we do? We can't let the banks and other financial institutions fail, it would destroy our way of life.

Finally we have made it to the last step of social construction, internalization. Now the American public, the average tax payer, country-wide shared the conviction that bailing out the banks was the only solution to saving the country and keeping us from descending into another depression. There was some objection, but not in the mainstream newscasts, and it was made to sound pro forma or, even worse, the way of staunching the financial bloodletting. The bailout solution had become an objective reality. Whatever the cost, we were now ready to let congress and the President spend trillions and do the bailout.

Why? In watching multiple interviews with Bill Moyers, guest after guest came on and told some shocking truth about the "real" story behind the bailout. Stories told by Simon Johnston, a professor of Global Economy and Management at MIT's Sloan School of Management, that the CEO of Bank of America told his stock holders, they had the best year ever. What? Stories form William Black former Director for the Institute for Fraud Prevention, now a professor at the University of Kansas, that the head of these institutions knew what would happen, knew they could push the bill for the bailout onto the taxpayer and there was only one reason to do it; it paid. Why would they do that? Information given by Representative Marcy Kaptur of Ohio who points out the like revolving door between Washington DC, Wall Street and the Finance Committee - we just keep recycling the same people with obvious conflict of interest into the top decision-making jobs.

If what they say is true, the average American taxpayer has been duped. I think the "why?" is a very good question; it says a lot about what allowed such a miscarriage of public faith and finance. When the whole financial mess is looked at though a cultural lenses, it begins to make sense. The values and norms of the Uber rich and powerful are not the same as, "the average American taxpayer." We are two different cultures co-existing in the same geographic space with extremely different values and standards. In the Uber rich and powerful culture, the average taxpayer's money is theirs. Money and power are their birth-right; there is no guilt on their part because this is just business as usual. To be among this elite, there is no place for "American" values like honesty, integrity, or responsibility to American taxpayers; their standards of right and wrong, good and bad are not the same- at all. Frankly, while the power brokers of America understand this and use it to manipulate, we, the taxpayers never seem to really be able to wrap our heads around it. It is just so far from our values and standards; so over and over we are unable to believe that such a financial crisis could be perpetrated deliberately; and over and over we vote for big bailouts. As I listened to Bill Moyer ask his guests over and over, "why?" and all the guests could answer with was another story of even more egregious behavior, I realized, they don't know. They cannot say, "Because, we don't really matter to them." They don't care if we lose our homes. They don't care if we lose our retirements. THEY DON'T CARE. Not only do our values not matter to them, we don't matter to them, because we are not a part of their culture. Paraphrased from William Black on the Bill Moyer show and his book, The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One, fraud is at the heart of most bank and financial institution meltdowns. Mr. Black lays the corruption out and does not shy from saying that the CEOs and politicians don't care. But he still calls it fraud. My point is; that the average American meaning of fraud with all its moral and legal connotations does not exist for those in power. They don't think they have done anything wrong - it's a different culture. Here is another way to look at it; with all these credentialed people crying out foul, writing books that cry foul, lecturing at universities and crying foul- there is no mass movement or outcry by the majority of Americans to remove any of the CEOs, politicians or committee members that are up to their eyeballs in this. None.

Ever wonder what it feels like to live in a, "third world country," at the bottom of the world economic structure? Well, this is it. Just as we don't care about what's going on half way around the world because it doesn't affect our daily lives and they are not part of our culture; the Uber rich and powerful of American don't care about the rest of us. We are as good as half a world away to them.

1-Henslin, James. 2005. The Essentials of Sociology. Pearson: New Jersey.
2-Bill Moyer Journal, 2009. Interview of Representative Marcy Kaptur of Ohio and Simon Johnson, professor of Global Economics and Management at MIT's Sloan School of Management.
3- Bill Moyer Journal, 2009. Interview of William Black in CSI bailout. Former Director of the Institute for Fraud Prevention and author of, The Best Way to Rob a Bank is To Own One.