Monday, August 12, 2013

Peeved (again) with Sociological Images blog

I'm again disappointed by Sociological Images. In a recent entry - "Open Thread: Selling Push-up Bras with the Male Body", the author provides a commercial from Thailand that uses a male model to sell a bra. Apart from mentioning that it's from Asia (and even mistaking the origin of the commercial), the author make absolutely no attempt at even placing the ad in the cultural context of its most likely viewers. Instead, the author ends with:
I wonder what y’all think. Does this queer the body? Is there a transgressive identity behind the gaze? Or is it just more gimmicky advertising based on normative expectations? Both?


I would like to turn it around: "I wonder what you're thinking. Can we impose American gender politics and norms on a non-American audience who are embedded in their own cultural gender politics and norms? Is there a generalizable connection that you can draw between Thai and American gender politics (one that you're just not telling us about)? Or it this just another gimmicky and lazy post that makes absolutely no attempt at analyzing an Asian culture from anything other than an American perspective? Both?"

Seriously, if you're going to write a post in a sociology blog about things from Asian cultures (that are marketed to those domestic audiences) or things in the States that have had a massive influence from one or more Asian cultures (like what was posted by the same author on the same blog just the other day), then it makes sense to me that you should at least make an attempt at analyzing those things in something other than a White-American-only context. This inability to even start to analyze a non-American commercial from a non-American context is something that this author has done a lot (including - but not limited to - this, this, this, this, and this for Asian things in respective domestic contexts).

Is it too much to ask the person with the PhD in sociology to go the additional couple of yards and at least do what she did when writing about "Korean appropriation of American Indians":
It’s difficult (for me) to know how these stereotypes of native North Americans “work” in Korea. It appears to mean something to Koreans, otherwise why use the imagery and narratives, but what? And how should Americans who oppose the stereotyping (and erasing of modern) Native Americans talk about this “borrowing”?
I believe that it's okay to publicly admit when one doesn't know the culturally contextual significance of the imagery displayed, which is why I actually think that it was useful when the author wrote - in "Are they racist or are we ethnocentric?":
I don’t know if [the lack of a cultural connection between chicken and black people is] true [in Australia]. But if it is, it raises interesting questions as to (1) just how cognizant companies should have to be about various stereotypes around the world and (2) whether the biased histories of some countries must be more attended to than others.
Admitting the lack of cultural knowledge is actually useful, since it then gives the context for the author's two points.

It would be nice to see the author put in this minimum of due diligence, instead of (yet again) having the audience explain why the sociological context of the United States is not the appropriate one to use when viewing the presented thing(s). Of course, this is merely Sociological Images, and admittedly, the blog entry in question was an "open thread", but seriously, how much time and effort would it take to write something like, "There are many social contexts in Thailand that undoubtedly inform the messaging in this commercial. However, in a broader context - which can include the US - ..."

... or maybe all of this is merely implied when one is talking about the cultural contexts of countries and cultures of which one is unfamiliar. After all, it's what most people do when assessing the cultures of other countries. It's just sad that a person with a PhD in a field in which one ought to know better is doing it (apparently obliviously).

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