February 28, 2008

Looking Outside: An Investigation Into Other Resources on Sociology and Media

This week, I paused my own writing in an effort to research and uncover the indispensable sociology-related and media-related resources on the internet. While there are many arbitrary websites, there is also a multitude of fascinating, scholarly websites. It is a difficult but worthwhile task to sort through the clutter of websites to find only the most valuable websites. I am hoping that in identifying these resources, I can become better informed in my field and I can give you, the reader, the opportunity to read more about media and sociology's symbiotic relationship. I evaluated the websites based on The Webby Awards and IMSA standards, and the following ten websites meet the criteria. The first website is Project Censored. This website delivers controversial and unheard stories in the news. Following The Webby Awards guidelines, the creators of the website are academics who cover the material with authority. Furthermore, the website is interactive, inviting readers to nominate a story if the story fits the necessary guidelines described on the web page. The biggest flaw with the website is in its aesthetics-it is not a very attractive website. Another resource is Reportage-this is a respected Independent Australian Magazine that emphasizes the role that the media plays in influencing politics. The site is easy to navigate through, aesthetically pleasing, and credible. However, it is not as interactive as it could be. A website that is incredibly interactive is the Canadian Content. It covers important news stories, and it is unique because the website provides forums for people to join and discuss current topics. The posts focus on how the media impacts the people, and it meets all of The Webby Awards standards. This website does not have any outstanding weaknesses. It is attractive, easy to navigate through, interactive, and the writers are credible. Another highly interactive resource is Media Rights -the website serves as a platform for independent filmmakers. Individuals can submit their documentaries to the website and have their social issues heard through the documentaries. This website could be improved by taking more authority on the issues that are discussed in the documentaries. Additionally, New Media Studies is a wonderful resource. It is incredibly easy to navigate, wonderfully designed, and the material is wonderful-sociologists examine a variety of current mediums. Sociology in Switzerland is another valuable resource because it links to many articles related to sociology and culture. However, the website is not very attractive and slightly difficult to navigate through due to the clutter. One of the most useful websites I found is the Electronic Journal of Sociology. The site links to many highly valuable articles on current sociological issues. The website is weak in that it is difficult to submit essays to the site- the interactivity portion of the website should be improved. While there are many helpful websites about sociology, I found fantastic blogs, as well. Occam's Razr is a valuable blog. The posts are not the most provocative and academically advanced posts, but they are highly interactive, thought-provoking, and interesting. Culture Matters (depicted on the left) is a blog that has many posts discussing issues with a sociological and anthropological analysis. The site meets the IMSA criteria in the sophisticated language, established authority, and admitted bias. My only critique is that the blog would benefit from the use of pictures as a way of drawing attention to particular posts. Finally, Thinking Culture is a fantastic blog-it is provocative, authoritative, and completely confesses to biases. Both Culture Matters and Thinking Culture are my favorite resources because the posts are completely opinionated, which makes them interesting.

February 18, 2008

Does the Blogosphere Reinforce or Refute the Media's Message about Weight

After exploring the media's portrayal of a "healthy weight" in my last blog, I decided to look into the blogosphere to see if bloggers supported the media's message that being skinny is ideal or if bloggers rejected this idea. Because blogs typically hold more radical opinions due to the lack of regulation of the medium, one would expect blogs to expose the dangers of the media promoting thinness rather than nutrition. However, I am disappointed to report that many blogs reinforce the media's beauty ideal. One blog named "The Skinny Website" consists of posts about celebrities weight loss and gain. Recently, a post was written about Kirstie Alley's resignation as the Jenny Craig spokeswoman. This entry discusses how Queen Latifah will replace Kirstie Alley as the spokewoman for Jenny Craig, and how it will be difficult for Queen Latifah to represent a company centralized on health when she is overweight. Secondly, a blog named "Weight Loss Made Easy" posted about "The Most Honest Restaurant Menu Ever." The post features a photograph of a dessert menu of a restaurant; one dessert says "I'm on a diet" and it costs no money because according to the creator of the menu, dieters cannot eat dessert. I have responded to the posts as displayed below:

"Kirstie Alley Resigns From Jenny Craig"

While I think that Queen Latifah's placement as the new spokeswoman for Jenny Craig will create a drastic change in Jenny Craig's image, it will be an excellent way to promote health rather than aesthetics. At the moment, many companies like Jenny Craig are solely associated with weight loss for bettering a person's appearance. Nutrition, however, takes a backseat. The commercials do not emphasize how many people have lowered their cholesterol through dieting or the benefits of weight loss for diabetes. Most weight loss commercials focus on the new attention and body confidence that comes with weight loss. I applaud Jenny Craig for going against the societal norm, and promoting health rather than skinniness.

When I first came upon your blog, I was disappointed to see that there was yet another blog that exists simply to show pictures of thin celebrities. However, after reading this post and the post about Catherine Zeta Jones not having an eating disorder from October 31st, I have gained respect for your blog. As a blogger, you have the ability to influence how people think about body image, beauty, and celebrities. I look forward to reading your blog in the future, and hope that there are more posts that are open to the idea of health and beauty in less conventional forms.

"The Most Honest Restaurant Menu Ever"

While I believe that this post was created to be funny, I think that as a blogger it is important to remember the influence your website has on people. The South Carolina Department of Mental Health estimates that about 8 million Americans have eating disorders. This number is outrageous and most likely impacted by the media's focus on thinness. Weight is a widely covered issue in American media, yet inaccurate information about weight loss is quite prevalent. The message that abstaining from eating in order to look beautiful needs to stop immediately.

Being named "Weight Loss Made Easy," this blog has the potential to attract many people who want to lose weight and can gain information about how to do this in a healthy way. I ask you to please promote nutrition, moderation, and exercise rather than a quick fix for a few extra pounds. You can impact society by encouraging people to be healthy, not malnourished.

February 11, 2008

Obesity: A Heavy Issue for Americans

Combating obesity is a priority amongst many Americans; this value of health and beauty that is represented as the opposite of obesity is dictated by the media. The media constantly delivers the message that one must be skinny in order to be healthy and beautiful. While these adjectives are relative in nature-does not beauty lie in the eye of the beholder?-they have absolute definitions within society. Television shows, commercials, and books reinforce that obesity is the enemy, and attractiveness in American culture does have guidelines.

Many television shows in today's media address the issue of weight. "The Biggest Loser" is a show that centralizes on weight loss. The premise is that individuals who are overweight compete for a monetary prize on the show; the contestant who loses the most amount of weight wins money (one of the winners is depicted on the left). While the show assists the contestants in losing weight through trainers, nutritionists, and a monetary incentive, the lasting impact of the show on obesity is negotiable. The true significance of "The Biggest Loser" is not within the results of the show, but it is within the existence of a show that is completely focused on reducing obesity. After the first episode of "The Biggest Loser" aired, there were about 8.9 million viewers. In one night, 8.9 million people received the message that obesity is negative.

Another show that focuses on weight loss is "Reba." Reba is a situational comedy about a middle class family. Multiple episodes focus on one of the characters named Barbara Jean's weight loss. Once Barbara Jean becomes skinny, she gains the attention of men, her husband becomes more attracted to her and jealous of Barbara Jean's male friends, and her friend, Reba, suddenly feels insecure about her own weight. While the episodes are comedic, they also deliver an extremely powerful message: thinness equates to happiness. Barbara Jean's character develops into a much more positive and confident woman as she loses weight on the show. It is interesting and deliberate that this message appears on a show that targets teenagers as the primary audience. Young adults are extremely impressionable and unfortunately this show reinforces the societal idea that being skinny correlates with being popular and attractive.

While the two previously discussed television shows directly address weight and the effect weight has on a person's image, the show "October Road" does this in a more discrete manner. The two main female characters are Hannah and Janet; Hannah is blond, thin, and tall, while Janet is brunette and overweight. While Hannah is constantly portrayed as the love interest of the men in the show, Janet is identified as the funny "friend." Finally, on one episode, Janet gets asked out on a date. However, the man who asks Janet on the date is so ashamed of her appearance that he cancels on her in fear that his friends will discover he is dating Janet. Without outright stating that the cause of Janet's rejection is her appearance, the episode hints to the commonly held conception that obesity is unattractive, and thus something that is shameful.

Television commercials further drive home the idea that obesity is frowned upon in American culture. It is quite difficult to watch television for even a couple of hours without being bombarded by either a Jenny Craig, Slim Fast, or Weight Watchers commercial. These weight loss companies have huge budgets for television advertising; Weight Watchers has over a million dollar budget; this large amount of money delegated for media usage reflects how important the media is in recruiting clients for these weight loss companies.

The advertisements all focus on the idea that anyone, even "you," can lose weight. "Determined Dana" and other "ordinary" people who have successfully lost weight tell their stories and how their lives have greatly improved since attaining a new physique. The women on the commercials are a variety of ages, reaching a wider market of people. In one Jenny Craig commercial, two teenagers appear in a face off with their "overweight selves." The overweight versions of the teenagers lose the face off, rolling down a hill in embarrassment. In a commercial for Weight Watchers, Jenny McCarthy, who is a mother rather than a teenager, discusses how the program helped her lose weight. The media depicts how the fight against obesity is a cross-generational issue and how wonderful individuals look and feel after losing weight, and how weight loss is attainable with the help of programs.

Furthermore, diet books are published regularly, informing the public on the latest trends in dieting. The book Skinny Bitch by Kim Barnouin and Rory Freedman has recently hit the book shelves. It is a New York Times bestseller and extremely popular amongst young women. The book's cover, as shown in the picture to the right, displays how dieting is associated with looking better. The book also clearly targets younger women based on the sassy title and picture of a woman in her twenties. The text on the cover notes that it is necesary to change eating habits in order to improve one's appearance.

Other diet books are entitled "The Take Control Diet," "Does This Clutter Make My Butt Look Fat," "Retrain Your Brain, Reshape Your Body," et cetera. These titles all appeal to the insecurities that exist within individuals. These books deliver the message that the way the reader's body is at the current time is not where it should ideally be. Each consumer is over weight, out of shape, or out of control of his eating habits and each book holds the solution to his problems.

In conclusion, the media dictates normative behavior for society, and in American society seeking the "perfect weight" is a strong value. While the media aggressively attacks obesity, it easy for people to forget that attractiveness is subjective and beauty does come in many forms.
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