Archive for the ‘culture’ Category

ho ho ho, to santa’s place we go: the spectacle of turning snow into euros

How does a sparsely populated, snowy, and remote area in Finland become Santa’s retreat, drawing tourists eager to spot Santa and his abode?

Organization Science has an article about Enontekiö’s transformation into a tourist destination.  Here’s the intriguing abstract about how to realize a myth via marketing:

The Conversation blog features co-author ‘s general audience-friendly preview of the article.

Happy holidays, everyone!  Wishing you all happiness and health.


Written by katherinechen

December 25, 2018 at 1:11 am

Posted in culture, social construction

Tagged with

almost three hours of the 2017 indiana university international harp competition


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Written by fabiorojas

June 10, 2018 at 4:32 am

consumerism: what’s the big deal?

People will often use “consumerism” in a pejorative way and, recently, I got into a discussion of why intellectuals are often so obsessed with critiquing consumerism. First, a definition, then a discussion of reasons why people criticize consumerism.

Online, I found two definitions. One is not relevant to this post – consumerism as a defense of consumer rights. The second definition is the one most intellectuals have in mind when they discuss or critique consumerism – an obsession with the purchase or acquisition of consumer goods.

Let’s get into critiques:

  1. Consumerism is bad because it is wasteful.
  2. Consumerism is bad because it is a status signal.
  3. Consumerism is bad because it is anti-spiritual.
  4. Consumerism is bad because it is inauthentic.

A few responses:

  1. Consumerism can only be viewed as wasteful if you have a concrete idea of what is and is not wasteful and this is much harder than it seems. In modern society, people have a relatively high amount of surplus wealth. Should people not spend money on anything beyond shelter, food, and medicine? If so, when is it enough? Arguments about wastefulness and consumerism appear to me to be about what the critic values (e.g., if I like books, they are not “consumerism”). This criticism strikes me as weak.
  2. This is one criticism that I have sympathy for. If people are buying tons of stuff just to socially compete, it is a poor use of one’s time and resources. Consider how diverse the modern world is, how many things in it can make you happy. To spend money on things just to display status is a tragic waste. A cessation of buying things probably won’t solve the underlying problem, as people will probably signal status though non-pecuniary means. Thus, the criticism identifies a genuine issue, but consumerism is a symptom of a deeper problem that being anti-consumerist may not stop.
  3. A lot of religions slam the consumption of material goods. It’s been that way for millennia. So one’s response to this depends on one’s religious views. Personally, I lead a happy secular life that’s deeply enriched by material goods, so the criticism doesn’t work for me on a personal level.
  4. The gist is that you need some sort of real connection or appreciation of the world. So passively consuming things or being obsessed with the latest material goods is an inauthentic life. This strikes me as a reasonable criticism and it resonates with me once you consider the opportunity costs of consumerism. By obsessing over cars, or wine, or computer, you pass up the opportunity to do more enriching things. Fortunately, there are solutions. One is hipsterism – you consume things but only in hyper-aware ways that emphasize your knowledge and relation to the produce. Or, you can follow that advice that you should work on experiences rather than things. I suppose that could turn into a version of consumerism, but it’s less likely than getting into wine or Justin Bieber merchandise.

Do you live a consumerist lifestyle? If so, tell me what you think.

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Written by fabiorojas

March 20, 2018 at 4:01 am

Posted in culture, ethics, fabio

november woods, arnold bax (1917)

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Written by fabiorojas

January 21, 2018 at 5:01 am

the new “most interesting man in the world:” a commentary

In 2016, Dos Equis beer revealed that they would retire Jonathan Goldsmith as their signature “most interesting man in the world” character. To attract younger drinkers, they introduced a new, younger “most interesting man” actor – Augustin Legrand. The reviews haven’t been great and I want to get into why I think the newer stuff misses the mark.

I think that the original ads work because they perfectly parodied a  very specific cultural niche. Specifically, the original ads were about urbane straight white guys living out an adventurous life in the 1950s and 1960s. The film is usually in color, sometimes black and white, but always grainy. The events are time very time specific, such as emerging from an Apollo era space capsule or helping to unveil the very first mobile phone. He’s James Bondish in that he often wears a tuxedo and mingles with the global elite.

The new ads drop most of the retro feel. The film quality is clear, not grainy. The tuxedo and bow tie are dropped for a sleeker suit. Most of the events in the commercials can happen today, they are simply about being cool, not about being timeless.

The attitude has changed as well. Of course the new Most Interesting Man is still supremely confident and a master of common and obscure skills. But the tone subtly shifted from witty to jokey. Example: In the original series, the Most Interesting man in the world is shown playing really absurd, but elite, sports. In one ad, he was shown playing jai alai! In contrast, the new Most Interesting man is revealed to have been a college football player. He went from rarified athlete to the most gritty and earthy sport of all – college football. Not very interesting.

In recent months, Dos Equis has appealed more to college students by pushing the football angle and bringing in comic actor Rob Riggles. The ads in which Riggles appear completely dispense with the original concept of the man who has done all these amazing things and becomes a prop for Riggles’ comedy, which is not classic but very much “in the moment.” That’s not bad, but one has to ask why one even needs the Most Interesting man at all at this point.

And that is the most disappointing turn of all. The real joke of the original ad campaign was that we had this exaggerated, ultra macho man who came down from heaven to tell us about all these truly incredible things he had done. This god-like avatar of masculinity has been turned into a shill for football games, where thousands of people sit while they yell at men who throw each other to the ground. It’s a shame, I thought Dos Equis was the beer for people who don’t usually drink beer.

Flashback: The most interesting sociologist in the world.

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Written by fabiorojas

January 12, 2018 at 5:16 am

book spotlight: the work of art by alison gerber


The Work of Art is a new book by Alison Gerber, a sociologist who studies the sociology of culture. The book is a great exploration of how artists manage the self. This is an important issues because artists are pulled in different directions. Sometimes, artists are supposed to by guided by aesthetic values, at other times market values. The profession of the visual arts is a great place to explore this tension since the art profession in the West has undergone three phases – craftsperson, romantic genius, and art world professional. The book explore how these logics are expressed and blended with interviews with about 80 living, contemporary artists.

So what do we learn? First, Gerber reminds us, as many scholars have, that artists don’t starve, but they usually don’t make a lot of money either. In fact, they often make a loss when it comes to the production and sale of art. So while there are narratives of investment, they are about investment in values and biographical trajectories, less often about “making it” in a traditional sense. Second, there seems be a clustering of values among artists, where particular attitudes about the financial and aesthetic tend to go together. I thought this was a very subtle discussion of how conflicting attitudes toward the art world and pricing of art are expressed.

For me, and for most readers I suspect, the highlight of the book is a concluding chapter called “The Audit of Venus,” which recounts the tale of an artist named “Venus” who got into a dispute with the IRS. A musical performer and visual artist, Venus would submit to the IRS expenses related to touring and the production and sale of art. The IRS office in Venus’ area did not buy it and tried to reclassify the activity as a “hobby” so that Venus couldn’t claim it and thus have to pay taxes. Venus eventually and rightly won but the questioning of art as a real job has not only economic but also social consequences. It caused many people anxiety. Since so much of art is a business with scant financial rewards, having it recognized as a real job or profession offers a certain level of respect and consolation. To remove that designation is not only economic damaging, but needlessly maligns a group of people whose only sin is pursue an activity that isn’t as profitable as some others.

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Written by fabiorojas

December 8, 2017 at 5:01 am

racism and the liberal democratic society

Most people who think about democratic societies don’t mean “direct democracy.” They don’t want a world where every whim of the majority is translated into policy. Rather, most think about representative democracy and systems of checks and balances because, frankly, the voters often demand unwise things. Furthermore, when we think about democracies, we often think of a goal that might be called the liberal democratic society – a society where the state takes the input of voters seriously while allowing people to set the course of their own lives.

However, there is still a problem in democratic societies. Even with elected representatives and checks and balances, minorities can still push through illiberal policies that directly harm other minorities. I think American racism is a great example of that. Roughly speaking, there is a chunk of the electorate that has a terrible view of immigrants and ethnic minorities. This article from The Root briefly describes recent polling data from the National Opinion Research Center. About a quarter of Republicans and about 15% of Democrats hold highly negative views of Blacks, describing them as less intelligent and lazy.

Now, in historical terms, this is a huge improvement. Fifty years ago, most whites held very negative opinions of Blacks. So why should you be worried? The reason is that there is a strong correlation between partisan identification and nativist/racist sentiment. For example, in the GSS data reported by The Root, the  partisan gap is about 10%-15% points. And once you get a strong faction within a party, they can occasionally win elections – even national elections.

So what do we do when virulent minorities gain power? As we saw in the 2016 presidential system, parties don’t have the power to stop them in a primary system. But we are seeing signs of life. The business community is slowly abandoning Trump. The military has decided to drag its feet on Trump’s transgender soldier ban. In a few cases, the courts have blocked a few of Trump’s more repressive policies, such as the ban on migration from Muslim countries.

This points to an important feature of liberal democracy. It’s liberal character is not in the policy, but the wider culture. Our institutions have had a mixed record in preventing folks like Trump and the virulent “deplorable” 20% that brought him to power. The Republican party collapsed in 2016 and mainstream “establishment” Republicans were helpless to stop Trump. Congress has stopped some of Trump’s worst excesses, but only because the Senate is in relative disarray, not because of active resistance. The strongest resistance has been from outside the political system. Now that Trump has announced the end of DACA, we’ll see how the culture of liberal democracy expresses itself. Will it collapse and agree to a new immigration system that limits movement even more? Or will it assert itself and promote a system that is consistent with freedomo of movement?

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Written by fabiorojas

September 6, 2017 at 4:54 am