a. Definitions: Define the terms sociology and sociological imagination. Explain the value of using sociological imagination to understand social life (100 word minimum).
According to C. Wright Mills, the sociological imagination is a method or tool that allows researchers to link the individual, personal and biographical level with broader currents of history, vulture and economics. No abstract or empirical individuals even existed outside of this social and historical context. He was challenging the structural-functionalist sociology of Talcott Parsons, which took the dominant values of society as a given and required all ‘normal’ individuals to be socialized and integrated into them (Mills 1959, 2000). Mills had reached the opposite conclusion that modern society was authoritarian and unjust, ruled by a Power Elite that controlled the various corporate and state bureaucracies. His work should be seen in the context of earlier generations of sociologists, including socialists, Marxists and progressives, who emphasized class conflict as the most fundamental reality of modern capitalist society rather than the artificial ‘harmony’ and ‘consensus’ of the Cold War years of the 1950s (Mills 1956, 2000). In that respect, the sociology of Mills anticipated the great protests and rebellions of the 1960s over civil rights, women’s rights and the war in Vietnam in opposition to the entire power structure or military-industrial complex.
b. Social and Personal Issues/Problems.
Personal efficacy refers to the ability of an individual to achieve a goal, and in the most general sense it can refer to virtually any type of goal imaginable, while locus of control concerns the extent to which they believe that they have the power to control the events that affect them. In a system of free market capitalism like the United States, for example, all individuals are assumed to have an equal opportunity for education and upward mobility, and should be able to improve their class standing in life through hard work and individual effort. If they remain poor, hungry or homeless, therefore, the fault is theirs rather than on the injustice or exploitation of the capitalist system. Of course, no task has been easier for sociologists from the era of Karl Marx to C. Wright Mills and down to the present to demonstrate that this is a complete myth. After all, there are countless examples of individuals born to inherited wealth who have every possible opportunity to maintain and improve their upper class status, as well as those born into poverty or the working class who have none. In reality, they are most likely to stay into the class in which they were born, as will their children and grandchildren, while only a tiny fraction will ever become millionaires or billionaires. This is simply a fact, not only in this country but the entire world and in recessions like this one, downward mobility is a far more likely possibility than the upward variety. In addition to being born into poverty, many individuals will also have additional disadvantages such as gender discrimination or being born into racial and ethnic minority groups that are oppressed, and therefore will have even less social and economic opportunity than those born to great wealth and privilege.
c. Song Information: Include the artist/band name, song name, album name (if any), date of production, name of song writer. Also include your reason for selecting this song.
“Billionaire” (2010) is a solo song written and performed by Travis McCoy and Bruno Mars, and I chose it because it seemed to reflect the social and economic problems of the present day, and how capitalism in the United States dominates the culture and idolizes money and material possessions as the most important goals in life. At the same time, most people in the world are very far removed from this elite status and indeed hardly have enough money to obtain even the basic necessities of life. As the song points out, this was true even before the current recession, but conditions are far worse because of it.
d. Social Issue/Problem.
This song refers to issues of poverty and lack of social and economic opportunity in a capitalist system dominated by the very wealthy and large corporate interests. The singer is obviously very disadvantaged, possibly even homeless, yet the culture tells him that he should aspire to become a billionaire. Realistically speaking, he has almost no chance of doing so at any time, and especially not in a major recession like the present. All he can do is fantasize of what he might do if he had unlimited amounts of money that he could spend or give away.
In this society, the basic reality has always been inequality based on race and social class, not equal opportunity in life for all individuals, and many studies over the years have demonstrated this beyond question. For example, in the United States today, 75% of all blacks are still being born into segregated ghettos that have poor housing, terrible schools, few jobs and overcrowded, dangerous conditions. Very few of them are ever going to become wealthy, except perhaps through crime and the drug trade (Ihewulezi, 47). They certainly have a much better ‘opportunity’ of being arrested and sent to prison than middle and upper class whites in the suburbs, and in fact represent the majority of people in jail, generally convicted on drug charges (West 4). Over half of black children live in poverty, with very few chances of escaping this condition (Ihewulezi 43). Although the same proportions of blacks and whites use drugs, the former are ten times more likely to be searched and arrested, and in many areas nearly one half of young black males are in prison or on parole (Cooper 28). All of this is just one example of the myth of equal opportunity for all under the present system, and it would be possibly to fill up many volumes of sociological studies that would prove the same point for many other groups.
f. Biographical Information for Travis McCoy and Bruno Mars
Travis (Travie) McCoy was born in New York in 1981 to a Haitian father and American mother, and is the lead singer with the band Gym Class Heroes. He attended the Munson-Williams-Proctor Art Institute, and also worked at a variety of jobs including in a gas station and an assistant in a tattoo parlor. Gym Class Heroes was formed in 1997 and first became successful with the gold albums As Cruel as School Children and The Quilt. His 2010 single “Billionaire”, with vocals by Bruno Mars, became a double platinum hit in Great Britain and the United States, and McCoy then released the solo album Lazarus almost immediately afterward. McCoy and Mars toured Europe that year and have also been featured on Saturday Night Live and the American Music Awards. In his personal life, McCoy admitted to a long battle with drugs, starting with prescription opiates when he was a teenager, and he has been in and out of detox programs several times. He had a lengthy relationship with singer Katy Perry and was engaged to her briefly before they broke up in 2009 (Hombach 62-54). Bruno Mars (Peter Gene Hernandez), who also the co-writer of “Billionaire”, was born in in 1985 in Hawaii of Puerto Rican and Filipino descent, and first became widely recognized in the musical world when this song became a major hit. His first album, Doo-Wops and Hooligans, appeared several months later in October 2010 (Hombach 1-2).
“I wanna be a billionaire so fucking bad. Buy all of the things I never had. Uh, I wanna be on the cover of Forbes magazine, smiling next to Oprah and the Queen. Oh every time I close my eyes, I see my name in shining lights yeah. A different city every night alright, I swear the world better prepare for when I'm a billionaire.
Yeah I would have a show like Oprah. I would be the host of everyday Christmas. Give Travie your wish list. I'd probably pull an Angelina and Brad Pitt, and adopt a bunch of babies that ain't never had shit. Give away a few Mercedes like 'Here lady have this'. And last but not least grant somebody their last wish.
It's been a couple months since that I've been single so you can call me Travie Claus minus the Ho Ho. Get it, I'd probably visit where Katrina hit, and damn sure do a lot more than FEMA did. Yeah, can't forget about me, stupid. Everywhere I go, Imma have my own theme music. Oh every time I close my eyes (whatcha see whatcha see), I see my name in shining lights (uhuh uhuh what else). A different city every night alright, I swear the world better prepare for when I'm a billionaire.
Oh oooh oh oooh for when I'm a billionaire. Oh oooh oh oooh for when I'm a billionaire. I'll be playing basketball with the President, dunking on his delegates. Then I'll compliment him on his political etiquette, toss a couple milli in the air just for the heck of it. But keep the fives, twenties, tens and bens completely separate.
And yeah I'll be in a whole new tax bracket. We in recession but let me take a crack at it. I'll probably take whatever's left and just split it up. So everybody that I love can have a couple bucks, and not a single tummy around me would know what hungry was. Eating good, sleeping soundly, I know we all have a similar dream. Go in your pocket, pull out your wallet and put it in the air and sing.
I wanna be a billionaire so fucking bad!”
h. Theory. Social Conflict.
This song is really a ballad or folk take told is from the perspective of a very poor or working class person who is supposed to have certain aspirations for upwardly mobility, at least into the middle class, but is denied any real opportunity under the capitalist system as it exists. It illustrates the social conflict theory because its entire theme concerns the class differences in society and the hegemony of capitalist values even for those who have no wealth or incomes. This conflict is always quite real, although the song proposes no radical or revolutionary solutions to the problem. The singer is obviously not a person with inherited wealth and privilege, and in the video is even shown to be living with homeless people in the streets. Of course the dominant or hegemonic values of the culture insist that he should want to become a billionaire and that every individual has the chance to do so, but this is completely false. It is a lie, and he knows that very well, so in that respect the lyrics of the song should be taken as irony or sarcasm, especially when he imagines appearing on television with Oprah Winfrey or playing golf with the president. This is never going to happen in a million years, so all he can do is fantasize about what life would be like if he did not have to worry constantly about whether he will find a place to live or where his next meal is coming from. At least he imagines being very charitable to the poor if he really did have millions of dollars to give away, although even very conservative billionaires do give away some of their wealth to the poor.
i. Lessons Learned.
I chose this song because I already knew that its central message was the truth, and it basically confirmed the views that I already held. I am under no illusions that everyone in a capitalist system has some kind of mythical equal opportunity to move up into the middle and upper classes, and that in this recession are in fact moving down the food chain. Nor do I believe that it is even a very desirable goal simply to become a billionaire and have a great deal of money and power, although that is supposed to be the pinnacle of the so-called American Dream. In my opinion, the Dream itself is serious flawed, if not downright sick and pathological, but even if it were not the majority of people in this world would have no means of attaining it anyway.
Cooper, S. “A Closer Look at Racial Profiling” in S.J. Muffler (ed). Racial Profiling: Issues, Data and Analyses. Nova Science Publishers, 2006: 25-30.
Hombach, Jean-Pierre. Bruno Mars. Epubli, 2012.
Ihewulezi, C.N. The History of Poverty in a Rich and Blessed America. Bloomington, IN: Author House, 2008.
McCoy, Travie and Bruno Mars. “Billionaire”. You Tube. You Tube, 6 May 2010.
Mills, C. Wright. The Power Elite. Oxford, 1956, 2000.
Mills, C. Wright. The Sociological Imagination. Oxford 1959, 2000.
West, Cornell. Race Matters. Boston: Beacon Press, 1993, 2001.