The downsides of commodifying Street Culture

In general, if someone or an organization like a business, can make a buck they will.

From the agricultural to utility sectors, this approach is the backbone of capitalism.

Recently, this phenomenon has been increasingly visible in the field, actions, and products produced in the realm of street culture (i.e., the beliefs, dispositions, ideologies, informal rules, practices, styles, symbols, and values associated with, adopted by, and engaged in by individuals and organizations that spend a disproportionate amount of time on the streets of large urban centers, Ross, 2018, p. 8).

From streetwear to street art, from street music to concert halls, and from ghettos and barrios to now gentrified parts of cities, there are an increasing number of items, situations/experiences, and places once derived (or originating) from, or that embody elements of street culture, but are then modified, marketed, and sold as products and services to interested consumers.

On the upside, this process of commodification (e.g., turning something into an object of value) can provide jobs, income, and opportunities for some individuals and communities.

And, I don’t have a beef with this approach as long as the original creators are

• acknowledged for their original ideas and hard work,
• fairly compensated for their ideas and work,
• treated fairly after their products and items make their way into the market place, and
• the products and services don’t lead to damaging externalities (i.e., killing the environment, etc.).

But that’s rarely the case.

Commodification of street culture usually results in a:

A. Distorting (or exaggerating) the original intent and meanings of the things and services emanating from street culture. In a world where honesty and authenticity are increasingly in short supply, these modifications can distort intended meanings. This includes a process that selected elements of the original products are overly simplified, reduced to tropes, or more specifically kitschified. Sometimes this process borders on cultural appropriation.

B. More importantly, the generative products and services usually do not appropriately compensate the original creators. And this is bad. Frequently there are no or minimal copyright, patent, and trademark protections for many creators and thus they can’t reap an economic benefit. Individuals and organizations who profit from activities just described are often referred to as culture vultures.

On the positive side, we are seeing scholars in different social science and fields examine the commodification of lots of processes, including selected elements of street culture, and this is great to see. More light, however, needs to be shed on this topic in order to better contextualize its’ dynamics and better guide its development.

Unanswered questions regarding the January 6, 2021 insurrection

A year has passed since an angry mob of pro Trump supporters, believing that the 2020 election was stolen, stormed the United States Capitol, and broke through a cordon of underprepared and understaffed Capitol Police. For four hours, the mob attacked law enforcement, vandalized the building, its chambers and offices, stole documents, and terrorized members of Congress, staffers, and support personnel who were working there that day.

While former President Donald Trump, selected Republicans and Right Wing news media outlets and pundits have tried to downplay the events of that day, numerous institutions have responded, including Congress that established the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the United States Capitol.

In analyzing and reflecting upon the January 6 insurrection what are some of the most important unanswered questions (and possible solutions for seeking an answer) about this event?

I have eight of them, which I list below from least to most important.

8. What sorts of rehabilitative or deradicalization programs will be instituted in correctional facilities and offered or given to the insurrections who have been sentenced to prison time? Perhaps the Federal Bureau of Prisons can examine what worked or didn’t work in countries like Germany and Italy, that had a relatively recent history of right-wing extremists in their correctional facilities?

7. What kinds of new physical security (e.g., hardening of the target), policies and practices have been initiated in order to prevent a similar breach of the US Capitol in the future? On a related note, why is there a reluctance to design and build a physical barrier around Congress like there is in other countries?

6. What types of reforms have been introduced in the Capitol Police Department? We know that over the last year the former chief resigned and a new Chief has been selected, but news media reports that there is currently a staffing shortage of 400 officers. What efforts are underway to address this loss of personnel? And what sorts of new training have Capitol Police Officers been given over the past year?

5. What short and long term psychological effects have police (and national guard members) who were battling the insurrectionists on January 6th experienced? Yes, we have be treated to a litany of snippets of congressional testimony and interviews by the news media, but a more comprehensive analysis of the trauma that police experienced will be helpful to gauge damage and offer adequate emotional support.

4. What were both the psychological and structural reasons motivating the insurrectionists? Although we have lots of speculations produced by thoughtful people, and National Public Radio and the Chicago Project on Security & Threats, have compiled data bases, it does not appear that we currently have one or more researchers who have compiled a data base that includes more that demographic information on the participants. A more comprehensive data source may have to wait until more individuals are incarcerated and researchers interview a significant portion of them.

3. Why does it appear that so few people who participated in the event have been arrested, charged, and convicted? Is it because the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) (and other co-operating law enforcement agencies) are too slow, understaffed, overwhelmed, incompetent, focused on other important crimes, etc. or is it because the FBI is not able to identify the remaining participants, or is it because the agency is assembling more detailed background information on these individuals, including surveillance, before they initiate an arrest? Are the individuals who have not been arrested etc. more highly skilled than others at operating below the radar? If this is the case why has the FBI not told the public, in general terms, why they have not arrested more people?

2. What evidence is necessary for formal criminal charges to be laid against Republican members of Congress, members of the White House, and the former president in connection with their role in fomenting the violence? Perhaps this will be part of the insurrection commission’s work.

1. Why have none of the insurrectionists been charged with some of the more common political crimes like sedition or treason? Is it because these kinds of crimes are difficult to seek convictions for?

Hopefully, over time these questions will be answered in a satisfactory manner. Inevitably, this process will depend as much upon the resources that are available to researchers, as their respective motivations for engaging in this kind of work.

Photo Credit

Photographer: Blink O’fanaye
Title: Capitol Jan 6

How I killed time in 2021

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year to my friends, family, colleagues, and readers.

Like many people, during the last week of December I’m naturally drawn to reflect back on the past year; things that I’ve done (stayed home during the pandemic), places I’ve gone (the grocery store, while wearing a mask), and things that I’ve seen (people not properly wearing their masks at grocery stores).

One of those activities is my blog.

Although writing the blog has often been challenging, it has also been a rewarding experience, including helping me to stay focused and relatively sane in the midst of the crazy times we live in.

In closing out the second calendar year of blogging, I thought it might be interesting to check and see which of my pieces attracted the most attention.

If you want to engage in this frivolity, you can find the top ten most viewed blog posts of 2021 below.

Below are the blogs, listed in ascending order of views.

10. What explains the 2020 spike in murders in the United States?

There have been a number of attempts to link the rise in homicides in the United States to the defund the police movement, bail reform, or the Ferguson effect. These explanations are mostly red herrings. More subtle processes are going on.

9. Preventing our children from ending up in juvie hall

Lots of children, for no fault of their own, get caught up in the juvenile justice system. Here are some strategies for minimizing this from occurring.

8. Why developing a literacy of graffiti & street art is important

Graffiti and street art is abundant in most large urban centers. Instead of summarily dismissing it as mindless vandalism, it’s important to appreciate its complexity and the creativity of many of its practitioners.

7. Why writing well is important for Criminal Justice Practitioners

Being a correctional, parole, probation, or police officer requires numerous skills. One of the most overlooked, but important, is an ability to communicate effectively by writing. Here is why.

6. Prison Tropes “R” us: Why it’s so damn hard to reform correctional facilities in the United States

Much of what the public is exposed to and that they learn about jails and prisons is exaggerated. Not only do I argue how this occurs, but I suggest some strategies to avoid this situation.

5. Who is the real criminologist? And other uncomfortable questions about expertise

Many people are mistakenly called or uncritically assume the title of criminologist. Not only is this disingenuous, but it is dangerous. Instead I lay out some of the basic attributes of what the profession regards as hallmarks of this profession.

4. Why most graduate school requirements do not adequately prepare doctoral students for the academic job market and what can be done about it?

Students who want to earn a doctorate and become professors must often jump through numerous hoops that bear little relationship to the jobs they eventually perform. Here are some strategies to better align their training with the demands of the job.

3. How editors of academic journals can increase the willingness of scholars to review papers and get better reviews

Journal editors have a difficult job but often complain about bad reviewers. One way to remedy this situation may lie less with the reviewers and more with the manner by which some editors interact with reviewers.

2. What’s in a name? exconvict, formerly incarcerated, or returning citizen?

There are lots of terms that are used to refer to people who are formally incarcerated. None of them are perfect. Instead, maybe we should start with asking people who are released from correctional custody what they prefer,

1. Be mindful of the “lived experience fallacy” and its cousin, “those who are closest to the problem are in the best position to change it”

The “lived experience” idea has gained traction in numerous academic and practitioner settings. Yet there appears to be a universal assumption that all people who have these kinds of background have the same kind of experience, that they have the adequate skills to communicate their insights to a wider interested public, and that they are equally motivated to press for change.

In closing, I want to thank my readers, both new and old, including the ones who have reached out to me.

I also want to acknowledge a handful of colleagues and family members who provided helpful feedback to selected drafts of some of my posts. To them I am forever grateful.

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Photo Credit: Andy TylerFollow
Planning Imagery