Why is a 5,600 square foot, $3.2 million home squeezed on a small lot a “mini-McMansion”?

Jack Osbourne recently purchased a new home in Studio City that Variety calls a “mini-McMansion”:

In late May, rock ‘n’ roll scion and budding television and documentary producer Jack Osbourne sold his refurbished 1920s Spanish-style abode in L.A.’s celeb-saturated Los Feliz area for $3.2 million and, we first heard from gossip juggernaut TMZ, he and his missus, Lisa Stelly and their toddler daughter hightailed it to the San Fernanado Valley where they spent — oddly enough — $3.2 million for a bigger and brand-spanking-new house in and unassuming but affluent, north of Ventura Boulevard neighborhood in Studio City.

Young Mister Osbourne’s new, clapboard-sided residence in Studio City — online marketing materials rather generously describe as a “Cape Cod” — sits somewhat tightly on a .27-acre corner lot with five bedrooms and 6.5 bathrooms in 5,614 square feet. (It’s really too small to be a right-proper mccmansion so, oxymoron-ish though it may be, we’ll call an architecturally jumbled mini-mcmansion. How’s that sound?

In addition to the square footage, the price, and a small lot, the continued description of the home includes some more typical McMansion features like a two-story foyer, three-car garage facing the street, and an interesting front exterior (see the picture). So why isn’t this a McMansion?

My best guess is that this home is small by celebrity standards in Los Angeles. Compared to all new homes in the United States, Osbourne’s home is more than twice the size but he doesn’t live in an ordinary place: he lives in a place with mega-celebrities. In this city, 5,600 square feet simply can’t compete with flashier and bigger homes. See some of these celebrity homes here. Since real estate is local, Osbourne’s home is just mini-McMansion rather than opulent showplace.

A Sociology of Disney course makes sense because Disney itself claims an influential legacy

I recently saw a story about a new Sociology of Disney course. Is such a course helpful or a good use of time? Some might see this as frivolous, perhaps the same people who sound the alarms about sociology courses about celebrities like Miley Cyrus, Lady Gaga, or Jay-Z. I would argue otherwise: not only is it a good means to introduce students to sociology but Disney itself claims it is an influential factor in American life.

First, a quick description of the Sociology of Disney course:

A classroom case study: A young woman stuck in an abusive home escapes her family through marriage. Fast forward 60 years: Another young woman calls off her wedding to a deceptive fiance and focuses her time on her older sister and a new partner from a lower social class.

If these two fictional examples came from the same writer, what does this say about how the author’s attitude toward women changed?

They may sound like a classic comparison of gender roles, but they’re actually the plot of two Disney movies — “Cinderella” and “Frozen.”

Heather Downs, a Jacksonville University sociology professor, is using such examples in her “The Sociology of Disney” summer course, which she created last year as a way to get students interested in common sociology topics. The course has gained popularity since, and 16 students completed their final Friday by running around the Magic Kingdom and taking photos of examples of sociology topics discussed in class.

Second, I recently saw the Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. Lots of people know Disney and like Disney but I was particularly interested in how Disney itself was presented. And the legacy-building was thick. It included: the early life of Walt Disney in the heartland of America (Chicago, small-town Missouri); his early forays in Hollywood with interesting cartoon work and new ideas; the formation of the Disney company; all sorts of new techniques in animation (matching sound with drawings, coloring, a multi-plane camera, reintroducing fairy tales); innovative work matching animation and live-action (think Mary Poppins); the construction of iconic characters and theme parks; and best-selling movies. All throughout, there were videos and quotes from Walt Disney talking about what the company was trying to do and how they accomplished it.

Connecting this to the Disney course, it is worth studying Disney because this successful international corporation itself recognizes its influence. Walt Disney is held up as an American success story, a Midwestern boy who followed his dreams and helped enrich the lives of millions. Individuals don’t have to like the films or themes or what Disney stands for but it is hard to refute that most, if not all, Americans have interacted with Disney in one form or another. While people are certainly influenced by other sources, Disney capitalized on a number of trends – generally, adapting to new mass media forms – and is worth examining.

Are America’s most admired simply America’s most powerful?

Peter Beinart looks at the most recent Gallup’s most recent Most Admired poll and notices a trend:

Nor is it true that Gallup merely measures celebrity, since athletes and Hollywood icons are largely absent. Looking at the winners across the decades, the most common denominator is power. Indeed, the only female winners not in close proximity to political power are Mother Theresa in the 1980s and 1990s and Elizabeth Kenny, an Australian nurse who gained fame treating polio, in 1951.

The men tell a similar story. Presidents almost always win. When they’re deemed weak or unpopular, the public anoints another strong political figure: Douglas MacArthur supplants Harry Truman in 1946 and 1947; Dwight Eisenhower tops Lyndon Johnson in 1967 and 1968; Henry Kissinger replaces Richard Nixon between 1973 and 1975. Even the religious figures who do best are the ones closest to power. Although he never wins, the Reverend Billy Graham—famous for pastoring to presidents—makes the top-10 list more than other man between 1948 and 2005. The other highest-scoring religious figures are popes. Missing are any of the clergy, like William Sloane Coffin or Daniel Berrigan, who made their names fighting the Vietnam War.

In fact, activists protesting injustice rarely rank highly. That includes Martin Luther King. He doesn’t make America’s top 10 most admired men in 1963, the year of the March on Washington. King comes fourth in 1964 and sixth in 1965 but then falls out of the top ten again in 1966 and 1967. The same is true for Nelson Mandela. By the mid-1980s, the global anti-apartheid movement had made Mandela a household name. But as far as I can tell, he doesn’t crack Gallup’s top-10 list until he is elected South Africa’s president in 1994. (To be fair, I was only able to check 1983, 1984 , 1986, 1987, and 1992. For 1993, I could only find the top five. After 1994, Mandela becomes a top-10 regular. But by then, the Cold War is over, the controversy surrounding his communist sympathies has evaporated, and he’s become safe.

I suppose we shouldn’t be too surprised at this. Part of it could be that people get to vote for some of the political positions so they feel like they had a voice. Additionally, the media tends to cover the most powerful a lot. Celebrities may get a lot of attention but they tend not to do too well, whether star athletes or Hollywood stars, in job prestige rankings.

Beinart suggests the American public should pay more attention to activists, people fighting for justice rather than people holding the reins of justice. These two things are not mutually exclusive: powerful leaders can be good leaders. But, this could be a problem if people are admired simply for the power they command rather than for what they actually do with that power.

Just how many fake Twitter accounts are there? And why does it matter?

Twitter and experts disagree on how many fake Twitter accounts there are:

In securities filings, Twitter says it believes fake accounts represent fewer than 5% of its 230 million active users. Independent researchers believe the number is higher.

Italian security researchers Andrea Stroppa and Carlo De Micheli say they found 20 million fake accounts for sale on Twitter this summer. That would amount to nearly 9% of Twitter’s monthly active users. The Italian researchers also found software for sale that allows spammers to create unlimited fake accounts. The researchers decoded robot-programming software to reveal how easy it is for spammers to control the convincing fakes…

Jason Ding, a researcher at Barracuda Labs who has studied fake Twitter followers for more than a year, also thinks Twitter underestimates the prevalence of fake accounts on the network. Mr. Ding says users don’t understand how active and realistic the fakes can appear.

Read on for more details how the battle between the black market and Twitter’s use of algorithms to discover fake accounts is going. Even if the average user can’t quite figure out who is a real or fake user, the consequences are real:

The fake accounts remain a cloud over Twitter Inc. in the wake of its successful initial public offering. “Twitter is where many people get news,” says Sherry Turkle, director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self. “If what is trending on Twitter is being faked by robots, people need to know that. This will and should undermine trust.”

According to this article and others, it appears that fake accounts are most commonly used for promotional purposes, whether for Washington politicians or entertainment stars. How harmful are these fake accounts which might be used to boost the number of followers or retweet material?

On the other hand, Turkle suggests these fake accounts could easily mask what is really happening on Twitter. Perhaps they are pushing certain Twitter trends, which then influences other users. Or, perhaps these fake Twitter accounts could push false news reports, which could have some different consequences depending on the situation. It could be worse if a large number of users find out they were interacting with or trying to engage with fake accounts.

While I agree with Turkle that this does present an important trust issue, I wonder if it would take some high profile case before this becomes a real issue. Imagine someone is able to use a set of fake accounts to pull off a terrorist act or throw off the government.

Buying followers on Twitter

The New York Times examines the market for buying followers on Twitter:

The practice is surprisingly easy. A Google search for “buy Twitter followers” turns up dozens of Web sites like USocial.net, InterTwitter.com, and FanMeNow.com that sell Twitter followers by the thousands (and often Facebook likes and YouTube views). At BuyTwitterFollow.com, for example, users simply enter their Twitter handle and credit card number and, with a few clicks, see the ranks of their followers swell in three to four days…

“And it’s so cheap, too,” he said. In one instance, Mr. Mitchell said, he bought 250,000 for $2,500, or a penny each…

Twitter followers are sold in two ways: “Targeted” followers, as they are known in the industry, are harvested using software that seeks out Twitter users with similar interests and follows them, betting that many will return the favor. “Generated” followers are from Twitter accounts that are either inactive or created by spamming computers — often referred to as “bots.”

When numbers are taken as a measure of success or popularity, why should we be surprised by this? It is also interesting that people figured out how to discover the fake followers. Here is what one tool revealed:

If accurate, the number of fake followers out there is surprising. According to the StatusPeople tool, 71 percent of Lady Gaga’s nearly 29 million followers are “fake” or “inactive.” So are 70 percent of President Obama’s nearly 19 million followers.

So if paying for followers is supposed to boost status, could discovering that they have a lot of fake followers reduce their status? Lady Gaga is frequently cited as having the most Twitter followers; how would her brand be reduced if that wasn’t really true?

I am struck by the contrast with Facebook. While the term “friends” has been roundly panned, it does denote a stronger relationship than “follower.” Facebook users tend to look down on other users who accumulate too many friends. After all, Dunbar’s number suggests we can only have 150 friends in the offline world. Perhaps Facebook got this more right than Twitter…

Sociological study: NYT obituaries have more celebrity deaths over the decades

Here is a unique place to look for American’s obsession with celebrities: examine the “Notable Deaths” section of the New York Times since 1900.

Sociology researchers at the University of South Carolina analyzed obituaries in the New York Times from the same 20 randomly selected days in 1900, 1925, 1950, 1975 and 2000. From this sample, they ranked how much attention was given to the deaths of people in certain occupations in each year. They found that obituaries of entertainers and athletes marched steadily to the top in rank — from seventh in 1900, to fifth in 1925, to third in 1950 and first in 1975 and 2000; in 2000, celeb athletes and entertainers accounted for 28 percent of obituaries in the newspaper, the researchers said.

Meanwhile, the researchers said the number of obituaries for public figures in manufacturing and business halved over the century. Similarly, religious obituaries fell from fourth place in mid-century to last in rank, and the researchers said they did not find a single notable death article for a religious figure in their sample for the year 2000.

“Most striking are the simultaneous increases in celebrity obituaries and declines in religious obituaries,” lead researcher Patrick Nolan said in a statement from the University of South Carolina. “They document the increasing secularization and hedonism of American culture at a time when personal income was rising and public concern was shifting away from the basic issues of survival,” added Nolan, who details the research in the journal Sociation Today.

So have celebrities replaced some of religion?

It would also be interesting to see whether the New York Times did this consciously and if so, how exactly this conversation went. Did readers actually suggest they wanted to see more celebrity news in the deaths section?

Tim Tebow is America’s favorite pro athlete…with 3% of the vote!

The fact that Tim Tebow is America’s favorite pro athlete may be a great headline but it covers up the fact that very few people actually selected him:

How big is Tebow-mania? According to the ESPN Sports Poll, Tim Tebow is now America’s favorite active pro athlete.

The poll, calculated monthly, had the Denver Broncos quarterback ranked atop the list for the month of December. In the 18 years of the ESPN Sports Poll only 11 different athletes — a list that includes Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and LeBron James — have been No. 1 in the monthly polling.

In December’s poll, Tebow was picked by 3 percent of those surveyed as their favorite active pro athlete. That put him ahead of Kobe Bryant (2 percent), Aaron Rodgers (1.9 percent), Peyton Manning (1.8 percent) and Tom Brady (1.5 percent) in the top-five of the results.

The poll results were gathered from 1,502 interviews from a nationally representative sample of Americans ages 12 and older.

Tebow is the favorite and he was selected by 3% of the respondents? This is not a lot. While it is meaningful that he was selected so early in his career says something but we need some more data to think through this. What percent have previous favorite athletes gotten? Have previous iterations of this poll had larger gaps between the favorite and second-place? Are responses to this poll more diverse now than in the past?

I wonder about the validity of such questions that ask Americans to pick a favorite as they can garner low totals. Isn’t Tebow’s advantage over Bryant easily within the margin of error of the survey? The issues here are even greater than a recent poll asking about favorite Presidents. If you are a marketer, does this result clearly tell you that you should have Tebow sell your product?

Some quick history of the ESPN Sports Poll.

The changing standards in dress for NBA players and its impact on social norms

One writer suggests that the current clothing styles of NBA stars is related to social norms for black men:

When David Stern imposed the league’s reductive dress code six years ago, all this role-playing, reinvention, and experimentation didn’t seem a likely outcome. We all feared Today’s Man. But the players — and the stylists — were being challenged to think creatively about dismantling Stern’s black-male stereotyping. The upside of all this intentionality is that these guys are trying stuff out to see what works. Which can be exciting. No sport has undergone such a radical shift of self-expression and self-understanding, wearing the clothes of both the boys it once mocked and the men it desires to be.

It’s not a complete transformation. Being Carlton wasn’t just code for nerd, it was code for gay, and the homophobia these clothes provoked still persists, even from their wearers. Once last year, Dwight Howard, of the Orlando Magic, wore a blue-and-black cardigan over a whitish tie and pink shirt to a press conference. When a male reporter told him it was a good color on him, instead of asking the reporter “Which color?,” Howard spent many seconds performing disgusted disbelief: Whoa, whoa. A moment like that demonstrated how hopelessly superficial all this style can be. The sport can change its clothes, but, even with Dan Savage looking over its shoulder, will it ever change its attitude? If Howard thinks compliments about his cardigan are gay, he probably shouldn’t wear one.

Still, something’s changed in a sport that used to be afraid of any deviations from normal. That fear allowed Dennis Rodman to thrive. Now Rodman just seems like a severe side effect of the league’s black-male monoculture. The Los Angeles Lakers officially recognize the man who was involved in one of the most notorious fights in sports history as “Metta World Peace.” Baron Davis, of the Cleveland Cavaliers, spent the summer in a lockout beard that made him look like a Fort Greene lumberjack. And Kevin Durant wears a safety-strapped backpack. If Stern was hoping to restore a sense of normalcy to the NBA, he only exploded it. There no longer is a normal.

Summary of the argument: in a big shift, it is now acceptable, and perhaps even cool, to be a wealthy black athlete who dresses like a nerd.

I could imagine several interpretations of this trend (and these would likely come from different groups of people):

1. A Marxist approach. David Stern has succeeded in pushing black stars to dress like preppy whites in order to further the economic interests of the NBA. This isn’t about allowing these stars to express themselves; it is about making them palatable to a white audience that buys tickets, corporate sponsorships, and drives TV ratings.

2. The clothes may have changed but there is not exactly overwhelming support for gay athletes or perhaps even for having more “feminine” traits.

3. There is a broader “star culture” or “celebrity culture” that transcends basketball and unites the broader entertainment industry. Star athletes today are not just physically unique; they are cultural celebrities and need to dress the part to fit in with their reference group.

4. Athletes today care too much about things like clothes and not enough about winning.

5. Black male culture was never that homogeneous. Using “The Fresh Prince” as the primary cultural example in this article is a limited perspective. The media and society might have one image but it is not necessarily accurate.

6. Is examining how stars dress like nerds continuing a negative stereotype about nerds and the importance of education? Does the way LeBron James dresses change the culture’s views of nerds or does his celebrity still push a macho image tied to basketball competition and physical prowess or perhaps a stylish, sophisticated, and wealthy image?

In the end, the intersections here between athletes, race, gender, and fashion are fascinating to consider.

Joliet Correctional Prison may become a tourist site?

One journalist suggests the Joliet Correctional Prison, closed since 2002, may have a future as a tourist destination after a prison in Philadelphia has become a hotspot:

Eastern State Penitentiary opened in 1829 on a former cherry orchard and housed prison escape artist “Slick Willie” Sutton and Al Capone. The pen closed in 1971 and has been recast into one of the most popular tourist attractions in Philadelphia. Visitors wander through a frozen ruin of crumbling cell blocks, vacant exercise yards, a lonley Death Row and the prison surveillance hub. The joint reopened for public tours in 1994 and is now billed as “America’s Most Historic Prison.”…

“But Alcatraz led the way. The federal government didn’t want to open it up but they did and people kept coming. The same thing is true here, where people keep coming and we really haven’t reached our peak.” In 1994’s first year, 10,450 people toured Eastern State. There were 249,289 visitors in 2010…

Representatives from the City of Joliet have visited Eastern State to research the possibility of making the Joliet prison a similar tourist attraction. After all, the 1-year-old Independent League baseball team in Joliet is called the Slammers. “The prison has become quite a tourist attraction for us on Route 66,” said Ben Benson, director of marketing and communications for the City of Joliet…

“The City of Joliet is interested in acquiring the property but financial resources are not what they used to be,” Benson said.”We’re doing a full study on potential uses of the site. With a grant from a different division of the state, we have added about a dozen tourist kiosks because so many people come by because of the Blues Brothers lore. We had a Blues Brothers band come out and cover their songs on a stage set up in front of the prison. We look at it as our Alcatraz.

I wonder what sociologists might say explains why Americans like visiting prisons: they like violence? They are interested in criminals? They think prison culture is intriguing? Something that Alcatraz and this Philadelphia prison seem to share in common is having some celebrity prisoners that people know about. Prison escape stories seem pretty popular, particularly if the escapees have to try to escape through shark-infested waters.

From a local perspective, I suppose you have to promote whatever possible tourist attractions you might have. It would be interesting to see if people from the Chicago region would be willing to go to Joliet just for a prison. (And perhaps a trip to the casino afterward?) Note: the Joliet Correctional Prison is not the same as Stateville Prison which has been featured in movies like The Blues Brothers  and Natural Born Killers.

I haven’t visited this Philadelphia prison but I have been to Alcatraz. I can see why this place is appealing: it sits in the middle of the bay (hence its nickname “The Rock”), numerous Hollywood movies have been made about it, and it has an intriguing history including a number of famous prisoners and a AIM takeover in the early 1970s. The audio tour they have is also quite good. Here are a few shots:

It also doesn’t hurt to have the ability to sell movie posters with famous movie stars on them in your prison gift shop:

Perhaps prison tourism is the wave of the future in Joliet.

Washington Post gets to reporting new Jay-Z sociology class at Georgetown

Earlier this week, I linked to a report from MTV about a new sociology class at Georgetown on Jay-Z. More mainstream media sources are now getting to this story including the Washington Post. Here is what was  reported on their Celebritology blog:

As noted by MTV’s Rapfix blog, Georgetown — otherwise known as the institute of higher learning unofficially endorsed by Justin Bieber — is offering a fall-semester-only class called “Sociology of Hip-Hop: Jay-Z.” The three-credit, twice-weekly lecture is taught by professor, author and Jay-Z proponent Michael Eric Dyson, who tells MTV about the course: “We look at his incredible body of work, we look at his own understanding of his work, we look at others who reflect upon him, and then we ask the students to engage in critical analysis of Jay-Z himself.”

Presumably that critical analysis does not involve speculation regarding ridiculous rumors involving Jay-Z’s wife Beyonce and their baby, aka Sasha Fetus.

Hip-hop has frequently been the subject of university classes; Duke University offers an African American studies class called “Sampling Soul,” which focuses on hip-hop, black cinema, social movements and other topics. And last spring, Bun B of the Underground Kingz served as a distinguished lecturer at Rice University, where he taught a religion and hip-hop course.

But focusing so intensely on a single rapper is somewhat rare. And it presents the unique opportunity to write a killer paper titled “Get That Dirt Off Your Shoulder: Obama, Politics and the Social Implications of ‘The Black Album.’?”

I’m sure someone could come up with a more comprehensive list of college courses on the subject. This might be much more interesting than this particular sociology course which focuses on a hot celebrity.

But this got me thinking about several articles about the news industry I’ve seen in recent years: just how much must traditional news sources write and emphasize the celebrity stories that seem to drive web traffic? A couple of things matter in this Jay-Z story: it involves a well-known celebrity (and the mentioning of the crazy rumors including Beyonce probably doesn’t hurt) and the course is being held not just at any college but at prestigious Georgetown. Beyond those two features, does it really matter which celebrity, which department, and which prestigious college this involves? To some degree, newspapers have always reported on prominent people though it probably involves a lot more celebrity news today.

A second question: does anyone go to the Washington Post exclusively or first for celebrity news or is it like a bonus after one consumes the political and business news? Are there people who don’t trust celebrity news unless it comes from more reputable sources? How does the Post decide what celebrity news to publish – I assume they don’t want it to be too scurrilous ?

Also, I would like to note that this blog reported on this story before the Washington Post.