My Top Ten Fictional Films with Sociological Content

It annoyed me that I got to the end of term this year and struggled to think of relevant Sociology films I could show. Hence this end of year list – All packed full of Sociological relevance (well, mostly)…

In no particular order…. (And links to analysis to follow)

  1. Fight Club – The most obvious reading is of this as a classic critique of the false consciousness and alienation the working classes suffer under consumer capitalism, but no doubt there are other interpretations out there.  
  2. A Bug’s Life –  Useful for illustrating basic Marxist concepts.
  3. Black Mirror: The National Anthem – Charlie Brooker’s short film – The Prime Minister has to have sex with a pig live on T.V. to save the life of the nation’s princess whose been kidnapped. This is the best film, hands down, to convey the meaning of ‘hyperreality’.
  4. Catfish – About a guy that meets a girl on Facebook, and on taking a trip across the States to meets her realises she’s not as good looking as her photos suggested. Most people who’ve gone on a date can relate to this, just maybe not to this extreme. (P.S. I’m calling it fiction, I simply don’t believe it wasn’t set up, just don’t tell the kids before you show it them.)  
  5. Lord of War – A nice introduction to the module on Global Development – Set over a ten year period from the mid ‘80s to the mid ‘90s Nicholas Cage plays an arms dealer who comes into own selling ex-Soviet military hard-ware to African Dictators and rebels. Quite a nice introduction to the history of international conflict post Cold-War
  6. Hotel Rwanda – A bit slow, and a not so nice introduction to Global Development – set around the Rwandan Genocide – Especially useful if you are going to teach conflict as an aspect of development given the ongoing concerns in neighbouring DRC in 2012-13
  7. The Freedom Writers – Based on a true story a teacher encourages her marginalised, mostly ethnic minority students to get into literature by telling their stories in diaries. It may be based in ‘90’s America, but you find another film that’s about education and research methods and I’ll eat my diary.
  8. Visitor Q – O.K. It’s an 18, so I’m not recommending you show this to your teenage students in class – but let’s just say if you thought gay marriage was contentious or divorce-extended families somewhat unusual, by the standards of the family in this little gem, the rest of us are all pretty much singing from the same song sheet.
  9. Threads – Really not that much to do with anything I teach, but this is simply the most harrowing movie I’ve ever seen. The fact that it’s set in the in Sheffield in the 1980s is scary enough for starters, and it gets worse as it imagines what a real life nuclear holocaust would actually be like. Unlike most other films there is no happy ending, so if you have a burning hatred for a particular class or have just had a stressful year and want to end the term by putting the students on a downer – this is the video to choose.  
  10. Kung fu Panda – Simply the best film ever made period. Richly layered with many levels of meaning, and deeply, deeply moving.  

Christmas Survey

I don’t celebrate Christmas because I don’t have anyone to celebrate it with. Instead I meditate a lot and do my annual spring clean. If you’re also alone this Christmas, I recommend this as a coping strategy. It’s still pretty bleak, but waking up on 27th having had no Christmas with a clean flat is definitely better than waking up on the 27th with a not-so-clean flat.

This year I’ve decided to really go to town and literally clean EVERYTHING. Although I’m starting to wonder whether moving the fridge and physically washing the walls down with soapy water is maybe a bit excessive. Even though I’ve been in my flat three years, the walls behind the fridge don’t look dirty to me, so my present dilemma this Christmas Eve is should I wash them or not?

I think I will, because I have committed to washing everything, but I got to wondering, is this excessive, how often do people wash the walls behind their fridges?

Anyway, I created this survey to find out, so please if you’ve found this site, humor me and complete it, thanks and for what it’s worth, Merry Christmas.

NB: The survey refers to whether you wash the walls behind your fridges at any time of year, not just at Christmas time. 


Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey, the world’s leading questionnaire tool.

This is also my first embedded survey, something of a practice run… So apologies if you can’t see the results, I will update later as I’m sure they’ll be a lot of interest in this….

Also if the survey just doesn’t work for some reason, do let me know, as I say, this is a trial.

Actually just in case the embed doesn’t work – here – Click here to take survey

Three Myths of The Young Apprentice

The Young Apprentice is one of the very few programmes I make a point of watching. What’s odd is that I enjoy it even though it spreads three messages that I have a real problem with –

  • Firslty, it gives the impression that there is opportunity out there if ‘you only work hard enough’, when in reality the current crisis means it’s actually very tough to start up a small business or find employment, especially for young people.
  • Secondly, the show spreads the myth of meritocracy – We are typically presented with a range of candidates from all manner of social classes, gender and ethnic backgrounds suggesting equal opps, but in real life class privilege etc. still conspire to subvert genuine talent’s rise to the top.
  • Thirdly the show suggests that making a profit is more important than doing something socially useful, an idea I find odious,

To explore these message one  at a time…

Problematic Message One – Even though we’re in ‘tough economic times’ there’s still opportunity if you work hard enough.

OK Maybe this will come across as a little sad that I’ve done this, but if you calculate the profit per head per task and then divide by 2, you get the ‘day rate’ per candidate. The figures look something like this…

Approximate earnings per day for five tasks in the young apprentice

Task Platinum Odyssey Average per team Average per candiadate Average per candidate per day
Clothes 453 330 391 65 32.5
Cook Books* 7500 800 4150 754 377
Sandwiches 316 91 204 45 22.5
Kids Club** 11000 470 5735 1433 716.5
Womad 370 (sales) 283 (sales) 327 109 54.5
Average per candidate per day 240

*This of course assumes that all books are sold and that candidates receive £1 per book, which I think is a realistic estimate as to royalties on the type of books they produced.

* and ** These two ‘big profit tasks’ of course don’t actually take into account the costs of hiring the following

  • Half a day with the chefs to make the recipes/ half a day with the publishers
  • Half a day with the experts to help with the ideas generation of the kids club, or the costs of the materials for the demonstrations

Also neither of these projects are actually realistic in terms of your average teenager being able to start up such business because of the quality of the ‘laid on contacts’ with industry insiders, and the social desirability of purchasing a young apprentice product of course.

Given the above it might actually make more sense to look at the three ‘realistic’ business a teenager might set up – and for these the results are much worse.

Task Platinum Odyssey Average per team Average per candiadate Average per candidate per day
Clothes 453 330 391 65 32.5
Sandwiches 316 91 204 45 22.5
Womad 370 (sales) 283 (sales) 327 109 54.5
Average per candidate per day 36.50

If this is what the eleven brightest young people in the country can do (plus one hot-housed posh kid with inflated GCSEs) then Socialism help the rest of them is all I can say

Max – Defo the right candidate to go in week 1

Misleading Message Two - In the world of business it doesn’t matter what your class or ethnic background or your gender identity there’s a level playing field. OK I accept that in the apprentice the working classes seem to come good – In fact if anything Lord Sugar seems to have a deep suspicion of the posh – very probably because he’s ended up working with a lot of talent-less individuals who have risen up the ranks because of contacts rather than well, err talent.

In the real world of business what happens is that you need a leg up to be able to get yourself established – this will either mean money from your parents or an internship – often networked into, and in which you work for nothing for some months or even years. For evidence see below…

In addition to this if you’re a female looking to break into business, OK things are changing – but check out these stats from a previous blog of mine

All of this doesn’t stop me finding the apprentice hugely entertaining, I just hope a few people read this and think again about some of the potentially misleading messages it puts out….

Problem Message Three – Profit is more important than social utility

The contestants really have been asked to produce crap this year haven’t they?

Basically just crap – The Wetsuit Kimono

In episode 1, the task was to resell old clothes, which otherwise would have probably gone towards making money for  charity but instead ends up with either the BBC or Alan Sugar or the candidates (Actually I’ve no idea where the money ends up TBH!).  You could in fact argue that taking from charity results in negative social utility.

Episode two saw the candidates producing cook books – With one team producing a student cook book and the other a book which, in a total throwback to the 1980s, ended up with the title ‘the professional woman’. Whatever spin you put on a new cook book – the fact that there are are over 60 000 cookery books currently available on Amazon does suggest we don’t really need any more.

Episode three was all about sourcing a list of ten items for the very inclusive (NOT) Royal Opera House – Sugar putting the youth to work for the benefit of elite (kind of like apprenticeships and workfare).

Episode four revolved around the teams putting on a themed afternoon tea experience and sell them at a Stately Home – resulting in a ‘1940s’ theme and a ‘Mad Hatter’s’ theme – both of which I think we can agree are frankly pretty naff.

In episode five the candidates were required to develop a new kids club in order to attract investors who would potentially buy licenses. I will at this point concede that this venture does, finally, have some kind of genuine social utility – for parents at least.

The product of the most creative young business minds in the UK

Episode six saw the teams developing a new brand of hair spray and hair gel – Possibly the very epitome of products that lack any genuine social use value

In the penultimate episode candidates disturbed the ‘peace and love’ of the Womad festival to sell a combination of a cardboard box toilet and an umbrella seat on the one hand and onesies and camping washing machines on the other. Actually maybe these are even more useless than the hair products?

So of the seven episodes, there is only one potential product or service that has any genuine social utility, and that only for parents wealthy enough to pay for their kids’ extra curricular activities.


The Young Apprentice – Find out More

The BBC – The Young Apprentice 2012

Digital Spy has quite a nice overview of what’s been going on

Sabotage Times – Is Lord Sugar really looking for a new carer?

Unreality TV – Has several posts on the Young Apprentice

Ugandan Alchemy or The Resource Curse?

Here is a nice illustration of the resource curse from relatively recent history- taken from the UN

The pink line shows Uganda’s gold production

The blue line shows Uganda’s gold exports

Uganda – A Nation of Alchemists?


Note the way in which gold exports, but not gold production, suddenly increases immediately following the entry of  Ugandan troops into the Congo War in 1994.

Some observers might suggest this offers support for the view that Uganda’s military involvement in that war was merely a cynical attempt to extract a few tonnes of gold – 40 tonnes over the period shown.

Of course it wasn’t only Uganda – Rwanda, Burundi, Namibia, Angola and Zimbabwe were all extracting DRCs resources during this period too!

Find Out More –

The Curse of Gold – The Democratic Republic of Congo

Great new web site – ‘Welcome to the Anthropocene‘ – charting the human impact on the planet.

This post really just pilfers a couple of videos from the site to make it easier for anyone who teaches this kind of thing – The two videos chart the impact of humanity on the planet – starting 200 years ago in Britain with the Industrial Revolution.

Personally I think it’s worth showing the first 2 mins or so of this video (without the narration) first – because it’s so nice, maybe just mentioning what’s above

‘Welcome to the Anthropocene’ Earth Animation from Globaïa on Vimeo.

Then showing the narrated version…. which explains things in a bit more depth

Temporarily disabled because it kept starting up automatically – see the web site above

Should be easy enough to fit this in somewhere on a lesson on climate change or population growth.

Ten Indicators of Gender Inequality in the UK 2012

OK So accuse me of selection bias… but here are 10 indicators of inequality in the UK by gender… Mainly focusing on work, politics and the media 

Looking at ‘positions of privilege’ women account for…

  1. 26% of News Journalists (2011) (3% of sports journalists!)
  2. 22% of Members of Parliament. Although admittedly numbers have more than doubled in the last 20 years.
  3. 23% of judges
  4. 16% of members of the cabinet
  5. 4.9% of directors of the FTSE 250 companies

Looking at ‘indicators of disadvantage’…

  1. 65% of the Tory Cuts to the public sector will be born by women
  2. 70% of people on the minimum wage are women
  3. 75% part-time workers are women
  4. 90% of Single Parents are women
  5. On top of all this, women earn only 85% of men (more usually expressed as a  gender pay gap of 14.9%)

Find out More

Also look out for an infographic I intend to to knock up on this topic (exciting I know!) 


Top Four (youtube) Videos for teaching Post-Modernism

I’ve arranged these videos in the order of

  • Easy
  • More difficult
  • More Dude
  • More obtuse.

If that order doesn’t make any sense, get with the postmodern programme…

Video 1 – Easy – Clearly designed for A level students, with a very very nice example of ‘cultural hybridity’ at the end, courtesy of X-Factor



Video 2 – Although this is more difficult  (but still important) it does quite a good job of explaining postmodnernism as the abandonment of the ‘truth claims’ of modernity, and Lyotard’s related idea of postmodernism as an ‘incredulity towards metanarratives’.



Video 3 – A Dude explains postmodernism – Bit more an artistic rather than a sociological tone – I especially like the section on youtube, which is very postmodern



Video 4 – Obtuse – More obscure, but I think this describes quite nicely the postmdoern experience in hyperreality.

Gender representation in the FTSE

Latest Figures show that there are now 163 women in executive positions in the FTSE 100 and 189 in the FTSE 250.  While this does represent an increase on 2010 figures (an additional 25 women being added to the FTSE 100 director posititions) representation remains poor – Only 15% of directorships in the FTSE 100 are female, and this figure drops to 4.6% of executive directorships of the FTSE 250.  


What’s of further interest is that you can pretty much forget any hope that the (very gradual) feminisation of business will herald in a new age of ethical business practices – There are some real ‘corporate clangers’ in the top 17 list of FTSE companies with female representation.

Top 17 FTSE companies with female representation on the board (2012)


Imperal Tobacco and BAE systems really stand out – It seems there are plenty of women out there just as willing as men to run companies that make their money out of encouraging weak minded, poor, low-status, and/ or ignorant people to shove a cancer sticks down their throats and plenty of even ‘harder women’ happy with making their bonuses out of selling even more storm shadow missiles to governments so they can kill relatively powerless people who might dare do things such as try to put their interests before those of Western Corporations.

Source of the TablesThe Female FTSE Board Report 2012 - Cranfield University School of Management

Related Links

Useful comments on methology here!

Broader knowledge on women in the labour force (UK) here (2010)

All I want before Christmas is hours of low grade revision fun with Wordle

I just discovered Wordle – And created this ‘Worlde’ of some of the concepts relevant to the perspectives topic within the SCLY1 module on The Family.

A handy ‘revision’ idea might be  to get students to type in concepts to for particular topics to Wordle and then print/ publish them.

This won’t, in itself, test any of those higher oder skills necessary in Sociology, but it’s quite a cool means to get students to copy things out without thinking. And leet’s face it, this late on in the term, are any of us really capabable of anything else.

Obviously there’s a lot you could do to build on this…. but I’ll let you ponder that for yourselfs.