Sociologically Imaginative Pictures Award

Sociologically Imaginative Pictures (SIP) awards are presented for the best pictures capturing a sociological perspective. The winner of this year's award, James Year, describes the sociological theme of his photo:

Simple Survival

Heavy metal is an incredibly diverse genre and an aggressive blend of subcultures that can be analyzed through various sociological perspectives. For an ardent fan of the genre, objectivity can be difficult at times. The reason I chose a photo of this specific band, Mushroomhead, is because they have a divergent application of musical influences that inevitably appeals to a varied range of fan-bases and subcultures. Regardless of their reasons, be it mainstream outcasts and alienation or just raw appreciation for musicianship and theatre, when the lights go out and the music starts, social status and societal labels disappear. Analogous to Frankenstein, the music is the power that makes these mismatched parts come alive.

Applications of Conflict, functionalist, and interactionist, including their later interpretations, are readily apparent during performances like these. In this photo, the symbolic interactionist viewpoint takes center stage. Like the summary of that perspective suggests, these energetic fans are acting based on the meaning this music has for them through their interpretations. However, this is not an individualistic event by any means. The symbols from the bands and the one in the photo proliferate throughout their fans' social media pages, throughout the crowds from the merch tables, and easily serve as a social identifier to other fans in public through their daily life.

Interestingly enough, the comradery formed at these events may translate into the digital world. The digital streaming music service Spotify releases trends and user data regularly for academic research. It should be noted that the data gathered using these means needs to be taken in context with the age demographics that use them and is not representative of the total population of listeners.  What they have found, with consumer loyalty regarding musical genres, is that metal music commands the most loyal fan base of any other genre on this widely popular streaming service and had its respective share increase 13% from 2014 to 2015. In my opinion, this is effectively showcasing their subliminal and consistently stubborn intent to continue challenging norms with a heavy dose of decibels and overt criticism.

Subsequently, heavy metal and its modest increases in digital popularity raise a few questions in the form of yesteryear's concerns and criticisms. Is it inherently violent? Is it subversive and deviant? Is it only degenerate art? Is it merely free expression? Or could this music, even on the fringe, be serving a functional and beneficial purpose? Given some of the subject matter in the music that statement may run contrary to popular belief and interpretation.  Although, I have personally seen around one hundred heavy metal performances and in many of those I have seen bands stop the show and “preach” about being family, about helping each other, about music being therapy, and saving lives by preventing suicide. I would think someone like Durkheim could appreciate that.

James Year, Third year Sociology Major at the University of Iowa

Other articles in this Newsletter

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  • Seashore Hall

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  • Iowa Sociological Association

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  • This past October, the Public Policy Center, College of Education, and UI Sociology Department co-sponsored a research symposium attended by 75 graduate students and faculty from the University of Iowa and several other Midwest universities.

  • TILE Classroom

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  • Sociology Club

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  • Natalie Veldhouse

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  • Graduate Student Presentation

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