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McDonald’s and Cultural Capital

In Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, Pierre Bourdieu defines habitus as a system of dispositions we have as members of a social group of class.  This includes the way we think, speak, act, learn and is rooted in our socialization.  Our lifestyles and tastes are then a product of our habitus.  Specifically we are limited by economic possibilities, whereby constraints become preferences and results in ‘choices.’  As stated by Bourdieu, “[t]hrough taste, an agent has what he likes because he likes what he has”.

There are some dominant sets of ideas that define what is culturally valued and desirable, regarded as objective realities.  These are associated with specific social groups or classes, defining what is legitimate or worthwhile.  For example, we hold classical music to be objectively better or more valuable than pop music.  

To have cultural capital is not only to know the valued information, but to embody it, to look like it is natural and a part of who we are.  Cultural capital, or the lack thereof, can be found in your dress, haircut, the way you hold your body, accent and manner of speaking.  Bourdieu argues the rich discussing the “banalities about art…are inseparable from the steady tone, the slow casual diction, the distant or self assured smile, the measured gesture, the well-tailored suit.”

Comedian Jim Gaffigan talks about a number of issues around McDonald’s and consumption.  Specifically I find his commentary referencing the negative cultural capital around eating at McDonald’s interesting.  McDonald’s is not only not held in esteem, but it is generally thought of as cheap, poor quality food for unrefined palates.  In the clip, Gaffigan talks about the negative stigma of consuming McDonald’s and connects it to similar practices lacking cultural capital.

“Its fun telling people you go to McDonald’s.  They always give you that look like ‘Oh, I didn’t know I was better than you’.”

“I’m just here for the 99 cent ATM, what are you doing here Jim?”  “I’m just meeting a hooker, I’m certainly not eating here.”

“I know some of you are like, “Sorry white trashy guy, I don’t eat McDonald’s””

“I’m tired of people acting like they are better than McDonald’s.  Its like you may have never stepped foot in McDonald’s, but you have your own McDonald’s.  Maybe instead of buying a Big Mac you read Us Weekly.  Hey, thats still McDonald’s.  Its just served up a little different.”

“It may take me a while to digest my Quarter Pounder with cheese, but that tramp stamp is forever.”

The White “Minority”

In Sociology, term “minority” is not based within a numerical system of minority as opposed to majority.  When we use the term it is indicative of power relations, or minority as opposed to dominant.  Minority groups are then those in a multiethnic society who are disenfranchised and receive fewer of society’s rewards. 

In this clip from his comedy album 2042, Hari Kondobolu discusses the social construction of race and white anxiety.  The year 2042 is when it is estimated white people in the United States will become less than half of the population or a numerical minority (if all other racial categories are grouped together).  In this clip Kondobolu juxtaposes these definitions.  “Forty-nine percent white only makes you the minority if you think the other fifty-one percent are exactly the same.”