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Film Analysis: AMERICAN HISTORY X

Socialization or Deviance
Theory

Edwin Sutherland: Differential Association Theory

Premise/ argument of selected


theory

Person's tendency towards deviance depends on the


contact with others who encourage or reject
conventional behavior

Concept(s) in socialization
deviance

Family, mass media, and the state served as agents of


socialization in the film

Discussion: How did the film illuminate and reinforce the sociological theories [i.e. socialization,
deviance] discussed in class?
The film, "American History X," is mainly about how Derek Vinyard's father influenced his strong dislike
for dark colored people, and him further influencing his little brother, Danny, into having the same frame
of mind. Thus, the main theory of socialization and deviance presented in this movie is Edwin
Sutherland's Differential Association Theory, which states that a person's deviance is dependent on his
interaction with people who encourage or reject conventional behavior. Derek looked up to his father, and
accepted his arguments about white people not getting what they deserve since black people have been
getting special treatment just because theyre black. This also changed his admiration for his black
teacher, Mr. Sweeney. After Derek loses his father and becomes imprisoned, Danny idolizes his older
brother and chooses to interact with the group of white people that the latter has founded and slowly turns
into a younger version of Derek
Another theory that is evident in "American History X" is George Herbert Mead's Theory of the Self. In
the preparatory stage, Mead tells us that "Children merely imitate the people around them especially
family members with whom they continually interact." The lack of a father figure led Derek into playing
the patriarchal role in the family, and served as Danny's role model, which he chooses to imitate. Charles
Cooley's Looking-Glass Self, which states that our view of ourselves may also come from what we think
other people think about us, is proven in the film in a scene wherein Derek's father got disappointed with
his admiration for his black teacher, and his interest on the book that this teacher assigned him to read.
This then led Derek into contemplating about his own personal beliefs. In this particular scene, we can see
how a father can influence his son's view of himself.
Durkheim also presents the theory that states that it is not in the act that crime appears to be deviant; but it
is because the act is something that society unanimously opposes to and is manifested in the movie by the
fathers great influence over his son Derek which completely alters the perspective of the latter towards
the black people, passing the hatred that the father has into the offspring. His anger turns to rage and
eventually leads to violence. Based on Erving Goffmans Presentation of Self, it was already
preconditioned in the minds of the people that white men are good and black men are bad. It is because of
this theory why crime committed by white men is viewed in a lesser degree than black men. No one is
born being a racist. Clearly, racism is an interstice for Dereks anger. With no one to blame, Derek uses
the black men to express his feelings about his fathers death. Violence towards black men is his attempt
to replace his feeling of fear and pain. Out of his desperation to get rid of these feeling he created faulty
decisions that was never his intention in the first place.