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Film Review of Mel Gibson's Apocalypto & Relevance to Sociology
This is an interesting commentary on contemporary social organization. The film is based on Mayan culture and shows a once advanced society in the throes of disorganization and fall. One can easily see analogies to Roman civilization, but more importantly one may see parallels to the current world situation, especially the West. The US evolved from strict religious values to a progressive society where anything goes. There are still some that cherish these values, but the media and those who control society seem to be on this similar road to destruction suggested by the film.
The primitives in the forest are examples of our hunting and gathering roots. These are simple yet strong survivors that seem to be living a content existence. They show respect for the environment in which they live. There is a strong communal identity and the group is strongly knit together.
This film relates to sociology directly in that it portrays a graphic example of a society, one from which our ancestors began the journey. The hunters and gatherers, and slash and burn horticulturists are shown in contrast to the more advanced Mayan society. There are no slaves among the hunters and gatherers, or social class distinctions, as found in the Mayan structure. This alone is a strong definition of the differences between two societies. The role of gender is also evident. The men are warrior/hunter types, and the women take care of the children and stay near the hearth. Whether women are subordinate or equal was not clear to me since each role is important in a society. Most viewers will only pick up on these distinctions in passing. They stream through the middle of the film and clear examples of how as one advances from primitive to advanced, class distinctions emerge. The main culprit, if you will, as the sociologist loudly proclaim, is the accumulation of surplus and those who control it. Scientific farming techniques, the irrigation system (which is shown in disrepair and polluted among the Mayans) combines to imply a civilization in decline. The last scene is only a prophecy of more horror as the Spaniards (most likely Cortez, or even Columbus, since the imagery and imputations are somewhat vague, but impressive none the less), are seen landing on the shores of the rain forest. We know what happened after that.
There is a great deal of history jumbled up in this film and as far as I can determine (only those who lived through it could ever know for sure) the film represents an historical summary of what we have been told by those who are supposed to know. I thought it was an entertaining film for introduction to sociology classes to view, at least for its commentary on societies and their evolution. I leave the implications to the viewer.
A story about people locked in miscommunication.
This is an interesting commentary on the interplay of characters supposedly surrounding a focal point. I think it was an anti-gun attempt, and underlying advocacy film for illegal aliens, but the plot does exactly the opposite of what it intended. If the film was supposed to appeal to our sympathy for the illegal alien, it certainly was amusing in the way the story line reversed that intent. When the Mexican nanny decides to travel to Mexico to attend her son's wedding, she abandons her responsibility to care for the American children in her care. The decision to relinquish her responsibility and place her charges at grave risk is a poor advertisement for hiring a nanny in the first place. If we view some of the decisions made in Mexico, we see a social class distinction somewhat different than middle class, or even general American values. This might be a good example of how ethnocentrism causes judgements based on one's values. The American couple is also a poor excuse for parents. They are too busy with their own self-pity and selfish needs to worry about their children who they leave with the illegal alien nanny. This is a good film for my sociology classes to watch because it shows the true nature of the illegal alien problem. You will have to watch the film to make up your mind what I mean by that. In any event, I am certainly not an advocate for illegal immigration. Part of this film supports my view. Aside from immigration issues, the movie also is a vague commentary on youth issues, so may also apply to juvenile justice as well. As with most films, there are many other references to basic sociological concepts.
Status Anxiety (2004)
An overview of Status Anxiety...
This is a good film for sociology classes as long as the professor explains some of the inherent biases and the apparent agenda of the author of the book, Status Anxiety. I watched the film on PBS and, as a sociologist, liked the discussions about Marx, Weber, and other notables. Weber actually defined class to include wealth, status, and power, so the inference that it is something less falls short of describing an accurate depiction of the topic. The NY Times review refers to Botton's book as superficial and although I would agree, it did offer a good introduction to the British view of class. It is somewhat difficult to ignore that someone whose culture is a monarchy can accurately describe the class structure in such universal terms. Perhaps American sociologists (such as C. Wright Mills, for example) might be a better source of information. Botton's description does sketch some notables worthy of mention including William James, Adam Smith, Marcus Aurelius, and Schopenhauer but his selections are covered in most freshman philosophy, or civilization courses, and far better than the documentary. What was annoying in watching the film was the obvious liberal, left-wing agenda that Botton imposes (and not at all in a subtle or artistic way) about his anti-gun stance. As trite as it seems, it is not guns that kill people, but people that kill people. I found the clip contrasting Robert Norquest with the grieving mother whose son is murdered (shot) by a gang member to be more of an advertisement for the politics of the liberal left than an accurate description of crime and violence. "If all guns are outlawed, then only outlaws will have guns." In addition, the right to bear arms, part of the American Bill of Rights, is something the British just cannot understand. After all, that is one of reasons the "colonists" revolted against King George in the first place. I do like their tea though!
Overall, a good film for students of sociology and criminal justice classes.
The film Traffic is a useful commentary on the obvious relationship between family, government, and law enforcement and the overall drug problem. One might begin the discussion with the question, is there a drug problem at all? As a former federal parole officer I can tell you that many parolees with drug problems often commented that they did not have a problem with drugs at all. It was society that had the problem and that drugs were simply a recreational alternative and adaptation to the world itself. Obviously, this is a mechanism used by deviants to manage their deviance. It is obviously a problem if your parole officer has to violate you and send you back to prison. Redefining the deviant act and finding explanations that can make it acceptable are often utilized by the deviant.
I found the film useful in discussing the relationship between the three underlying components related to the drug problem: international diplomacy, law enforcement, and the family. This involves understanding the nexus between micro and macro issues. The government and underlying greed and corruption pose a systemic and macro sociological dimension. The family and law enforcement can be usefully viewed inside the labeling perspective and takes on some interesting twists with regard to deviance in general. the micro sociological issues surrounding the law enforcement strategies (the use of informants, and the typical street-savvy expertise of the narcs were excellent displays of this phenomenon.
Students might understand the complex web of meanings that can both explain and obfuscate the so-called drug problem. Deviance is relative to the context in which it is found. It is again similar to the other categories of deviance easily classified in criminal justice courses, but becomes problematic in the domain of the sociologist.
The following issues are raised in terms of both juvenile justice, deviance, and general introduction to criminal justice course work:
In the movie, TRAFFIC, the main themes surrounding the drug problem are portrayed. What do you think is the solution to the drug problem? Is there a drug problem? does rehabilitation, law enforcement, or international diplomacy play the key role(s) in solving the problem? Is one more important than the other?
How does the family contribute to the problem of drug abuse? What is the attitude of the parents, the spouse? and how does the family play a role in the overall drug abuse problem?
What is the relationship between government, the individual families, and law enforcement and how does each interact with the other in contributing to the overall drug problem/solution?
A really interesting film that was viewed by students in an academic setting.
I used this film to discuss several sociological concepts in a lecture forum. The students who viewed the film were very interested in the movie and found it entertaining as far as I could determine by responses from them. I asked the following questions to the students in the class regarding the main concepts of deviance, and sociology of the family: 1) what is the sociological significance of the main theme in the film 11:14? With regard to the scene in Lloyds, Melinda at first attempts to prevent Duffy from robbing the store. However, she changes her mind after Duffy tempts her with the prospect of a $700 profit. In discussing deviance, the author of the text (Sociology of Deviant Behavior, by Marshall Clinard)suggests that there are ways that deviants manage deviance. How does Melinda manage the deviant act?
2) The protective father figure, Frank, played by Pat Swayze, may be representative of certain social classes. Discuss the family relations of Cherie and how it has impacted on her current behavior(s).
There were many other subplots and issues that I found directly related to the sociology and criminal justice courses I am teaching this semester. I intend to use this film again in my lectures.