Boyz ‘n’ the Hood and Rebel Without a Cause are movies that shed light on different problems present in different eras and different neighborhoods. The first movie represents the hood life around the ’80s and ’90s and the second movie highlights the problems of middle-America youth in the post-war era. Both movies explore underlying themes of social deviation and why it happens. The diagnosis of all the characters is a form of deviation and the prognosis is building strong relationships and family ties and labeling the people around us positively. Each movie uses different tools and characters into providing insight into a certain way of life among certain people.
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Boyz N the Hood and Rebel Without a Cause provide many examples of the deviance and control theories. Deviance in statistics is the variations in what the outcomes are supposed to be. In sociology, a deviant is a person who isn’t what he should normally be. Any variation from social, cultural, or religious norms can be a deviation.
“In a recent book about deviance, Douglas (1984) has identified rape, homosexuality, and terrorism as major categories of deviance today, and his choice of these highlights a recurrent concern among sociologists to link analysis of deviance with that of particular forms of sexual and violent behavior. Indeed, a quick glance through the contents of any book dealing with deviance is likely to reveal an interest in making sense of forms of sexual behavior as diverse as prostitution, child abuse, homosexuality, transsexualism, and extra-marital sexual activity.
Similarly, with respect to violence, interest has been shown in gang violence, rape, juvenile delinquency, football hooliganism, and acts of terrorism. To this list of concerns, however, should be added studies looking at less spectacular forms of deviances such as alcohol dependence, childlessness, stuttering, and solvent use” (Aggleton 1-2)
Many of these deviations are portrayed in both movies. The most significant ones relate to crime, murder, sex, and alcohol and drug abuse, and underlying connotations of homosexuality.
“John Singleton’s 1991 film Boyz N the Hood in the context of American subcultural deviance theories… presents aspects of many of the major theories of deviance (labeling, strain, social control, and differential association). (Leblanc 64) The major characters Tre, there’s father, Ricky and Doughboy represent different forms of deviance and control. Tre’s father is a controller because he continuously tells everyone around him to start thinking. Tre is different than the other people in the neighborhood because his father has raised him differently. The dad tries to instill good values in his son so he can succeed and not conform to the deviant norms of his surroundings. Whereas in Rebel Without a Cause the three main characters lack the support of a father figure.
The control theory states that the closer people are to each other and the stronger their bonds they will be less likely to deviate. Continuously throughout Boyz ‘n’ the Hood the dad talks to his son about everything and tries to teach him along the way. Another example in the movie is when the dad gives him advice about not having children at a young age. He says that any guy can have a child but raising one makes him a man.
Also after the SAT exam, the dad tells the boys how the exam is biased and math is the only section that is universally unbiased in the exam. The father-son relationship is not there when it comes to Tre’s friends. Ricky and Doughboy are half brothers and their father is never around. Doughboy is the deviant in the family whereas Ricky tries to stay away from trouble. The control theory states that people who have stronger bonds are less like to deviate compared to people who have weaker bonds. The boys’ behavior and their future can be observed and analyzed by both the control theory and the labeling theory.
Through the same theory, the main characters in The Rebel Without a Cause can be analyzed. None of the three children have supportive families and there is a lack of communication at home. Jim, the main character is found at the beginning of the film drunk on the street. When he tries to give his parents any form of explanation they start quarreling. Jim tells the police officer how a child is supposed to grow up in an environment like this. Judy is also present in the police station because she is found wandering about the streets late at night possibly looking for ‘company’.
She explains herself and it can easily be concluded that she deviates from social norms to get attention from her father. In both movies, children without a supportive father figure end up in trouble whereas Boyz ‘n’ the Hood provides a stark comparison by adding a character that does have his father’s support.
The labeling theory explains why certain characters act a certain way in films. “The labeling theory states that of people are called something or told who they are often enough shall begin to act in that manner.” (Leblanc 64) For example, if a child is labeled a bully in school even if he has done act one and continues to be called a bully it is quite likely that he will try to or conform to the label that has been given to him. On the other hand, if a person is told that they can excel over and over again they will most like live up to those expectations.
In Boyz ‘n’ the Hood this contrast is observed between Ricky and Doughboy. Their mother continuously puts Doughboy down and praises Ricky.”You ain’t shit, you don’t do shit, and you ain’t never going to amount to shit,” is one of the remarks passed by the mother to Doughboy. When we observe the first half of the movie which depicts the boy’s childhood it is apparent that Doughboy was not always a deviant. When the boys in the hood, pun intended, take away Ricky’s football Doughboy is appalled. The child simply wants his brother to have his ball back. He stands up for his brother and he gets beaten up. Because of his personality type he gets into trouble.
Eventually, his mother starts putting him down because he is continuously getting into trouble. “The labeling theory suggests that this would explain why he was in jail most of his life, deals drugs, kill people, and is eventually murdered at the end of the movie. This theory also suggests that the encouragement of his mother led Ricky to become a football star and receive a scholarship to USC.” (Leblanc 64)
At the end of the movie, Ricky dies when other guys from the neighborhood shoot him and Doughboy dies two weeks after avenging his brother’s death. The assumption can be made that Doughboy was murdered by the people connected to his brother’s murderers. When he is young he gets into trouble and starts going down a slippery slope because he defends his brother and when he gets old he dies trying to avenge his brother’s death.
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In Rebel Without a Cause the labeling theory is present but it leads to a very different conclusion. Jim is continuously accused of having too many problems for which his parents keep on moving to a new town. He is continuously put down by his mother and grandmother and has a father who won’t stand up for him. Although the labeling theory suggests that people reduce or rise to the labels they acquire Boyz ‘n’ the Hood does not show how to defeat the problem. At the end of Rebel Without a Cause, Jim matures into a man and lets go of his teenage hooliganism. In both movies though, the conclusion is only reached after the death of a character.
While looking at the cinematic observations both movies try to present deviant behavior by highlighting the problems of different eras. Boyz ‘n’ the Hood is filmed over the life span of characters in the movie starting from their childhood. Rebel Without a Cause, however, only spans over a two-day time period that changes the lives of two teenagers and results in the death of two. In both the movies, the person who dies is the one with the least lack of support.
Ricky and Judy’s first boyfriend die because of a trivial matter but Doughboy and Plato die because one wants to avenge his brother’s death and the other wants to defend himself. Doughboy is the character in the movie with the least moral support and Plato’s parents have literally abandoned him. Both their circumstances lead the teenagers to pick up guns which eventually become the reason for their own death.
There are many acts of neutralization present in Boyz ‘n’ the Hood when the deviants try to justify their behavior. At the sermon in front of the billboard that Tre’s dad gives about people killing themselves over stupid things and conforming to the system a few guys listening in trying to defend their actions. They say that if someone “messes with them” or causes any trouble they are not going to tolerate anything and take action. In the same way, Jim wants to fight anyone who will call him a ‘chicken’ because it’s a matter of honor and he doesn’t want to be like his dad. Characters in both the movie are not tolerant to any sort of misconduct or even an attitude problem and resort to killing if they need to.
In Rebel Without a Cause, Judy’s boyfriend dies in a chicky run and earlier breaks out into a ‘knife-fight with Jim. Although both movies portray characters who deviate and end up in trouble and people who make better decisions and lead better lives, Rebel Without a Cause meshes these character traits into one person. Jim is deviant who won’t stand anyone calling him a chicken but he doesn’t want trouble and tries to avoid fighting with the knives as much as he can. In Boyz ‘n’ the Hood, Doughboy represents the deviant personality of Jim and Tre represents his good, not asking for trouble side.
The quality of a deviant is that he fights back each time. Every little thing such as the role of an eye or an argument is reason enough to kill someone. Sometimes people deviate intentionally because they want to prove people wrong. Sometimes people deviate because they are living up to their labels. Sometimes people deviate because they don’t know any better. Tre’s insistence on having sex with his Catholic girlfriend can be considered deviant behavior because he is going against what his parents have told him.
His girlfriend gets angry with him but he does not resort to further deviations. Doughboy gets labeled a deviant from an early age but he never fights back to clear the misconception. He continuously involves himself in activities that live up to his reputation. Jim makes a lot of mistakes throughout his life but finally learns to be like a man after losing Plato and causing the death of the other guy in the Chicky Race.
Boys ‘n’ the Hood seeks to normalize society. The message at the end of the movie is to stop and to create peace. The movie shows a real-life depiction of what happens in the hood and how it hurts everyone living in it. It sheds light on how their behavior is affecting them negatively. They show all aspects of particular societal trends in order to create awareness among the people. The movie asks questions about traditional ways of controlling a form of deviance when it highlights the role of the police officer and the kids who try to fight deviance.
The police officer just wants to kill everybody and is an extreme cynic and Ricky believes that the only way to stop another deviant is by acting the same way with him. The police officer hopes that the guy who broke into the house should have been dead and that everyone on the street is a gangster. In Rebel, Without a Cause, the police officer ends up playing a father figure for all three of the teenage rebels, unlike the other movie.
All throughout both the movies deviant behavior can be clearly spotted. The only way to normalize deviant behavior is to understand why it happens and how it happens. Young kids like Ricky and Plato all over the world end up committing crimes because of the weak bonds they have. They end up deviating from societal norms because they have been labeled a specific way. They already have a reputation and they feel that they cannot get away from it.
They accept what society has labeled them and give in to the norms of deviation. Kids who have stronger bonds with family and society on the other hand can easily break away from any childhood delinquencies they were a part of like Tre and Jim when he finds the Judy loves him too. When people realize the roots of the problem only then will they be able to fix it. The movies are a message to all the people of America to shed light on different eras and the problems present at those times that still plague the life of the youth in America today.
Aggleton, Peter. Deviance. Society now. London: Tavistock, 1987.
LeBlanc, Lauraine. “Observing Reel Life: Using Feature Films to Teach Ethnographic Methods.” Teaching Sociology 1 (1998).