The movie under discussion is titled 12 Years a Slave. The movie is based on the real events that happened in 1853 in the United States. The main character is an African-American Solomon Northup. Contrary to the majority of representatives of his race, who were salves in the United States, Solomon was one of a few who were free. He was an educated and respectable person who had a family and own home. He was offered a job in Washington, where his employers betrayed him and sold as a slave. Solomon did not have any documents that could prove his identity and he had no opportunity to contact his friends. Thus, he became a slave again and had to serve many masters before he could finally find a way to send a letter to his friends.
The movie is a good example of sociological analysis. In the film, one can find the mechanisms of society’s work and the influence of social symbols on individual lives in the community. The movie demonstrates how a social status may change a person’s position in society he/she lives.
Karl Marx states that society is divided into two classes: bourgeoisie and proletarians. The former are few in number; they exercise control over others, divide resources and set rules. The latter have to perform obligations as workers; they receive small wage and little freedom of actions. In the discussed movie, one may also see the features of the social division. Although it has a little different form, the division of power remains the same. White people or masters introduce bourgeoisie; they have large farms and plantations, they do not work physically, but control the process of work and punish slaves for incomplete tasks. Slaves are introduced as proletarians, who have to work for food; they do not participate in the resources division and cannot change their social status. Despite the fact that Marx described the society where people have rights and neither class is viewed as a property, the system of social class division is similar.
The division of social class is possible because of the symbols that society applies. At the beginning of the movie, Solomon is showed as a free person, who is respected despite the fact that he is black. The symbol of a free person gives him numerous privileges over other representatives of his race. However, when Solomon loses the position of a free man, he receives the status of a slave. The attitude towards Solomon changes, though he stays the same person. Nothing has changed except his status in society. In sociology, the phenomenon is explained by symbolic interactionism theory. Each society has symbols which divide people in accordance with their obligations, social status, work, and other factors. Symbols are the elements used by individuals to differentiate their position in society. In the case of Solomon, he was labeled by a symbol of a slave, which obliged him to certain behavior and duties.
In the movie, one may see the struggle between white and black people. The representatives of a white privileged class exploit black people, while the underprivileged black community tries to survive in the inhumane conditions. Conflict theory states that during the entire history of mankind, social classes have always been in conflict. The upper class tries to hold its supreme position, while the lower class wants changes. In order to prevent a possible revolution organized by a lower class, the upper class implemented laws which did not give a chance for a lower class to grow and develop as individuals and as a social group. In the movie 12 Years a Slave, black people cannot read and write; moreover, they cannot take a step without a master’s permit. The strict measures were adopted inventively because educated people are more dangerous than those who do not know what are dignity, pride, and rights. Solomon was one of the individuals, who knew what means to be a free man, but even while being a slave, he understood that his knowledge may be viewed as a threat. Solomon cannot accept a fact that he is a slave without rights and it often leads to conflicts between him and his master.
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Social and Cultural Context
The social and cultural context portrayed in the movie predetermines the social conflicts that the main character faces. The social structure depends on certain factors such as geographical location, traditions, beliefs, religion, and others. In the case of Solomon, geographical location and time have played a crucial role. Being an African American in the 19th century in the South of the United States meant to be a slave. However, if the events took place in Africa or in one of the Arabic countries, where black people are not property, but hold ruling positions, Solomon, as well as many other black people, would not be treated the same way. If the events took place in modern time, the situation would not have a place at all because slavery in a civilized society is not a norm anymore. Therefore, the social and cultural context had a strong impact on the life of an individual and his/her role in society. In one country, being black means to be a property, while in another country, it means to be an ordinary citizen.
The large social force which enabled the existence of slavery in the 19th century was wealth and religion. White people used to hold all ruling position; they controlled the division of resources and adopted new laws; besides, the whites outnumbered the blacks. Even religion was interpreted in the way which justified slavery and punishment. In the movie, during one of the Saturday preaching, the master cited the Bible and explained to his slaves that it was the decision of God to make the black people serve the whites. Thus, if the slaves showed any disobedience, the master may and should beat them. Thus, black people were doomed to the lives of slaves because they have never known other conditions. Also, the majority of white people and even some black people believed that slavery is a normal condition.
In the movie, one may distinctively see the sociological concept of master status. The type of social status is constant, despite the actions and behavior of a person. For instance, all blacks in the movie are slaves, while the white people who work in the same plantation because of the debts or financial problems are not slaves, though they perform the same obligations. Moreover, the viewer may monitor the existence of a social institution such as education. Solomon was an educated person, but he hid his talents because slaves should not be able to write or read. Education was a privilege of white people, while blacks should only complete the duty of work.
The movie also demonstrates a social phenomenon known as the Milligram experiment. According to Milligram theory, a person will act immoral and cause pain to others if there are the necessity and approval by a person who has a higher position or status. In the movie, Solomon has become a performer of an executor role, when a master ordered him to punish a male slave. First Solomon beat a slave not much, but when a master shouted at him, Solomon started beating a slave harder. The episode shows that the authority of a person, who has a higher social status or position, may make people act immorally. Even if the understanding that their actions are wrong, they cannot resist the higher authority.
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A Research Study
The topic of the research is the impact of social status on the self-perception and the role of individuals in a society. The community impacts the way individuals view themselves and the role they should play in the creation of the society, where they live. Moreover, self-perception is interconnected with social status. Thus, a person, who works in a fast-food restaurant, and the one, who runs own business, have a different perception of their role and position in the society.
The research has to give an answer to the question of how social status predetermines the image of individuals. The project has to compare the view of themselves and others among people with high social status and representatives of lower position in society. Hence, the hypothesis of research may be introduced in the following way: people with high social status have a different perception of a society they live in and an image of a role that every individual should play as compared to individuals of lower social status.
For a successful accomplishment of the research, it is better to use an experimental method of data collection. One should conduct an experiment, where the representatives of different social classes participate. They will have to complete a questionnaire that will help to define their perception of society, themselves and others. Also, the questions should assess what changes are necessary to adopt and what role a participator should perform in the development of society, he/she lives in. The advantage of the experiment method lies in the opportunity to provide direct contact with the participants. The disadvantage is that the chosen participants cannot be an adequate reflection of the population of the same social status. Hence, another possible data collection method is participants’ observation and indirect contact with them. The method may be even more beneficial because participants will not know when exactly they will be observed and what behavior is observed. Thus, the research may receive the unbiased data about the participators’ behavior, but not their thoughts or ideas because people do not always act the same way they think.
The analysis of the movie showed that society is a living organism which follows the demands of time. Social norms are the necessities which are justified by the approval of the majority of the ruling elite. Moreover, society is also impacted by geographical position and culture. Individuals, who are viewed as honored people in one society, may be treated as slaves in another community because of the intercultural differences.
The movie also demonstrates how social status impacts people’s life. In one day, the main character turned from a free man to a slave because he lost his right to be free. However, the biggest sociological insight that defines the movie is social acceptance. Both blacks and whites used to view slavery as a norm, and the last one provides arguments which prove that it is a natural phenomenon. The movie shows that individuals are only the performers of the society’s machine and they have to adapt to changes when it is required by new conditions.