Hotel Rwanda vs. Erin Brockovich Essay

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Hotel Rwanda and Erin Brockovich are two provocative films that take a look at separate deviant acts but still present similar dangerous social problems. The conflicts that are portrayed are different in the means of operation but both share a similar end with the endangerment of thousands of people. We will examine how these deviant decisions affect both their societies and the reasons behind these atrocious acts. Hotel Rwanda is a very graphic film filled with a tremendous amount of deviance and social problems. The Hutu tribe feels that the Tutsi should not be in power and the Hutu extremists try to overtake their position.

The social problem is they want control over their part of Africa but do not have the proper means to go about it in a civilized manner. Without a proper education, a legitimate democracy, adequate money for food, water and shelter, the Hutu feel that they must gain power in order to better their lives. The only way they can do this is to commit a mass genocide against the Tutsi tribes. This event can be seen as a result of Robert Merton’s Anomie theory, or sometimes called strain theory. Merton’s theory “holds that crime increases – as do other forms of deviance – when the social structure prevents people from achieving culturally defined goals (e.g. Hutu bettering their lives) through legitimate means (e.g. an election). This gap between goals and means is called structural inequality or anomie”. (Tepperman 2010)

The persisting structural gap that the Hutu were experiencing was stopping them from rising to prominent political positions within Africa and left their people feeling angry, worthless and forgotten about. Unfortunately, they turned to the ultimate form of deviance and began heartlessly murdering all the Tutsi people they came across. Quickly developing a mob mentality increasingly becoming more and more violent in large groups. The Hutu began to show displeasure because they were being discriminated against and excluded from powerful positions within the economy, resulting in a very tough life. This caused feelings of resentment to grow within a hostile community experiencing a strongly persisting structural gap, which caused the Hutu to push back and lead a vicious rebellion. It started with relatively low forms of deviance such as harassment and assaults, but quickly the level of violence and deviance escalated into a very large and serious social problem. It was easy for the Hutu to slip into such a campaign of erratic behavior as they felt they had been wronged on many levels.

All four aspects of Robert Merton’s four strains are present and result in the Hutu’s justification to commit these vicious crimes. Merton states: They are most likely to result in crime when they.

1) Are seen as unjust.

2) Are seen as high in magnitude.

3) Are associated with low social control.

4) Create some pressure or incentive to engage in criminal coping.

These are all traits that tie in with the Hutu’s problems perfectly, which supports the idea that they would have turned to violence feeling that it was a last ditch effort to fix the wrong doings that were pushed onto them. As listed below: 1) The Belgian colonists left the Tutsi in charge unfairly over the Hutu as they abandoned Africa (unjust favoritism) 2) The Tutsi ruling influences and diminishes all the of the Hutu’s standards of living (a large in magnitude problem) 3) There is not much social control/policing/government interference in Africa (low social control) 4) If the Hutu win they can take control of the economy and earn more money for themselves and better their families lives (very large incentive for criminal activity)

As you can see the stakes are very high in this conflict and the strain the Hutu were experiencing was simply too much for them to sit back and accept. Feelings of rebellion soon overtook their people and influenced them to do horrible things. Another big factor in the deviance and social problems found in this film was that the children were very easy to coerce into joining the fight against the Tutsi’s. As Hirschi has been quoted concluding “that a child’s relationship with his or her parent is the most important factor in determining involvement in delinquent activities. Those who had weak bonds with their parents were most likely to commit delinquent acts”(Tepperman 2010).

Hirschi’s theory sheds light on the fact that children still at crucial developmental stages of their lives are very easily influenced by their parents and the amount of involvement one’s parents has in their own lives. In this film many of the children witnessed their own fathers participating in these barbaric acts and were encouraged to stand up and fight for their family. A problematic social upbringing where children are forced to interact with parents taking on violent roles has a huge impact on their own behaviors. In this story the children gain a sense of attachment and shared identity, which is facilitated by violent family values and rituals, such as, murder and violence. This is known as Authoritarian parenting where the parents have a high level of control but are not very caring (forcing them to fight in a war, not worrying if they get killed).

The children seemingly become brainwashed by these notions and accept it as their ‘responsibility’ or as ‘fate’. Psychologist Jean Piaget showed in his research “the self is a social product… because the self is a social product, it changes throughout life”(Tepperman 2010). As these kids become socialized in a hostile environment with hostile parents / role models, their development of self becomes tainted by the violence, discrimination and social upheaval they are surrounded with. Further encouraging these terrible traits stated above and influencing their demeanor and behavior for the worst, this is a result of social bond theory (Tepperman 2010). This film is an impeccable example of Social Structural Theories. It allows the viewer to see the impact that social disorganization and anomie has on people when viewed from a macro-sociological level, as well as, mob mentality, attachment and parenting theories, which is more conducive with symbolic interactionism and social bond theories relating closer to micro-sociological approaches.

Erin Brockovich is another film where there is a great deal of deviance that results in a large social problem. Much like Hotel Rwanda, the deviance that causes the social problem puts thousands of people’s lives in danger. Even though the deviant act is non-violent it still results in the same outcome. The criminals in this story simply did it in another fashion. They operated within America, a much more developed nation state where intervention is readily available and (usually) willing to stop unjust actions against the innocent. Thomas Hobbes said as early as the sixteenth century that “all people are motivated by a desire to pursue pleasure and flee pain. Unless controlled, they will freely use other people (and their property) to secure their own pleasure” (Tepperman 2010). This is exactly what Pacific Gas and Electric, the antagonist corporation, did in the film. They used cheap inadequate technology to harness power for a profit, as they were fully aware of the poisoning effect it had on a neighboring towns water supply.

They tried to cover up the facts through various non-violent white-collar crimes such as fraud but the result would have been the murder of countless people, just like in Africa, except by more discrete means. Often when deviant acts like this slip under the radar of society, it is up to external controls to fight back against the criminal behavior. In this white-collar crime case it took the main character exposing the fraud on a National level and government intervention to stop the deviant endangerment of a town and the social problem it would have created.

The major deviant act portrayed in this film fits under the category of Merton’s anomie theory but unlike the Hutu’s who use all out rebellion to try and achieve their goals, Innovation is used by the C.E.O. of the corporation in Erin Brockovich. His ultimate goal is to obtain a very large amount of money, but instead of murdering his competition, he innovates by cutting costs and poisoning a nearby town’s water supply. This is tied closely with Cohen and Felson’s Routine Activity Theory. This theory “proposes that the routine activities of a population have an effect on the availability of possible victims and the likelihood of a criminal occurrence… made up of three components.

1) The presence of the offender.

2) The Availability of the victim.

3) The Absence of the guardian Which correlates strongly with the deviant act that occurred in this problem i.e.

1) The presence of the corporations factories and the corrupt owner 2) The idle and unbeknownst neighboring town who is unaware of the companies fraudulent toxicity reports 3) No government or political intervention to stop the crime which creates opportunity for deviance

This is another example of how structural circumstances give way to an opportunity of crime and deviance under a functionalist viewpoint. Much like in Hotel Rwanda there were deviant individuals, passive victims and the absence of any authority figure or someone to decipher right from wrong. Deviant individuals saw an opportunity to take advantage of people because they had an opportunity due to the conditions of the societies they found themselves in. Both examples fell to Merton’s Anomie theory and attempted deviant acts to achieve their goals, as legitimate means was not a possible to their desired ends.

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