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Constructs of sociology and social theories aim to describe a host of human social interactions. Ideas of how humans view the social world, exchange with others, and fit into society are the guiding principles of sociology. These sociological perspectives find their way into entertainment outlets and pop culture as they are often reflections of society, and try to imitate common social interactions (Burton, 1988). The 1985 film, The Breakfast Club, is such an example of the reflection of social exchanges and norms. Although the film was produced over twenty-five years ago, it still holds an abundance of social relevance. The Breakfast Club is the story of five high school students who have been punished to a Saturday detention. The interaction between the five students and their principal provide examples in social constructs and theories such as social class, social control theory, conflict theory, deviance, and social groups. The successful use of these social elements makes the work a relevant and engaging film with emerging sociological themes.
The John Hughes written and directed work, The Breakfast Club, chronicles the following five students during a Saturday detention: Allison Reynolds, Andrew Clarke, John Bender, Brian Johnson, and Claire Standish. They are met by their principal, Richard Vernon, who advises the students they are to stay in their seats until detention ends at 4 o'clock. Tension among the students continues to rise as the day progresses due in part to their boredom, but mostly due to their general dislike for one another. Eventually conflict develops, and through their confrontations they begin to realize their dislike for one another was a matter of their misconceptions. They begin to see each other void of stereotypes and generalities, and realize they all endure struggles, feel pressure, and have their secrets. By the end of their day in detention, they identify with how much they are alike, and not with the labels in which they are associated. The plot of the movie is dependent on the social interaction between the students. The majority of the story takes place in a high school library and the conversations alone perpetuate the plot development. The focus on the social exchange between the students is what makes this film rich with examples of social theories and perspectives.
The first social construct to surface during the film is the distinction of social class. The categorization of social class divides a society into socio-economic groups: lower class, middle class, upper class (Ransome, 2010, p. 192-195). In the opening sequence, it is early morning and each student is arriving at the high school. Most of the students are being dropped off by their parents. The matter in which the students arrive to the school is a reflection of their social class. For example, Claire is driven to the school by her dad in a BMW car, which is typically regarded as an expensive car and is only affordable for people in the upper class. Claire's dad also wears a Burberry scarf, which is a notably expensive clothing line. Burberry and BMW are two trademarks that are easily recognized, and immediately give visual clues that suggest social class. Films also tell a visual story, and in this scene the distinction of social class is being seen, and not told (Burton, 1988). Brian's family drops him off in a Plymouth station wagon, which is considered a more economical car and suitable for people in the middle class. Andrew and Allison both arrived in middle class appropriate vehicles, while Bender walked to school. This opening scene immediately suggests that Claire is in a higher social class than the rest of her classmates.
Social control is another sociological perspective that is apparent in The Breakfast Club. Social control explains the societal and political processes that try to regulate, or control, individual or group behavior (Ransome, 2010, p. 198-199). It is generally a concept where an individual's relationships, commitments, and values are encouraging not to break the law. Social control is the backdrop for this film, as the entire story is told during a Saturday detention. In this circumstance, detention is the governing process that is trying to regulate and control behavior in the students. The threat of detention, and being in detention, is supposed to be motivation not to break school rules. Principal Rick Vernon goes even further to try to implement proper student behavior by punishing them not only to detention, but to write an essay as well. Minutes after the students arrive, Vernon tells them they cannot speak, they cannot move, and they must write an essay explaining "Who do you think you are?" This early scene is an example of social control, and sets the tone that the students are being punished, and detention is a way to correct their inappropriate behaviors. A Saturday detention is supposed to let the students recognize their actions as wrong, and influence them to act properly to reduce the likelihood of criminal behavior.
The conflict theory in sociology stresses the inequality of a social group. Inequality can be expressed socially, politically, or economically (Ransome, 2010, p. 74, 160). The Breakfast Club provides numerous examples of conflict between social groups. The plot of the story is propelled by the social conflict that arises in high school between different social groups. One scene that tensely demonstrates conflict stemming from the inequality between social groups is the "Lipstick Scene." In this scene, Claire is prompted by the other students to show her "special talent." She gives in, and proceeds to apply lipstick while the tube is secured in her bra. After she is finished, the group shares a laugh at this random trick. Bender gives Claire a few slow, exaggerated claps, and the group attacks Bender for being mean to Claire. Claire makes a comment about how she has feelings too, and they hurt just as much "when somebody steps all over them." Bender attacks and says, "Don't you ever, ever compare yourself to me." Bender continues to explain that Claire has everything, an easy life, is a "Queen" and questions her diamond earrings. His tone is threatening and insulting and he questions who paid for the diamond earrings, and if she received them as a Christmas gift. Bender reveals he received a carton of cigarettes for Christmas as his dad told him to "Smoke up, Johnny!" Bender's message is obvious; Claire comes from a family with higher means, while Bender comes from a family with lower means. They each exist in two separate social groups and social classes within the same society. The polarity that exists between social groups in the same society gives rise to conflict due to associated feeling of jealousy, resentment, inequality, and sense of unfairness. Bender's family has not been able to provide for him the same way Claire's has for her, and Bender believes this means they can never be compared or considered equal.
One of the most prevalent sociological perspectives in the film is social deviance. The social construct of deviance refers to behaviors that violate socio-cultural norms, which can include the breaking of formal laws as crime, or informal straying from social norms (Ransome, 2010, p 274-275). Four of the five student characters in The Breakfast Club are in detention for their deviation from acceptable behavior. Andrew was in detention for bullying a kid in the locker room, Brian was in detention for bringing a flare gun to school, Bender set off a fire alarm, and Claire skipped class to go shopping. Each of the students departed from acceptable behavior and broke school rules. The only student who did not break any school rules is Allison. Later in the film, Allison admits she did nothing wrong, and came to detention to escape her home life. Although Allison did not commit any wrongful action, the fact she came to detention because she wanted to is still considered deviance. In this circumstance Allison deviated from the social norm -- students do not typically go to detention unless they are required.
A specific scene that demonstrates deviance is the "Eat my shorts" scene. In this scene, Principal Vernon is trying to prop the door to the library open so he can hear if the students are talking. Throughout this process, Bender continues to talk back, making wise-guy comments, and pushing Vernon's buttons. Vernon threatens Bender by saying, "the next screw to fall out will be you." In response, Bender says, "Eat my shorts." The spatting continues as Vernon declares Bender just earned another Saturday detention. Bender responds with, "So?" And continues to taunt Vernon. This persists until Claire yells for Bender to stop, and by this time he has been punished with eight additional Saturday detention sessions. The deviance in this scene occurs as Bender continues to challenge the authority figure, Vernon. Despite additional punishment, Bender asks for more and his deviant behavior ensues.
The most profound transferal resulting from The Breakfast Club is the defining and re-defining of social groups. A social group consists of…[continue]
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