A Guide to

Teaching SOCIOLOGY with Video

Table of Contents | Preface | Sample Chapter

Casey Jordan, Ph.D.






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1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

Introduction: Video as Pedagogy1
Practicalities 2
Video Appeal and Selection 4
Legalities 4
The Recommended Videos 5
A Final Thought 5
Functionalist Perspective 6
Conflict Perspective 7
Interactionist Perspective 7
Exchange Theory 8
Ethnographic and Observation 9
Survey and Interview 9
Archival / Aggregate Data 10
Time Series 10
Experiment 10
Chapter Three: CULTURE 12
Cultural Complexity and Diversity 12
Symbols and Language 13
Types of Cultures 13
Institutions of Cultures:
Media 14
Art 15
Music 15
Film 16
Fashion 16
Dance 16
Sports 17
Status, Roles and Groups 19
Bureaucracy 20
Types of Societies:
Hunting and Gathering 21
Pastoral 21
Horticultural 21
Agricultural 22
Industrial 22
Post-Industrial 23
Societal Transition 23
Socialization 24
Life Course 25
Childhood 26
Adolescence 27
Youth 27
Mature Adulthood 28
Old Age 28
Death 29
Cultural Transmission Theory 31
Structural Strain Theory 32
Control Theory 33
Labeling Theory 33
Crime and Criminality:
Violent 34
Property 35
Victimless 35
White Collar & Corporate 36
Retribution 37
Rehabilitation 37
Incapacitation 38
Deterrence 39
Mental Disorder and Deviance 40
Sex Roles, Values, and Conduct 41
Homosexuality 43
Pornography 44
Sexually Transmitted Diseases 45
Rape 46
Incest Taboo 47
Prostitution 48
Caste System 49
Class System 49
Colonialism 51
Wealth, Poverty, and Homelessness 52
Stratification: Power and Prestige 53
Society and the Physically & Mentally Challenged 54
Interracial and Multi-ethnic Interaction 55
Apartheid 57
African Americans 58
Latin Americans 59
Native Americans 60
Asian-Americans 61
White Ethnics 62
Gender Differentiation and Stratification 64
Gender Roles 65
Male-Female Interaction 66
Chapter Eleven: AGE AND SOCIETY 67
Rites of Passage 68
Social Gerontology 69
Plight of Children 70
Chapter Twelve: FAMILY AND SOCIETY 71
Family and Kinship 71
Romantic Love and Fidelity 73
Marriage and Divorce 74
Parenthood 75
Chapter Thirteen: RELIGION AND SOCIETY 77
Types of Religion 77
Religion as an Institution 78
Chapter Fourteen: EDUCATION AND SOCIETY 80
Healthcare Issues as Social Problems:
Abortion 83
Alcohol & Drug Abuse 83
Mental Illness 85
Chapter Sixteen: POLITICAL SYSTEMS 86
Forms of Government:
Communism and Socialism 86
Authoritarianism and Totalitarianism 87
Capitalism and Democracy 87
Imperialism and Feudalism 88
Political Groups and Institutions 89
Chapter Seventeen: ECONOMIC SYSTEMS 91
Population and Urban Ecology 95
Suburban and Rural Ecology 96
Environment 97
Ecology in Transition 97
Technical Innovation and Change 99
Nuclear Proliferation 100
Futuristic Visions of Society 101
"Top Fifteen" Recommended Videos 103
References and Sources 104

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At a recent conference where I was setting up a multi-media presentation on this topic, I experienced such persistent difficulties with the computer and video equipment that I muttered: "I guess I'm having a falling down day."

Colleagues within earshot nodded in complete understanding; and a conference organizer joked "I hope you don't have a bazooka in that briefcase!"

That my comment was met with immediate recognition of the frustration, even anomie, suffered by the main character in the movie Falling Down is evidence of the level to which film and video have infiltrated our everyday lives. Recent news stories covering incidents of crime and tragedy have been linked to movie viewing--such as the "Money Train" fire-bombing of a subway tollbooth, "The Program" highway suicides by intoxicated youths, and "New Jack City" melees in the streets outside cinemas--reinforce the view that television and film greatly influence our culture (Centerwall 1989, and Pfuhl 1970).

Today, the average American household's enormous consumption of movies and television has been supplemented with the another media household staple: the VCR and videotape. With the systematic transfer of film to video just months after cinematic release, to have seen a "movie" more often means that the viewer saw the video of the movie; indeed, "movie" and "video" are almost culturally synonymous.

This rising tide of video culture is perhaps disturbing to college educators, who not only find offensive the sexual, criminal, violent, and profane content of such movies, but who also fight daily to coax, inspire, and coerce our video-raised student into reading the content (words!) of an assigned text. How many times have we heard it said of the literary classics "I didn't read the book, but I saw the movie."

The purpose of this manual is to recognize the challenges faced by the educators of social sciences, and to propose that our disinclination to acknowledge the role of movies in shaping students" perceptions of the "real world" of sociology is, indeed, a battle already lost. While the consolatory idiom "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em " rings hollow, it is my experience and belief that by integrating commercially-released video into the social science curriculum (see Jordan, 1996), educators can reinvent the nemesis of movies on video into a useful classroom tool, and thus beat plowshares from swords.

While the proposed pedagogy can be applied to almost all social science subjects, the focus of this manual is on the value of video in teaching topics of sociology. Having taught sociology for the past eight years to both inner-city (and mostly minority) students in the City of New York as well as suburban (and mostly white) students in western Connecticut, I have found a tremendous difference in students" interest in, and perceptions of, social realities. The one universal factor I have observed in all my teaching experience is that the word "theory" is usually met with complete misunderstanding and disdain. For students, "theory" often translates to "someone else's boring ideas to memorize."

Because teaching sociological theory presented such a challenge, I sought early to find a mechanism by which to demonstrate the crux of these theories--many of which are dismissed by students as irrelevant for being based on dated research--with a current situation that students accept as "real world" and to which they can often personally relate. The challenge involves not only the communication of course content, but also the engaging of the learner in the process. If successful, sociological theories and constructs will be truly comprehended and internalized by students through practical application, and not just rote memorized and regurgitated for exams.

This solution, which I have dubbed "The Blockbuster Approach" gives credence to the mass appeal of movies and video, while suggesting an innovative pedagogy for engaging the learner.

Casey Jordan, Ph.D

Western Connecticut State University



The research and compilation of this manual, which turned out to be a far greater undertaking than I had ever imagined, could not have been completed without the midnight-hour emergency technical support of my student assistant Bill Sanchez, and the eternally patient clerical, formatting, and research support of student assistant Kristina Diamond. Tremendous thanks also to Allyn & Bacon editor Karen Hanson, who showed amazing understanding and endurance throughout the draft phases, computer disasters, requests for extensions, and overnight-delivery failures. Finally, thanks to my best friend and biggest fan Ted, who constantly assured me it was the computer's fault and made me eat and sleep when things got rough.


By way of disclaimer I have noted several times that this manual is not meant to be complete or fully comprehensive of all sociological topics; indeed, even as I print it I think of dozens of movies I neglected to include. While I am an avid movie and video watcher, I do depend on my colleagues in teaching to suggest titles that are appropriate for The Blockbuster Approach, as well as give me feedback as to the success or failures of certain titles in different classroom settings.

I would greatly appreciate hearing from users of this manual as to any reflections, glaring omissions, commentary, or experiences in showing videos to your students; feedback allows me to keep the manual up to date, as well as refine it to include titles which have been "tried and true." Please feel free to contact me at the address, phone, or e-mail listed below.

Dr. Casey Jordan
Associate Professor
Division of Justice & Law Administration
Western Connecticut State University
181 White Street
Danbury, CT 06811


Dr. Casey Jordan
Department of Sociology & Criminology
John Jay College of Criminal Justice
445 West 59th Street
New York, New York 10019

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Chapter Six: Deviance & Social Control

The topic of Deviance & Social Control can be one of the most rich in themes and context, as deviance is understood to be both relative to time and geography as well as constantly changing. Issues related to the teaching criminal justice topics (criminology, juvenile delinquency, and corrections) will most likely be found in this chapter.

A Dangerous Woman (1993) A mentally impaired but well-meaning woman is considered dangerous because she always tells the truth--whether it is socially acceptable or not

Barfly (1987) Two alcoholic soulmates booze their way through sleazy bar after bar, fully aware and unapologetic about what they are and what they want

December Bride (1994) The story of an Irish servant in the Victorian era who takes up with two brothers, not much caring about how the shocked society responds

Drug Store Cowboy (1989) An insightful story of a retreatist group of drug users in the 1960s, who support their habits by a carefully planned method of robbing drug stores--and knowing full well that their luck will eventually run out

Heavenly Creatures (1994) Two New Zealand school girls enter an obsessive friendship based on an increasingly deep fantasy life; their parents efforts to keep them separated results in murder

House of Games (1987) A psychiatrist who things she understands the dark side of the human mind is sucked into the world of a professional con artist and loses her perception of what is true and normal

Leaving Las Vegas (1995) Amazing and disturbing story of an alcoholic who resolves to drink himself to death, and the hooker who loves him and understands him enough to enable him to do so

Paris is Burning (1990) A superb documentary about the poor black and Hispanic gay men of New York City who dress in outlandish drag outfits and vamp it up at private balls

Scandal (1980) An incredible look at the British government-sex scandal of the 1960s (the Profumo affair), in which a social provocateur grooms a teenage showgirl and sets her up to bring down the Conservative party

Shine (1996) The true story of an Australian pianist who suffers a mental breakdown that impairs his ability to interact normally with others--but not to play the piano

The Grifters (1990) A shocking inside view of con-artists and crooks, who will do virtually anything--including betraying their own family and cohorts--to pull off a scam

The Outsiders (1983) Based on the S.E. Hinton novel, a group of kids from the wrong side of the tracks in 60s Oklahoma, try to live by their own rules when ostracized by others

The Last Seduction (1993) A completely confident businesswoman turns con artists and flees after ripping off her own husband; her very aggressive sexual behavior is perhaps more shocking than her thievery

The Times of Harvey Milk (1984) Highly recommended documentary about the assassination of gay San Francisco city supervisor Harvey Milk, who was assassinated by a squeaky-clean golden boy colleague named Dan White; raises obvious questions about the relative nature of deviance

The Fisher King (1991) A radio talk show host feels responsible for a tragedy which plunges him into a downward spiral of alcoholism, only to be rescued by a seemingly mad homeless man


SAMPLE ASSIGNMENT: Based upon your viewing of The Times of Harvey Milk, consider the definition of deviance. As a gay man living in San Francisco, was Harvey Milk deviant? Did he become so when he ran for public office? Would he be so in a small town in the Midwest? Explain.


Consider Dan White (war veteran, former police officer and fire fighter, husband and father): was he deviant in his hatred of Harvey? At what point did Dan become deviant? Consider the jury which accepted Dan's Twinkie Defense and gave him a five year sentence for a double political assassination: were they deviant? Do you think they would have come to such a decision if it had only been Mayor Mascone who was killed? Conclude by determining who was the most deviant: Harvey Milk, Dan White, or the jury?


 Cultural Transmission Theory

A Bronx Tale
(1993) An excellent character study of a young boy growing up in the Bronx in the 1950s, torn between learning the values of his hard-working bus-driver dad and the local mobster who takes him under his wing; very valuable for studying the conflicting attitudes towards race and ethnicity

At Close Range (1986) Powerful true story of two teenage brothers from rural Pennsylvania whose father--head of a thief ring--drops back into their lives and wants to teach them the ropes about gang life

Boyz'n the Hood (1991) Excellent depiction of a group of inner-city black youths in L.A., each of whom learns a different set of values based on varying levels of parental involvement and street experience

Casino (1995) Fascinating story about the mob=s running of Las Vegas, where a very specific code of behavior must be learned for survival; very strong theme of learning theory

Fresh (1994) A harrowing story of a 12-year old boy in the Bronx who is already running drugs to survive and is being groomed to step up in the drug organization-- all he wants to do is rescue his drug- addicted sister and get out of the drug trade without being killed; highly recommended

Goodfellas (1990) A Brooklyn teen craves the status of being associated with the mob; once adopted by the local godfather, he's in so deep that he learns the mob is far more dangerous than the police

Menace II Society (1993) An excellent story of a teen from the L.A. projects who grew up watching his father cook drugs and his mother overdose; the efforts of religious grandparents, a straightlaced girlfriend, and a high school teacher cannot compete with the realities of his street life in time to save him

River's Edge (1987) A gang of retreatist youth stare with morbid curiosity at the corpse of a friend killed by one of their own: the source of indifference and apathy becomes obvious when interaction (or lack of it) with family and school

The Godfather (1972, II: 1974, epic: 1977, III: 1990) Difficult to show in its entirety, but any of the films in the series offers plenty to analyze as the cultural violence of the Mafia is passed from generation to generation, always accepted as a necessary and integral part of life


SAMPLE ASSIGNMENT: Based upon your viewing of [movie title] consider the process by which the main character(s) become involved in deviant and criminal behavior: is the behavior the product of learning, operant conditioning, lack of containment, or failure of self-control? Which theory do you believe best accounts for the character’s thought process and actions? Do you see examples of learned techniques as well as learned motivations? Conclude by analyzing the agents of socialization—parents, media, peers, schools, etc.—that facilitated the cultural transmission. Is there any way to break the cycle from generation to generation?


 Structural Strain Theory

Boyz'n the Hood
(1991) In addition to cultural transmission, this film features scenery and situations which clearly demonstrate deteriorating social ecology, siege mentality, gentrification, and disorganization

Clockers (1995) Drug dealers in the projects work in a setting of community deterioration, neighborhood fear, unemployment, blocked opportunities, and differential law enforcement; rich in anomie

Dead Presidents (1995) injured, drug-addicted, forgotten Vietnam veterans return to their disorganized neighborhood to find no opportunities or rewards; their anomie

Falling Down (1993) A laid-off defense industry engineer goes off the deep end when he finds that the world is not operating by the standard rules of "normal" behavior; the results is a crime spree to vent his normlessness

Kiss of Death (1995) An ex-con tries to go straight only to find he’s used as a patsy by the police and D.A.

 Menace II Society (1993) The inner-city conditions of L.A. play a prominent role in the story of a teen who  succumbs to the opportunities of crime in order to escape the strain of his disadvantaged status

Pixote (1981) The poverty of Rio offers the setting for abandoned street children who turn to hustling, prostitution, drugs, and pimping as a means to survive

 Salaam Bombay (1988) The plight of abandoned street children in Bombay is examined through the life of  who works hard to overcome his conditions only to find there is no way out

Set It Off (1996) Four inner-city women suffer discrimination and blocked opportunities; to solve their individual problems, they band together to efficiently commit bank robberies

Strapped (1993) Kids from the projects use car theft as a means to find thrills, increase status, get revenge against brutal cops, and make the money they believe they deserve


SAMPLE ASSIGNMENT: Based upon your viewing of [movie title] consider the socially-endorsed goals that the main character(s) is seeking to achieve? Do you consider those goals normal and desirable? What specifically happened in the story that interfered with the achievement of those goals? Using Merton’s theory of strain, determine whether the actions of the character represent conformity, innovation, ritualism, retreatism, or rebellion; keep in mind that you might find a number of these modes of adaptation throughout the film, depending on the specific obstacles and circumstances. Conclude by determining if the criminal innovation and rebellion that resulted from the strain is understandable and should be excused, or deviant and should be prosecuted.


Control Theory

Basketball Diaires
(1995) A working-class white youth turns to drugs and crime when he loses his best friend to leukemia and seeks escape from an unfair world

Christiane F. (1981) A 13-year-old Berlin girl from a broken home becomes a heroin addict in her attempts to deal with her urban boredom

Fresh (1994) A 12-year-old Bronx boy seeks to survive his foster-care urban life by using drug dealing and chess strategy to rescue his sister from addiction and prostitution so that they can leave their crime-infested neighborhood

My Own Private Idaho (1991) Two suburban male teens, one rich and one poor, turn to street hustling to escape their relative problems ; the emphasis on their living-in-the-moment behavior reveals lives without futures

Pixote (1981) The story of street children in Rio is underlined by the obvious lack of society control

River's Edge (1986) The lack family and school structure is a clear theme in this story of a group of teens who try to protect their friend who killed one of their gang

 Salaam Bombay (1988) The abandonment and selling into prostitution of unwanted children by poverty- stricken parents is the major theme of this movie, where lack of societal control clearly leads to  crime

 Son of a Shark (1995) Two young French boys run away from their dysfunctional family, only to be ruled  incorrigible and placed in an institution where the delinquents do as they please


: Consider Travis Hirschi’s Control Theory in the characters depicted in [movie name]. Give specific examples of how the main (or various) character(s) had bonds of attachment, commitment, involvement, and belief. Which bonds were missing, weakened or broken, and what were the specific results for that character? If you were a policy-maker, what would you do to ensure that the crucial bonds that give control to teenager’s lives are not broken—and what can you do for those who lose control and resort to crime?


Labeling Theory

(1995) This seemingly child-oriented movie about a pig who wants to be a sheepdog offers some very deep lessons about labeling ("sheep are stupid" and "wolves are ignorant") and symbolic interaction

Boyz'n the Hood (1991) Parental expectations and comments to young inner-city boys offer an underlying theme which explains why each of them becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy

Carlito's Way (1993) An ex-con, legendary in his neighborhood, tries to goes straight after release but finds that no one, including his own lawyer, will allow him to

Cry in the Dark (1988) An Australian woman accused of killing her baby finds herself convicted by media and public opinion when her religious devotion makes her appear remorseless

Edward Scissorhands (1990) A fair-tale like story of a young man with scissors for fingers, who suffers when the townspeople fear and ostracize him for his defect

Indictment (1995) The story of the McMartin Pre-school trial, this factual story reveals what happens to innocent people when they are labeled as child-molesters: their trial lasted eight years before they were exonerated

Man Without a Face (1993) A man with a severely disfigured face is assumed to be a monster by the town’s children; his attempt to befriend the children is perceived as possible child endangerment

Slacker (1991) An off-beat documentary-style story of young people in a small Texas town, who are labeled as slackers for their laissez-faire approach to unemployment, dating, recreation, and life in general

The Boy With Green Hair (1948): A war orphan is ostracized when his hair turns green; provides food for thought with regard to bigotry and prejudice based on labels

The Cure (1995) A young boy with AIDS is shunned by the community; the neighbor who befriends him is berated by his mother who wants her son to have nothing to do with the sick boy

The Scarlet Letter (1973, 1995) The earlier version is the better treatment of Hawthorn’s classic tale of a woman who is accused of adultery and must wear a scarlet letter "A" on her chest for her sins

Urge to Kill (1984) Drama about a convicted killer who faces prejudice and violent recriminations after returning home from a mental institution


Based Upon your viewing of [movie title here], consider the role of labeling in the social interaction and life choices of the movie’s main character(s); give three specific examples from the movie using dialogue and scene description to explain the labeling process and its repercussions on the character. Who were the agents of socialization that labeled the character? In what way were they "significant others" or "moral entrepreneurs"? Did you see any examples of primary deviance which transformed into secondary deviance? Was the character an example of a "self fulfilling prophecy?"


 Crime and Criminality


Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
(1990) This story of famous serial killer Henry Lee Lucas is high on the violent crime and sociopathy of the notorious killer, but lacking in detail about the horrible family background that produced him

Kalifornia (1993) A journalist researching serial killers meets up with a violent man who offers personal insight into why people kill and then chillingly begins to exhibit his own sociopathy

Man Bites Dog (1992) This pseudo-documentary about a film crew who follows around a serial killer is not only about the horrible violence in our society, but the media’s penchant for glorifying such killers

Natural Born Killers (1994) A young couple goes on a violent crime spree across the U.S., only to be made heroes by the public and media who see them as products of a lost society: the societal commentary is rich and deep, but the graphic violence makes it hard to appreciate

Pulp Fiction (1994) Highly entertaining tale about a spectrum of crime and criminals, and the expediency with which each deals with the unexpected problems of membership in the criminal underworld

The Professional (1994) A young girl whose family is killed by the mob takes up with a professional hitman, coolly learning the skills necessary for survival in a violent world

The Boys Next Door (1985) Two alienated youths go on a killing spree in L.A., showing how one violent act inevitably leads to another


SAMPLE ASSIGNMENT: Consider the rampant violence depicted in the movie [title here]. To you think the movie exaggerated the amount and severity of violence in the United States, or do you think the depiction was an accurate reflection of violence in our society? Were you bothered by the violence depicted, or do you believe violence has become so ingrained in our culture that we have become desensitized to it.

Consider the nature of violence: do you believe the violence depicted in the film was spawned by isolated instances of psychological problems with a few characters, innate biological problems that cause sociopathy, or is it culturally engendered and endorsed (i.e. learned). Support your contentions.



 Basketball Diaries (1995) A group of New York teens begins their crime with petty theft from gym lockers, only to develop drug habits which lead them to robbery and burglary

Grifters (1990) Clever crooks and con artists are explored in this twisted story of how the thrill of the con is just as important as the take

Kleptomania (1993) Character study of a street hustler and high society wife who share a penchant for theft

New Jersey Drive (1995) Inner-city youth enjoy the thrill of the car theft, and escalate their crimes to include police cars in an effort to seek revenge on the brutal police

Set It Off (1996) Four young inner-city women turn to bank robbery to solve their problems with poverty, strain, discrimination, and greed

Strapped (1993) A young bike messenger gets involved in gun dealing in order to raise the money needed for his girlfriend’s bail after she is arrested for dealing cocaine


Consider the various property crimes committed in the movie [movie title]; considering that property crime is more common than violent crime, what do you think is the best theory for accounting for its constant occurrence? In the movie, was the primary motive revenge, desperation, anger, psychopathy, or just plain greed? Based on your answer, do you think more severe penalties for property crimes would deter people from choosing to commit such crimes?



Basketball Diaries
(1995) Urban youth become heroin addicts to escape the pain of their surroundings

Drug Store Cowboy (1989) A gang of four drug addicts work together, robbing drug stores, to support their habits

My Own Private Idaho (1991) Two Portland youths become male prostitutes to support their relative needs

Rainman (1988) The hustler-brother of an autistic man uses the extraordinary math and counting abilities of his mentally-challenged relative in order to win a fortune at the black-jack tables in Las Vegas

Working Girls (1987) A relentless look at one very long day in the life of a Yale graduate lesbian who works as a high-class prostitute in order to reach her dreams of becoming a professional photographer


SAMPLE ASSIGNMENT: Consider the so-called "victimless" crimes observed in the movie [title here]. The concept of crime without a victim is based on the idea that no one is directly harmed or affected by the activity: based on your observation of "victimless crime" in the film, do you see any harm caused by the activity? What about the perpetrator: is he or she being harmed in some way? What about the common tax-payer: do we have to pick up the tab for such crime in some way? What about society: is there a level of harm to the moral fabric of our community when such crimes continue unchecked?


 White Collar & Corporate

(1995) A group of teenage computer cyberpunks discover a corporate extortion conspiracy, and use their computer knowledge to destroy a man’s credit and identity while they seek to avoid prosecution

Other People's Money (1991) A ruthless corporate raider tries to take over his competitor’s business at any cost

Rosalie Goes Shopping (1990) A suburban housewife learns to support her family through an ingenious web of financial schemes and credit card scams

The Net (1995) A genius computer hacker discovers dangerous software and finds that her identity is completely obliterated via computer when the culprit realizes his scheme might be discovered

Wall Street (1987) A young financial wannabe engages in double-dealing and selling of insider information in order to make a name for himself in the stock market


SAMPLE ASSIGNMENT: Consider the behind-closed-doors crimes committed by high status people in the movie [insert title here]. Considering the financial and technological nature of these crimes, are they really as serious as violent crimes? What theory best accounts for the criminal behavior observed? If the crime is as prevalent and expensive as your textbook indicates, why don’t we put more law enforcement effort into catching white collar and corporate criminals? What do you think should be an appropriate punishment for people who use their intelligence and positions of power to steal millions of dollars and ruin people’s lives?




An Eye for an Eye
(1995) A woman whose daughter is the victim is a sadistic rapist/murderer seeks to even the score on her own when she discovers the criminal justice system releases him on a technicality

Cry, the Beloved Country (1952,1995) A heart-wrenching story of a black man in South Africa who is hanged for his very small role in the death of a white man

Dead Man Walking (1995) Highly recommended story of murderer who must come to grips with the ramifications of his crime before being executed; offers an excellent and non-biased view of both sides of the death penalty

Let Him Have It (1991) Based on the true story of 19 year old Derek Bentley in London 1952, who was executed for his intangible role in the death of a police officer, because the shooter was only 15

Obsessed (1988) The mother of a child killed by a reckless driver feels betrayed by the legal system, and plots her own revenge against the driver

The Crossing Guard (1995) The father of a girl killed by a drunk driver seeks to heal his grief by pledging to kill the convicted drunk driver once he is released from prison—only to find that the driver philosophically understands his rage and accepts his plight

The Crow (1994) Stylish and slightly sci-fi, this tale of a husband who comes back from the dead to seek revenge on the murderers of his wife offers insight into the perceived necessity for settling scores and finding closure


SAMPLE ASSIGNMENT: Based upon your viewing of [movie title] consider the retribution sought against the criminal(s) in this movie. Do you consider the acts of retribution to be fair and just deserts, or emotional revenge of the victim (or victim’s survivors)? Does retributive punishment really equalize the wrong done, or is nothing accomplished by seeking pain and vengeance on a person who has made a mistake? What if the perpetrator were genuinely remorseful; should retribution be set aside for rehabilitation? While we might understand that victims and their families would support retribution based on personal loss, should we as a society advocate retribution on behalf of a wronged society?



A Clockwork Orange
(1971) This futuristic tale offers a frightening look at aversion therapy, where an offender can be operantly conditioned into avoiding violence to the point where he is unable to defend himself

Shawshank Redemption (1994) A man wrongly convicted for the murder of his wife is sentenced for life, and uses the opportunity to create a prison library and offer hope to his fellow inmates

Bad Boys (1985) A hard look at life in a juvenile corrections facility, this movie looks at the attempts and failures of a system where the offenders are beyond rehabilitation


SAMPLE ASSIGNMENT: Based upon the attempt at rehabilitation depicted in [movie title], consider whether or not rehabilitation should be an objective of corrections. Does it discount the importance of pain and punishment in turning people around, or does it try to address the causes (not the symptoms) of the crime? Why has rehabilitation been mostly abandoned by our American justice system; does it really not work in our society, or did we just not give it enough of a try in the past?



Dead Man Walking
(1995) Highly recommended story of murderer who must come to grips with the ramifications of his crime before being executed; offers an excellent and non-biased view of both sides of the death penalty

Shawshank Redemption (1994) The story of a wrongly-convicted man shows the desperation of prison life, where hopelessness and institutionalization of prisoners is a by-product of long sentences

Last Dance (1996) A female death-row inmate tries to get her sentence commuted to life in prison, arguing that both offer incapacitation but the latter is more humane

Short Eyes (1977) A convicted child molester suffers brutally at the hands of other prisoners

Murder in the First (1995) Highly recommended story based on the realities of Alcatraz, and the horrors of solitary confinement and torture as endured by a man who stole five dollars when starving

American Me (1992) Excellent depiction of the realities of prison life as experienced by a Latino man who spends 30 years in a prison where the criminals learn more crime instead of paying for their past crimes

The Concrete Jungle (1962) Prison drama offering excellent inside-view of the gritty and claustrophobic realities of an inmate’s life behind bars


SAMPLE ASSIGNMENT: Based upon your viewing of [movie title], consider the objective of incapacitating criminals—not only as a means of punishment, but also as a means of protecting the law-abiding public. Does a prison term incapacitate people from committing crime¼ or can they commit crime in prison? Does a life sentence mean a person will be removed from society forever¼ or do lifers often get out? Consider the death penalty: as the ultimate incapacitator, are you comfortable with the idea that innocent people might be wrongly executed if capital punishment is increased? Present the pros and cons of both imprisonment and execution as incapacitators, supporting your logic as to which is the more preferable objective of corrections.



Scared Straight
(1978) Award-winning documentary featuring a group of 17 juvenile delinquents who are taken to Rahway Prison and given to the inmates for several hours of profane terrorizing, in an effort to scare them straight

Midnight Express (1978) True story of Billy Hayes who was convicted of drug smuggling in Turkey, and the five years of torture and prison horror he experienced while his family sought to get him out

Murder in the First (1995) An underlying theme of this story of prison abuse is the reality that Alcatraz was created as a showpiece for incarcerating mobsters like Al Capone, with the idea of deterring other would-be criminals

A Clockwork Orange (1971) In addition to its focus on aversion therapy, the concept behind this futuristic drama is to provide an experience so horrible for the inmate, that violent behavior is forever avoided thereafter

The Scarlet Letter (1971, 1995) Hawthorn’s classic tale of a woman who must wear a scarlet letter "A" for her accused adultery, clearly represents an idea toward public shame that provides general deterrence

Unforgiven (1992) In this realistic Western, a suspected assassin is captured and killed by the local sheriff, dragged around town behind a horse, and set up in a public coffin in order to send a message to all who pass by

Let Him Have It (1991) A 19 year old epileptic is hanged for the killing of a police officer in order to pacify a law-and-order court system and send a message about the sanctity of law enforcement


SAMPLE ASSIGNMENT: Based upon your viewing of [movie title] and the information about crime and deviance from your textbook, consider whether or not deterrence should be an objective of corrections. Do you believe that most crime is the result of personal needs and violent impulse, or rather a carefully thought out choice process? Based on your assessment, determine whether the punishments received in today’s correctional setting offer any deterrence for would-be criminals. If deterrence is based on swift, severe, certain, and public punishment, is it a viable and realistic option in today’s due process environment? Explain.


Mental Disorder & Deviance

Benny & Joon
(1993) Two mentally-challenged young adults find peace and understanding in each other’s quirkiness, raising questions among their relatives about the appropriateness of such a relationship

Betty Blue (1986) A beautiful young woman descends from a state of uninhibited aggression to a clear case of insanity, causing the young man who loves her to consider whether death might be better than mental illness

Frances (1982) The true story of actress Frances Farmer shows what happens to a free-thinking young woman who is committed by her money-hungry mother and spends years in a mental asylum, against her will, eventually receiving a lobotomy to control her wayward behavior

Let Him Have It (1992) A young man’s epilepsy , low IQ, and simple nature cause him to be a pawn to a group of criminals, eventually leading to his execution for a crime he didn’t commit

Mr. Jones (1993) A manic-depressive mental patient makes his strange world so appealing to his psychiatrist, that she finds herself falling for him and questioning her own perspective

Nuts (1987) A high-class call girl faces murder charges and tries to expose the truth of her perspective, as based upon her abusive upbringing, while the mother and stepfather (who abused her) try to have her put away as "nuts"

One Flew Over the Cookoo's Nest (1975) Highly recommended story of life in a mental institution, where one patient tries to spur other mental patients in believing in their self-worth, hoping to liberate them from the passive acceptance of the hospital’s domination

Rainman (1988) An autistic man’s actions are perceived as crazy, annoying, endearing, or valuable depending on the needs and perspectives of those with whom he interacts

Shine (1997) The story of an Australian pianist whose genius was interrupted, but not obliterated, when he suffered a mental breakdown in his youth

The Stone Boy (1984) A boy accidentally shoots his older brother and begins to lose touch with reality; his family struggles to cope with his mental illness while dealing with the pain of their loss


SAMPLE ASSIGNMENT: Consider the mental disorder of the character(s) in the movie [movie title]. Does the story represent an example of the medicalization of deviance into a mental disorder, or was the character essentially normal but misunderstood? Consider the factors which led to the medical disorder: were they preventable or did the character choose to delve into the deviance and abnormal behavior? What about institutionalization of the mentally disordered: does it just represent "warehousing" of people who are too unpleasant to deal with? In general, should mentally disordered people have more rights to make choices about their lives, or does this contribute to the problems of homelessness, vagrancy, and crime?