the context of the movie Boyz N the Hood,
it is also important to explore some of the social structures that divide
society into different sub-cultures and social classes.
The movie takes place in a lower-class community, where there is a
concentration of marginalized African-American people living in the area. Within many of the different sub-cultures of
Western societies, there are established social
divisions as well as associated sets of norms and values. These divisions create
limitations to those who cannot meet the middle-class standards and affect
their opportunities of becoming contributing members of society.
According to Merton’s (1938)
explanations of the strain theory, anomie and structural theory, deviance can often be linked to “culturally
defined goals, purposes, and interests… the social structure defines,
regulates, and controls the acceptable modes of achieving these goals” (Merton,
1938: 672-673). In relating Merton’s theories to Boyz
N the Hood, Doughboy is an
example of an individual who demonstrate that the
conventional means of moving ahead in society are not always necessary
for attaining goals, as he resorts to violence and drug sales in order to gain
social capital in his community. Another
example of how social structures can create strain on these individuals is displayed
when Ricky is offered a football
University scholarship, but doubts that he will be able to successfully complete
his SAT’s. Alternatively, Ricky becomes interested in joining the
army because he believes that he is better suited for this. This can be seen as the result of a clash between what he
aspires to become and what he feels he is realistically capable of doing.
Although Ricky aspires to go a University,
by aligning himself with the standards of his underprivileged sub-culture, he creates
self-doubt and considers that the army may be a better option for him.
Next, the young men who conformed to
deviant behaviours in the film could be referred to as ‘Innovators’ as described
by Merton (1938). Such ‘Innovators’ support their cultural means of achieving
goals however, are not normally accepted among the rest of society. Merton (1938) explains that the predisposing social structures in these lower class
communities limits access to the means and imposes an intense pressure for
deviance (p. 677). Furthermore, as
discussed in class, Stanley Cohen proposes that there is a set of standards which
serve as middle class measuring rods that are difficult for the lower-class adolescents
to reach. Feeling inadequate and ill prepared for the middle-class creates
strain on these individuals and they often feel they have no other option but
to resort to crime (Gervais, 2017). This
is seen when Doughboy finds out that
Ricky will be going off to
University; he becomes frustrated wishing he could do the same. Further, Ricky also has doubts about his own abilities
and questions whether he can realistically achieve these goals.
Another perspective to lower class subcultures is proposed by
theorist Walter Miller, where there are six major focal concerns: “Trouble, toughness, smartness, excitement, fate,
autonomy” (Williams & McShane, 2018: 85).
Throughout Boyz N the Hood, there
are many examples of focal concerns, particularly through Doughboy, and other antagonist characters that threaten the well-being
of the ‘boyz’. For example, in the
beginning of the film ‘the boyz’ are walking the streets with a football when suddenly
a group of older African American men begin to intimidate them, steal their
football, and insert their dominance. This
group displayed many of the focal
concerns such as demonstrating a law violating behaviour (trouble), and
physical durability of being fearless (toughness) as described in Williams and
McShane (2018). However,
the “boyz” quickly learn to adapt to such situations at a very young age and
grow up to conform to these standards which eventually become normalized for
In regards to the causes and influences of deviant behaviours in subcultures
as discussed by Cloward and Ohlin (1960), there is the assumption that, “the
social milieu affects the nature of the deviant response whatever the
motivation and social position of the participants in the delinquent
subculture” (Cloward & Ohlin, 1960: 160).
For example, when Furious delivers
a speech in front of the billboard, a bystander mentions, “What am I supposed
to do, let a fool roll up and shoot me? I’m going to kill the mother fucker
before he shoots me first” (Singleton, 1991).
This demonstrates that because of the social milieu, this reaction is an
automatic and necessary response for many.