“Do the right thing” & Criminal theory

          “I want my money Sal”                  

To examine the causes of crime using the film “Do The Right Thing”, it is important to first identify the crimes in question.  The four crimes in the film are Sal’s destruction of Radio Raheem’s radio, the following assault by Raheem, his death at the hands of the police, and the destruction of Sal’s by the community.  These crimes can be explained structurally by using Merton’s anomie theory by contrasting the goals of the four entities that commit the crimes.  The backbone of Robert Merton’s Anomie theory is that our society has one culturally approved goal of economic success, which cannot be achieved by most people.  Americans are led to believe that the American dream is out there for everyone and indeed we are granted the rights of life liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  The problem with this happiness is that it is equated with money, which sets the tone for the film with Mookie counting his money.

 No one in the United States is telling our children that there is no chance at all they will grow up to be president. Unfortunately, the facts are such that if you are born in poverty you will most likely die in poverty and the same goes for people born rich.  This creates a part of society who has the same “American dream” as everyone but cannot achieve this dream through any legitimate means.  The American cultural norms are so different from the reality of street life in east Brooklyn that the effect is the humiliation of this community.  The structure of society will never let them succeed and this is known and understood by the residents. For example, the perceived reason for the lack of black owned businesses in the neighborhood is because “We black”.  This large-scale structural deprivation of dignity leads to violence as the limits of respect are pushed.

          Sal, Radio Raheem, and the police are all in different modes of adaptation, showing that everyone in this community feels the pressures of the conflicting American ideologies.  Sal is the conformist because he is using legitimate goals and means to make the money that he thinks will make him happy.  Nonetheless, he still recognizes the restrictions placed on the rest of the neighborhood and shows charity throughout the film.  While there is no hard evidence that Radio Raheem is a criminal, his alpha-male status in the neighborhood and the fact that he does not seem to have a job leads me to this conclusion.  He is the innovator who uses different means to achieve his status goal: the loudest radio on the block.  The patrolmen are Ritualists, meaning they have rejected the goals of police in society; “To protect and serve” but have retained the legitimate means at their disposal to achieve their goals, namly violence.  These different ways of living transform into a mutual lack of respect on all sides though the police and Sal at least have a working relationship. These strong tensions between significant parts of the community explode into violence and the neighborhood responds in kind due to identification with Raheem as a fellow marginalized individual.

          Katz’s Social psychological theory can be also be used to explain the criminal actions of Sal, Radio Raheem and the local police mainly by showing that these three characters were responding to a disrespect shown to them.   The discussion of “righteous slaughter” is relevant to the crimes in this film because they all involve interior rationalizations for the crime.

          Katz discusses the interior rationalizations of murder and assault in some detail. Shame and humiliation are deeply felt by most people and in situations where this mental pain is felt it can transform into rage.  Someone imposing their will on another person, relieving them of their dignity, and having the victim of the shame commit the crime, exemplifies this explanation. The sense of worthlessness and humiliation would fit with Katz and this data except in this case there is a long period of building shame before it overflows.  When this shame does transform into rage, it requires a transcendence on the part of the perpetrator.  The transcendence is a transformation of one’s mental state in order to rationalize the crime.

          There are many examples of how important respect is in this neighborhood and this sets the stage for the involvement of the whole block in the destruction of Sal’s.  Radio Raheem is the top dog on the block and he walks around all day to maintain this status.  He does this by looking mean and making sure that his radio is completely overwhelming.  Sal maintains his respect by having a successful business and not tolerating any dissent in his store.  The police are feared and hated by the community, which is tantamount to the greatest level of respect from a civilian.  The community, on the other hand, has to deal with the constant disrespect shown to them by the police and the contradictory societal structure.  It is for this reason that the community so quickly projects this shame-induced rage onto Sal’s pizzeria.  Sal is the first one to have his dignity and respect challenged and so projects his shame onto someone for whom respect is his only currency.  Radio Raheem, for the first time, has to turn his radio down in order to buy pizza and this later leads to an attempt to regain his status by entering the store with no intention of lowering the volume.  This places Sal and Raheem in a situation where their respect is openly challenged.  As each player in the unfolding drama projects their shame onto someone else by means of violence, a chain reaction of transcendence is created. Raheem attacks Sal with noise, Sal attacks Raheem through his radio, Raheem responds with violence and the police respond in kind to maintain their power in the neighborhood.  The neighborhood responds to the shame of having a resident killed by the hated police by projecting their rage onto the only entity they can connect with authority.

          Anomie theory does a fine job of explaining the positions of the people in the neighborhood, as well as the reasons for tensions between the conformists, innovators and ritualists.  The different modes of adaptation show how the characters have decided to deal with the realities of the American dream.  The disadvantages of this theory have to do with a lack of explanations concerning class struggle solutions and why they have failed in east Brooklyn.  The idea of financial success as the ultimate goal is accepted but exactly why the people cannot rise above the street is not specifically shown.  Crimes of passion are not accounted for and there is a tacit assumption that crimes are done for money or lack thereof.

          The other main problem with this theory is that a real solution to this problem of weakened norms cannot be effective without the destruction of a cultural ideology, not an easy task.  The other solution would something like increasing the welfare state or education, neither of which is economically feasible. Anomie explains the class deficit in America but is not effective in explaining individual motivations.

          Katz’s theory concerning projections of shame and crimes of passion is effective for explaining some of the individual motivations behind the crimes but does not fully explain why the community would destroy a pizzeria they had grown up with and liked.  There is little discussion of the mob mentality.  The lashing out against any non-black businesses because of the police actions is not accounted for.  For example, why would they spare the Korean Grocery, which the community had actively disliked as supposed to Sal’s, which was respected?  The theory can explain the murder of Raheem because his actions could be conceived internally as an insult to white businesses in black neighborhoods but then why didn’t the black cop intercede?  The theory also omits a discussion of repressed memories as a cause of violent crime.  Attacks on one’s dignity and respect are often forgotten but build up inside a person and explode only when their personal capacity for disrespect has been reached.

          The theories of Katz and Merton are the most effective in explaining this crime both because they compliment each others strengths and weaknesses as well as the fact that anomie explains the explosive environment and Katz can explain the reason for the specific explosion.

         

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