Sociology is one of the social sciences, often considered the more rigorous, scientific study of societies and the ways in which they impact the individuals that exist within them (Haralambos and Holborn, 2004). There are many different avenues of study within the umbrella of sociology, and many different sociological theories that exist to describe the interactions between society, social groups, and the individual. Sociological imagination is one of these theories; the idea of the sociological imagination was proposed by Mills in his 1959 landmark text The Sociological Imagination (Mills, 1959).
The concept of the sociological imagination is similar to the concept of the study of sociology as a whole, but it varies in the nuance of the idea. Mills proposed that the sociological imagination is the concept of looking at society through the sociological lens; Mills’ sociological imagination is highly dependent upon the concept of the observer asking and answering sociological questions about a specific society (Mills, 1959). The use of the sociological imagination requires a slight divide between the individual and the phenomenon he or she is observing (Mills, 1959).
A social issue is one that affects society as a whole, whereas a personal problem is something that affects only the individual. Social issues such as poverty or racism are systemic, and they affect society widely and without prejudice (Haralambos and Holborn, 2004). Social issues can affect an individual’s personal efficacy, or his or her ability to reach personal goals (Haralambos and Holborn, 2004). Social issues affect people at every level of society, both directly and indirectly.
For instance, poverty as a social issue affects both the rich and the poor, although the poor are directly impacted by poverty and the rich are much less directly impacted: the rich pay taxes or volunteer their time, but are not directly impacted by the social issue of poverty. The solution to a social issue is always a wider issue that is outside the individual’s locus of control, or their personal sphere of control (Haralambos and Holborn, 2004).
A personal issue is one that is within the individual’s locus of control. Personal issues may include things like financial problems or interpersonal issues; these issues are often solved with the help of psychologists, therapists, psychiatrists, or other specialists that study the individual and the individual’s brain (Haralambos and Holborn, 2004). Social issues are issues that affect the individual but they cannot be controlled or alleviated by the individual alone.
The film chosen for this discussion is the 2012 film The Hunger Games. It was written and directed by Gary Ross, and stars Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Wes Bentley, and Donald Sutherland (The Hunger Games, 2012). This film is set in a post-apocalyptic dystopian future, and deals very heavily with the issue of class and poverty in the United States through the use of the dystopian, authoritarian setting (The Hunger Games, 2012).
The director of the film, Gary Ross, was born on November 3, 1956 (IMDb, 2013). He began his career as a writer and actor, but soon moved on to directing films, often writing the screenplay adaptations for the films he directed (IMDb, 2013). Ross has received a number of nominations for the films that he has been responsible for directing, but he has never won an Academy Award; one of his most famous films, however, Seabiscuit, is considered one of the premier dramas of the year (IMDb, 2013). Ross has stated that although he received high critical acclaim for his work on The Hunger Games, he will not be participating in the three sequels to the film, choosing instead to work on other projects (IMDb, 2013).
The issues portrayed in The Hunger Games are systemic and exaggerated compared to the issue of poverty in the United States today, but the existence of the exaggeration is purposeful on the part of the director (The Hunger Games, 2012). In the film, the protagonist is a young teen living in one of the districts in the fallen United States’ future. Her district is under strict control by an authoritarian regime, and there is little food and even less work and money to pay for the food. The extreme poverty portrayed in The Hunger Games (2012) is meant to be shocking and frightening for viewers; if it were comfortable, the entire purpose of the film would be derailed. The poverty within the film is certainly a social problem, as it is the result of the systemic suppression of the people by the government. Poverty in the dystopian future of The Hunger Games is systemic, and indicates that class, geographical location, and race certainly play a large role in the issue of poverty.
Similarly, the film suggests that where and how an individual is born will have a large effect on his or her success and future in life. Without the proper start, it is difficult for anyone in the protagonist’s village to become successful; the protagonist herself is only successful because of a fluke of fate in which her father taught her how to hunt at a young age, thus inadvertently preparing her for the Hunger Games themselves (The Hunger Games, 2012).
If the problems in The Hunger Games universe were personal problems, they would not affect society at large. Because poverty and hunger are so widespread in the universe that Gary Ross has created, two children from each district are force to fight to the death each year to ensure that their district is prosperous (The Hunger Games, 2012). The problem is systemic, and is thus a social issue, not a personal one.
In the current-day United States, poverty is a very real, systemic issue. Poverty in the United States is among the highest in the developed world; this is one list that no country wants to rank highly on, and yet, the United States consistently ranks highly on the list of developed nations with high poverty levels (National Poverty Center, 2013). According to the National Poverty Center at the University of Michigan, “In 2010, 15.1 percent of all persons lived in poverty. The poverty rate in 2010 was the highest poverty rate since 1993. Between 1993 and 2000, the poverty rate fell each year, reaching 11.3 percent in 2000” (National Poverty Center, 2013). The rising poverty rate in the United States is sometimes linked to a rise in crime, but the rise in poverty rates are also worrisome because of the loss of opportunities for youth and development in business. However, the poverty rate for individuals across all racial and cultural groups is not the same. Certain racial and cultural groups are much more likely to suffer extreme poverty in the United States, which suggests that there are certain cultural or sociological systems in place that prevent these groups from rising above the poverty line in larger numbers (National Poverty Center, 2013).
The Hunger Games (2013) seems to strongly adhere to the social conflict theory that exists within sociological study. This theory states that classes or certain groups are constantly struggling against each other for superiority in society; each group has different material and nonmaterial needs and resources, and the more powerful group will have better access to more valuable resources (Haralambos and Holborn, 2004). In The Hunger Games (2012), the Capitol, which acts as the authoritarian government, strictly controls the food and monetary supply; this allows the Capitol to control the districts and prevent any uprisings from occurring (The Hunger Games, 2012). In this way, the few can control the many, and the smaller group can ensure the participation of the larger group in a system that does not benefit the larger group.
In this project, looking critically at a film that discusses an important social issue has been extremely rewarding. The film addresses a number of social issues, but the issue of poverty and the use of targeted poverty to ensure the cooperation of the masses is a concept and topic of discussion that has largely fallen out of vogue. The fact that the film openly and boldly addresses these issues was thought-provoking and fundamental to my evolving understanding of social conflict theory.
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