John Singleton’s Boyz in the Hood – A Case Study in Urban Violence

In the 1992 film Boyz in the Hood, John Singleton takes a closer look at urban black America in South Central Los Angeles. Doughboy, Ricky and Tre, along with their parents are chronicled from boyhood to adulthood. Each person, though living in the same neighborhood chooses different paths in life. However, one common bond is always shared: violence. This violence can be analyzed in order to try to answer the question “why”. These theories of violence in criminology are touched upon in almost every scene of the movie. The most heavily demonstrated theories are the cultural transmission theory, the structural strain theory and the labeling theory.

The streets of South Central Los Angeles are very different from the posh neighborhoods like Beverly Hills California. Most families are in South Central L.A. because that lifestyle is the only way they know. Their parents lived there. Their dad left them when they were a baby. There mom was a crack addict, or their daddy was in jail. That is if they even knew who their father was. This is their “comfort” and their life simply because it is all they have ever known. This is how the cultural transmission theory is displayed in the movie. The adults pass down their “values” and their “norms” to a new subculture-the next generation.

For example, an underlying theme is the black male subculture vs. the black female subculture. Throughout the movie, young men wear Malcolm X t-shirts and hats, whether they are in the foreground or background. Furious Styles, a character strikingly similar in philosophy as Malcolm X bleeds black power. However, Malcolm X himself did not always bleed “black power”. Unlike Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X tended to stress violence as a means of obtaining equality. Not only did he do this, but also he constantly denigrated women.

Two quotes from Malcolm X read: “the black woman is the greatest tool of the devil” and “this evil black woman in north America who does not want to do right and holds the black man from saving himself” This last quote was an answer to a reporters question : what impeded black people the most from equality. These ideas about women are absorbed by malleable young children and used in every day life. Uneducated men and women walking through the streets of South Central L.A. see his words as gospel. This plays in role in forming the subculture.

In the opening scene of the movie, a group of school kids walks down the street through the trash and slums en route to school. To their left they see the yellow tape with “Police Line, Do Not Cross” surrounding a filthy area. Within the area is the body of a dead man. Behind the dead man is a large poster of Ronald Reagan, at the bottom boldly stating “Four More Years.” One of the boys walks right up to the poster and gives it the finger. Upon closer examination, there are bullet holes in the head of Reagan. A young girl asks, “Is that blood” and one of the boys replies “what do you think stupid” the young girl then says “at least I know my times tables.” Seconds later Tre says, “That’s the yellow plasma separating from the blood.” This exchange of words represents cultures being passed down.

The scene in the classroom also represents the cultural transmission theory in relation to women. The teacher in the class is a white female. In fact, the majority of teachers at inner city schools are not majorities. Living in a culture where their own mothers may not provide the best influence, they look to teachers. This means that the young black females are more likely to accept what the “white idea” of education is-hence the little girl saying “at least I know my times tables” This is some ways leads to the disrespect of women. At nine years old Doughboy says to his brother “she may be your wifey, but I shove my ding-a ling in her every night.” Later, when he is around 19 or 20 he says “you ain’t gonna learn nothing from a bitch or ho” Bitch and Ho are the only two words he uses to refer tow women.

The culture passed down to young black boys is violence, as is emulated through the drawings displayed on the wall of the classroom. While the black girls try to be white like the teacher, the boys absorb every ounce of violence. Their pictures were of a man in a coffin, a police car, helicopter and a young man with their hands up, among other things. The posters on the wall and above the blackboard displaying “Great People in history” contained only pictures of white people. They see this violence within their own families and on the streets, and take it to school with them. After a confrontation with another student, Tre yells to him “Go get your punk ass brother, I’ll get my fatherâÂ?¦at least I have a father. This brings both the cultural transmission theory and socialization theories into play.

Another important example of this theory along with social theories is Doughboy and Rick’s mom compared to Tre’s father and mother. Rena (Tre’s mother) sends Tre to one of the worst neighborhoods so that should could further her own career. Throughout the movie, Rena is hardly mentioned. When she is, it is in relation to the new pair of sneakers or other material things she had provided Tre. Rather than be a factor during Tre’s formative years, she looked out only for herself. This is why Furious Styles’ social values and norms are passed along to Tre. Furious is and intelligent black man interested in empowerment. A Vietnam veteran, he has seen the violence of war both oversees and in his own neighborhood.

Rather than letting Tre get involved with the violence surround him, he instills lessons of respect. He at one point asked Tre if he wanted to be a leader or follower, Tre answered “leader”. Furious then asked Tre what the three rules of life are. Tre said: “Always look person in the eye, do that and they respect you better. Never be afraid to ask for something and never respect anyone who doesn’t respect you back.” Constantly Tre is faced with tough decisions, and when he gets out of the, it is because he follows these rules. These lessons that Furious teaches Tre are everyday occurrences in life.

Doughboy and Ricky’s mother Brenda is a different story. Her view of life and lack of general interest culminates in the paths that both of her sons take. It leads to both the life and death of each one. This is known as the labeling theory. Family plays an important role in the labeling process of youth. Rick and Doughboy come from different fathers. Doughboy’s father is portrayed as lackluster and lazy-two qualities that are reflected in his own lifestyle. Brenda says the Doughboy “You ain’t shit, you don’t do shit and all you gonna amount to is shot. All you do is eat, sleep and shit.” With Ricky, it is a different story. She “loving caresses his cheek and says, “You look more like your daddy every day. I always knew you would amount to something.” To Doughboy, she says again, “you ain’t shit, just like your daddy.”

She reacts so well to Ricky because she sees him as her ticket out of South Central L.A. She believes that he will go to college and get drafted by the NFL. This translates into dollars and a better life for her. Doughboy in her eyes will amount to nothing. By installing these feelings of worthlessness rather than countering them with core values, she magnifies the subculture of violence. This ultimately leads to Doughboy’s death. His life becomes the ultimate self-fulfilling prophecy.
The third theory examined in Boyz N the Hood is the structural strain theory. The background, setting and scenery used throughout the movie magnify this theory. The images of the streets, the destitution and hopelessness in each frame express what the strain theory is based upon: the idea that crime and violence are a direct result between people’s goals and the means available to achieve them.

A scene that exemplifies this is the culture clash when Furious brings Tre and Ricky out to Compton. Behind Furious is a sign that reads Seoul to Seoul Reality.” The company takes land in desolate areas from the “ghetto” and transforms it into sellable property. They then ship the community out to areas just as desolate as before. Furious at one point stands in front of the sign and asks Tre and Ricky why it is there, they do not know. He theorizes that the sign is there because white people are “trying to kill us. That is why we have a liquor store on every corner. They want us to kill ourselves.”

Perhaps the most startling examples are from Tre’s childhood. As mentioned earlier, in the opening scene, the children must walk through trash and dangerous areas to get to school. They find a dead body behind the crime scene tape, ironically with a Ronald Reagan poster sprayed with bullets behind it. Subsequently the boy walks up to the poster and gives it the finger. Later in the movie Tre is walking down the train tracks with Lil’ Chris, Ricky and Doughboy. The train tracks are littered with garbage and drug paraphernalia. Lil Chris turns to Tre and says “Hey wanna see a dead body”. A gang is sitting on the other side of tracks, laughing and joking around. Tre says “can’t you see there is a dead body here” and one of the members yells back “He ain’t bothering you now, is he?”

This is an example of how the structural strain theory leads into desensitizing and numbness of those in neighborhoods like South Central Los Angeles. Singleton in some respects might be using the image of the gang or “hoodlums” to give insight into what the boys may become. In the subsequent scene, Doughboy and Lil Chris are being taken away in a police car. Just prior, Doughboy had said he was going to store-Ricky asked him why, because he had no money. Doughboy yelled at him “aww I don’t care.” Instead of doing what Middle American youths might do (doing chores, finding a job like mowing lawns, etc) Doughboy has to find alternative methods of “achieving.” However ecologically and sociologically Doughboy and Ricky see the same devastation, but Ricky internalizes what he sees, why Doughboys acts outwardly.

Inner City urban violence will always be a problem. In a society that values economic status over anything else, change would be difficult. This unequal distribution of wealth is a major cause of violence. A common theory among Americans is that society wants what it cannot have. This simplified theory is another way of looking at the strain theory. Those in urban neighborhoods are in a constant struggle both physically and morally. The goals of people in these neighborhoods far outweigh the means they possess.

The means are necessary for achievement. This is a catalyst, and is the most relevant theory in the causation of violence. People tend to believe that the way to combat violence is through opportunity. This is true to a certain extent. “Opportunity” in the middle and upper classes are “government funded programs” for the underprivileged. America has not learned that these are not the answer.

The answer lay in programs not fully funded by the government that literally go out and take these people off the streets. No government program can do that. Through the bureaucracy, politics and red tape. The underpriveledged fall through the cracks. The government right now may offer checks, but they do not offer training. Though money is a necessity to achieving most things in life, skills and training optimize ones earnings potential down the line.

By providing job training, it allows a person to have realistic goals that can be achieved. Instead of using alternative methods (like stealing and violence) to achieve their needs, these people will have jobs with medical benefits and the opportunity to increase their salary and move out of the poor neighborhoods. It is important for these people to know that it is not charity, but a chance, and that is all one needs to succeed.

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