“Shoot me now”, was a quote scribbled on a note by Senator Obama (before he became president) while listening to a long-winded speech by Senator Joe Biden. This phrase, “shoot me now”, is often used when someone feels a topic is boring or when someone is talking about something they do not want to hear. Contemporary Social Theory: An Introduction by Anthony Elliott, had me uttering this phrase. I understand that Social Theory is important in understanding how societies function, but the multiple theories made my head hurt. Maybe if I had a few weeks to digest the content of this book, I would feel I could write something semi-intellectual, fitting for a graduate doctoral student, but this is not the case.
All of these theories of society did remind me of a movie named, Car Wash. The movie Car Wash is about a day in the life of a group of people working at an urban car wash in Los Angeles in the mid-1970s. The people in the movie include the workers of the car wash comprised of a variety of minorities, the owner of the car wash, a middle-aged white man and his son (a college student), the cashier, a white woman, and a variety of people who work in neighboring businesses as well as those coming in for car washes.
The movie attempts to show not just the different races and minority groups, but also how each group or individual navigates society. Many want to rise above working in the car wash and clearly have other ambitions, such as two men who have a singing group on the side, and the young man who wants to create the first black super-hero comic book character.
One interesting conflict that arises in the movie is between the idealized son, who is studying the Quotations of Mao, and an underpaid black militant working in the car wash. The son believes he is helping the struggle of the workers by coming to the car wash for a day with his father, who he believes is out of touch with reality. The black militant worker is incensed at the son since he sees him as only playing at a job he has no need to do since the son essentially lives off his father’s money.
This movie reminds me of the variety of social theories presented in the book since your theory of society will often depend on the vantage point from which society is viewed or what you were taught about what you are seeing in society. Being an African American, I will have a unique view of society, which may not be shared by others of another race; being a woman will also give me another view. I believe my faith in Jesus Christ shapes my view the most, but the other views still play a major role in my own social theories.
I guess what concerns me most about Contemporary Social Theory: An Introduction by Anthony Elliott, is these views are often used to judge and create decisions about other people in society. I think this concern is what causes me to lose interest in the theories presented. I may be biased since I have little interest in this field of study, but I can see the danger in the classification of societies since it may lead to judgments and criticisms of whole people groups in society. Hopefully, as we view these theories, we realize that they may project theories from our own vantage point.
Elliott, Anthony. Contemporary Social Theory: An Introduction. New York: Routledge, 2009.
Car Wash. Directed by Michael Schultz. Performed by Bill Duke, George Carlin, Irwin Corey, Ivan Dixon, Antonio Fargas, Jack Kehoe, Clarence Muse, Lorraine Gary, The Pointer Sisters, Richard Pryor, and Franklyn Ajaye. 1976.