Higher Learning Higher Learning In the 1995 movie, “Higher Learning”, John Singleton gives evidence to numerous sociological issues. In which, Singleton emphasizes that our society needs to be re-socialized, so that society as a whole can overlook all of our preconceived stereotypes and norms, and pass judgement on people not based on the color of their skin or beliefs. As such, three major, and five minor sociological issues arise in the film. The major sociological issue is the use of symbols. Symbolic Interaction asserts that society is composed of symbols, which use to establish meaning and relationships, to coordinate actions, and to develop a view of the world and the self (Henslin, p.15).
Singleton uses many examples of symbols throughout the film. For example, the statue of Columbus signifies the need for a global change in attitude. Disproving the common theory that the world was flat, Columbus revolutionized society’s outlook on their contemporary lifestyle. Singleton uses this revolutionary figure to signify that universities and other such institutions can also be used as avenues for a global mindset change, by learning. Another symbol used throughout the film is the act of running. Malik is portrayed throughout the film as running, signifying a progression from a typical gangbanger to an educated athlete. Conversely, periods throughout the film where Malik is off the track team or not running, Singleton digresses Maliks’ education and reverts the character back to a hoodlum.
Evidence of this is when Malik is kicked off the track team, and Dr. Phipps informs Malik that his paper is not up to university standards. Another symbol strongly used in the film is the character Deja. Deja’s character exemplifies tolerance and innocence lost. She dedicates her efforts on studying, yet manages to fulfill her role on the track team; whereas, Malik loses his motivation for schooling after being depicted as just a thoroughbred.
Deja throughout the film encourages Malik to make use of his opportunity and not to succumb to his pride. Likewise, the ending of the film would not have brought forth the same emotions in the audience if any of the other characters had died. Deja represented the studious and hard working pupil, and her death signified an innocent lost. Another major sociological issue arising in the film is the role of groups. Groups mold basic perception and ideals, and these groups become part of each member’s identity and the lens through which a member views society (Henslin, p.101). An example of this from the film is when Fudge categorizes the student body. Fudge enlightens Malik to the fact that all the Asian students socialize with each other, all of the white students socialize with each other, and how Malik being a black student, should congregate with the rest of the black student body.
Even though all of the students preside on the same campus, or a secondary group, the general student body breaks down into more individual primary groups. Moreover, Singleton illustrates how peer pressure affects individuals in these primary groups. For example, Remy’s skinhead friends coerce him into beating people up on Halloween. At first Remy seemed shocked by the actions of his friends, but Scott assures Remy that they are just ethnically cleansing society. As such, Remy soon partakes in the assault on the fellow students. Another group example Singleton uses is the process of groupthink.
Irving Janis coined the term, groupthink, as a narrowing of thought by people, leading to the perception that there is only one correct answer and that they suggestion of alternatives is a sign of disloyalty. Singleton provides a good example of groupthink when Fudge sets off to vindicate Monet’s honor after having been called a ‘black bitch’. Fudge’s friends need no explanation on what was said, or by whom, only that there was an injustice done. The last major sociological issue arising in “Higher Learning” is the Authoritarian Personality. Theodor Adorno used the term authoritarian personality for people who are prejudiced and rank high on scales of conformity, intolerance, insecurity, respect for authority, and submissiveness to superiors.
The character of Remy, is a classic example of having an authoritarian personality. Remy is in desperate need of attaching himself to something or someone. Throughout the film, Singleton depicts Remy as a loser who says inappropriate things at the wrong time. For example, after Kristen rushes out of the fraternity, Remy walks over to Billy and congratulates him on getting’laid’. However, Remy misinterprets the scenario and is deemed an outcast by the majority of the fraternity brothers. Another example of Remy’s insecurity is when he blames the minorities in his class for his failure at becoming an engineer.
Another character with authoritarian characteristics is Kristen. She too seems desperate to fit into the college lifestyle. Singleton exemplifies this when Kristen is talking to Dr. Phipps about her term paper. Phipps informs Kristen that her work lacks an argument, and she should argue on her beliefs and not what she thinks her professors want to hear. Soon there after, Dr. Phipps states a thesis statement that Kristen could have argued, and Kristen thanks the professor for the idea.
Phipps informs Kristen that is his argument, and encourages her to generate her own ideas and not to argue someone else’s beliefs. The final character Singleton portrayed with an authoritarian personality is Malik. Numerous times during the film, Malik is shown asking for someone else’s opinion on what course of action he should take. For example, at the end of the film, Dr. Phipps tells Malik on how impressed he is on the improvement of Malik’s paper, especially through all of the tragedies. Malik asks Dr.
Phipps on what does he think the right course of action would be regarding Malik’s future. Malik is characterized as a person who needs the reassurance of someone else to ensure that he is on course. Singleton also sheds a light on some minor sociological issues. One example is deviance. Deviance is the violation of rules and norms (Henslin, p.126).
An example of deviance from the film is the date rape of Kristen. Although Kristen seems to originally give consent to have sex, she asks Billy to stop and put on a condom. Since Billy showed no signs of succumbing to her wishes, she insisted that he stop. This disregard for Kristen’s welfare, not to mention the possibility of transmitting numerous sexually transmitted diseases, constitutes rape. An additional minor issue is social status. Social status is the position that someone occupies in society or a social group (Henslin, p.83).
An example of a social status originating from the film is the change in attitude in Remy upon joining the skinhead group. Before joining this group, Remy seemed to lack confidence and self-awareness; however, after joining the group his confidence seemed to grow as did his self-awareness. Further minor issues arising from Singleton’s movie is subcultures. A subculture has values and related behaviors of a group that distinguish its members from the larger culture (Henslin, p.43). An instance from “Higher Learning” is Scott’s group.
Singleton illustrates this particular group to be either a skinhead or neo-nazi group. Either of these groups believes in white supremacy, and wishes to achieve an Aryan race. Scott’s group shows numerous signs of deviance against minorities and ascribes to hate literature. An additional minor issue emerging from the dramatization is gender. The term gender infers those social characteristics that a society considers proper for its males and females (Henslin, p.229).
Singleton provides an example of this when Kristen is raped. Singleton shows Kristen as a weak, helpless woman unable to defend herself. Conversely, Singleton shows how this weak female needs a strong male to defend her honor. This is illustrated by Fudge going over to the fraternity house and dragging Billy out by the scruff of his neck and forcing an apology out of him. The movie, “Higher Learning”, is a not-so-subtle movie illustrating numerous sociological issues. John Singleton is trying to show how society’s preconceived notions affect the world we live in, and how society at large should ‘unlearn’; however, this task is not easily achieved.
Only through learning can individuals shed some light on creating a socially responsible society. Unfortunately, there are too many people who would rather live in the dark.