The Avengers A Comparison and Contrast of How Two Deviance Theories may Explain a Deviant Person Within a Movie By: Maria Fox and Puneet Sharma
Table of Contents Introduction The Avengers Movie Objective Theory Subjective Theory Merton’s Anomie Strain Theory Application of Merton’s Anomie and Strain Theory Labeling Theory Application of Labeling Theory Comparison/Contrast Societal Viewpoint Conclusion
Introduction “He who is unable to live in society, or who has no need because he is sufficient for himself, must be either a beast or a God.” (The Quotations Page. “Aristotle Quotes”) The quote above is a perfect illustration of the mindset related to the character of Dr. Bruce Banner, aka The Hulk, from the film The Avengers. (Marvel. “The Avengers Movie”) In an effort to explain the deviant behavior of Dr. Banner, we will be discussing the concepts of Merton’s anomie and strain theory and labeling theory.
The Avengers Movie The Avengers is a movie filmed in 2012 by Marvel Studios that is loosely based on the comic book series of the same name. It features several super heroes from the Marvel Universe coming together to form a super group in order to protect earth from an impending other worldly attack. (Tribute. “The Avengers”) The character that will be discussed in this presentation is that of Dr. Bruce Banner, aka The Hulk. We have chosen to explore this particular character due to his complexity as a character. (Marvel. “The Avengers Movie”)
Objective Theory We chose to use Merton’s anomie and strain theory as our objective theory because, unlike the other theories, we felt that his theory encompassed not only the explanation of deviance on an individual level but also on a societal level. When considering other theories, the roles of the individual as well as the role of society are not accurately described to the extent that is needed. In consideration of Agnew’s general strain theory, the modes of adaption outlined by Merton gave a more complete explanation of deviance that his general theory lacked. It is the modes of adaption and the outlined contribution of both the individual and society that pushed us to select Merton’s theory over the others.
Subjective Theory For our subjective theory, we chose to use labeling theory. We selected labeling theory because it was the only subjective theory that accurately described the deviance portrayed by Dr. Banner on an individual and societal level. Critical theories focus heavily on the struggle of power and there was no power struggle evident in the deviance portrayed by Dr. Banner. Labeling theory is the only theory that can accurately correlate the deviant acts portrayed and the explanations as to why they were deviant.
Merton’s Anomie and Strain Theory Robert Merton’s theory of anomie and strain has been placed among the greatest sociological theories ever created. His theory of deviance was based off of his suggestion that deviance originates not only from the individual, but from the structure of society as well. (Bereska: 2011, p 46) In his theory, Merton talks about the institutionalized goals that govern our lives.These are the goals that we are taught to want to seek out in our lives. For those of us in North America, these goals are that of money, power and prestige. (Bereksa: 2011, p 47) Along with institutionalized goals, Merton’s theory also takes into consideration what he calls legitimate means. These are the accepted ways of achieving the institutionalized goals, such as going to school and getting job opposed to selling drugs. (Bereska: 2011, p 47)
Merton Continued Merton theorized that a new context of anomie has emerged. The original definition of anomie, as developed by Émile Durkheim, is that of normlessness. (Bereska: 2011, p 41) Merton changed the idea anomie in his theory to represent something different. He determined that the new context in which anomie can be applied, is not within normlessness but within the occurrence where the importance of achieving the goals becomes more important that how we achieve them. This is what he calls a deinstitutionalized of the means. (Bereska: 2011, p 47) Merton suggested that strain is caused when there is a gap between the institutionalized goals and the legitimate means. He also developed the five ways in which people adapt to this strain, calling these the modes of adaption. (Bereska: 2011, p 47)
Modes of Adaption Conformity – those who choose to conform accept the institutionalized goals as well as the legitimate means and continues to pursue the goals using the legitimate means(Bereska: 2011, p 48) Innovation – those who choose to innovate accept the institutionalized goals but reject the legitimate means and choose to pursue the goals in their own way (Bereska: 2011, p 48) Ritualism – those who choose to engage in ritualism have given up on or, at least, reduced the importance of the institutionalized goals but they continue to participate in the legitimate means (Bereska: 2011, p 49) Retreatism– those who choose to engage in retreatism reject the institutionalized goals as well as the legitimate means, choosing instead to live in their own isolated world (Bereska: 2011, p 49) Rebellion – those who choose to engage in rebellion reject the institutionalized goals as well as the legitimate means but, unlike retreatism, choose to supplement new goals and new means in an effort to create a better world (Bereska: 2011, p 49)
Application When looking at Dr. Banner in the film, it is clear to see how Merton’s theory accurately describes the deviant actions. In the film, it is explained that his mutation was a terrible accident when he was attempting to recreate the super soldier serum, used on Captain America, for the government. The backlash from the failed experiment lead him to become an uncontrollable monster when he was not able to control his feelings. Therefore, Dr. Banner was attempting to achieve the institutionalized goal of prestige by attempting to recreate the super soldier serum. He was trying to achieve the goal through the legitimate means of working for the government. The strainthat was encountered when he could no longer achieve his goal due to no longer have access to the means is what forced him to choose a mode of adaption. The mode of adaption that he chose was rebellion. He isolated himself in a remote village and created a new goal of curing the village of the sickness that was plaguing it by using appropriate means, as in his prior research knowledge.
Labeling Theory Labeling theory states that a deviant label that has been attached to a person will affect the way in which people view them and the way that they are treated. (Bereska: 2011, p 79) Tannenbaumtheorized that there is a dramatization of evil, meaning that an act that we have ‘tagged’, or labeled, to be deviant will then be generalized to infer that the person in general is deviant, not just the act. (Bereska: 2011, p 79) Lemert was the first person to use the word labeling and he distinguished between primary deviance and secondary deviance.He suggested that we all engage in small acts of deviance and are rarely caught by others doing it, which is primary deviance. It is when we build a life around being deviant that we are said to be engaging in secondary deviance. (Bereska: 2011, p 81)
Labeling Continued Howard Becker took this one step further when he devised his term of a master status. A master status is the characterization that others apply to you and, when your master status is a deviant one, the opportunities available for them decrease and they become rejected from the ‘normal’ world. (Bereska: 2011, pg 81) Other theorists have called this process of being rejected and being an outsider as stigmatization. (Bereska: 2011, pg 82) Goffman went on to develop a school of thought known as dramaturgy. He theorized that, due to the theater like lives we all live, that we each engage in two main roles. We have a front-stage self that we show to the world and a back-stage self that we keep private. (Bereska: 2011, pg 82)
Labeling Continued Goffman went on to say that when our front-stage self is viewed to be deviant and we cannot escape the association with the deviant label, we encounter a spoiled identity (Bereska: 2011, pg 82). There are many ways in which we can respond to a spoiled identity, known as identity management or impression management. One such way that is used is when someone will divide their social world, meaning they carefully chose who gets to see what side of them. Other ways of adapting include using humor, educating others on the deviant label, showing defiance, cowering or choosing to pass on comment all together (Bereska: 2011, pg 82). Kitsuse developed a theory surrounding the transition from primary to secondary deviance. When a person continues to deny that what they have done is deviant and tries to change the overall definition of the deviant act, it is known as tertiary deviance(Bereska: 2011, pg 83).
Application When applying labeling theory to Dr. Banner, many things must be considered. There is a direct usage of the dramatization of deviance. The uncontrollable acts of rage that he was known for when he was in his Hulk form turned into an overall deviant label despite being back in control. He was known as one of the most brilliant minds of his generation but he soon achieved the master status of an uncontrollable monster and was shunned from normal society. This stigmatization lead Dr. Banner to recede into isolation in a far off place where he was not known as a monster, but simply as a man.
Comparison/Contract When comparing Merton’s anomie and strain theory and labeling theory, the main contrast between the two is how the deviant label is applied. With Merton’s theory, Dr. Banner becomes deviant when he is forced to adapt to the strain caused by the rift between the institutionalized goals and his access to the legitimate means. In contrast with labeling theory, Dr. Banner becomes deviant when he mutates into an uncontrollable monster. His aggressive actions when he is the Hulk are what prompts people to label him as a deviant monster, which leads to the association of the deviant label applying to him in general and not just to his actions when he is the Hulk.
Societal Viewpoint “If you do not wish to be prone to anger, do not feed the habit; give it nothing which may tend to its increase.” (The Quotations Page. “Epictetus Quotes”) Emotions are accepted in society. We are encouraged to love and cherish our partners and parents. However, negative emotions, such as anger, carry a heavily disgraceful reputation. In the movie, Dr. Banner’s main problem would be with his anger but he does also suffer from a few other mental illnesses. Since making the movie, there has not been a notable increase of acceptance of mental illness but there has been a slow increase in society’s reaction to accept and tolerate the deviant behavior.
Anger Anger management is becoming as common theme in our day to day lives. There are innumerable resources to try and help you control your anger, ranging from programs to self help books to support groups. The general consensus among the population is that we understand that everyone gets angry but we are expected to react appropriately. Many people engage in recreational activities to try and relieve aggression. Although we have accepted that anger is a natural occurring thing, we highly reject it in day to day life. The aggressive and destructive characteristics of The Hulk in the film would still be rejected in society today.
Personality Disorders When Nick Fury is addressing the council members in and explaining to them that he has activated the Avengers initiative, one of the council members raises the question of why they should trust a group of citizens who have obvious character flaws and personality disorders. (The Avengers.) This analysis from the council member lead us to investigate whether or not Dr. Banner could have potentially suffered from a personality disorder, which would impact whether or not society would be more or less accepting of his anger problems.
Personality Disorders Continued A personality disorder (PD) is considered to be an extremely disabling disease due to it’s constant interference with a person’s person and professional life. Individuals who suffer from a PD often demonstrate irritability and hostility. The causes for developing a PD are unknown but researchers believe that a specific situation or event can trigger the behaviors seen in PD’s. It has also been noted that individuals that suffer from a PD can show impulsive behavior, such as attempting suicide. (Stats Canada. “Health state descriptions for Canadians: Mental illnesses.”) After looking at the evidence surrounding personality disorders and applying the research to the case of Dr. Banner, we have come to conclusion that he could been seen as someone who suffers from a personality disorder. Due to the consideration, we are also inclined to infer that, when given the perspective of a mental illness, that society in general would be less likely to condemn Dr. Banner and force him into exile but they would seek to help him manage his illness.
Conclusion In conclusion, Dr. Bruce Banner, aka The Hulk, was one of the main characters in the 2012 film The Avengers. His uncontrollable rage had it’s roots in an experiment gone wrong and ultimately lead to his decent into deviance. He was rejected from the normal world, forced to adapt and labeled as a monster. Despite all of this, he still managed to exhibit a phenomenal amount of perseverance in the movie as he helped save Earth from an alien threat. Overall, the actions of Dr. Banner could indeed be deemed deviant but, without his deviance, would he have been able to contribute to saving Earth the same way that he did?
References Bereska, Tami M. (2011). Deviance, Conformity, and Social Control in Canada (3rd ed.) Toronto: Pearson Canada Stats Canada. “Health state descriptions for Canadians: Mental illnesses.” (http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-619-m/82-619-m2012004-eng.pdf) cited on November 1, 2012 Marvel. “The Avengers Movie” (http://marvel.com/avengers_movie/) cited on November 1, 2012 The Avengers. Dir. Joss Whedon. Walt Disney Pictures, 2012. The Quotations Page. “Aristotle Quotes” (http://www.quotationspage.com/quotes/Aristotle/) cited on November 1, 2012 The Quotations Page. “Epictetus Quotes” (http://www.quotationspage.com/quotes/Epictetus/) cited on November 1, 2012 Tribute. “The Avengers” (http://www.tribute.ca/movies/the-avengers/16777/) cited on November 1, 2012