Introduction and Definition of Key TermsIn this paper I intend to apply certain key sociological terms to the film The Essential Blue-Eyed. The film is a documentary made by Bertram Verhaag, which covers the experience of 40 individuals that took part in Jane Elliott’s “diversity workshop” in 1996. The workshop intended to subject individuals to racism that typically do not experience it in order to demonstrate how their or their peers’ racism can affect others. Evidently, this film is ripe for sociological analysis, and by applying keys terms I can go in depth as to the sociological implications of the film. The key terms are as follows: race, racism, discrimination, prejudice and stereotyping. Race is defined as the fact or condition of belonging to a racial division or group and the qualities associated with this. Racism is thus the prejudice direct at someone belonging outside of this group. Discrimination can be defined as the unjust treatment of any individual. Prejudice, then, is a preconceived (negative) opinion of an individual that is not based in experience. Finally, stereotyping is employed to mean the widely held, but oversimplified, idea of a person that is typically (but not always) negative.
Application of Key Terms
The concept of race encompasses the entire film. As touched upon above, the film aims to flip the traditional racism in American society (whites towards blacks) to demonstrate to whites how their racism actually feels to someone experiencing it. That being said, the films most brilliant touch is not reversing this in the traditional manner. It does not say: “now all whites are actually inferior”, it is subtler, it says: “now all people with blue eyes are inferior” and gives reasons for why this is so. Of course, those with blue eyes are white, however, by making it about eye color a white person cannot simply rest on his experience present in the outside world – the white person is experiencing how conceptions of race can be transient. The “racial division or group” used in the definition of race above is a social one – anyone can find reasons (as is done in the film) to demonstrate why your certain quality puts you into a race and makes you inferior. Even if that quality can be seen, to the observer, rather silly, the effects of the racism throughout the film are not.
The Essential Blue-Eyed is strengthened immensely by depicting racism in (if that term can be used) a “natural way”. Jane Elliot’s brusque attitude towards blue-eyed people is extremely reminiscent of a police officer booking a group of young black individuals and I think to someone watching this film the way she is behaving is not outlandish. However, one of the first blue-eyed men to be “sorted” responds rather aggressively and is taken away by a security officer (who is black); this is something that I am sure he does not typically experience, and the fact is obviously driven home to him that he is being treated this way (by blacks and other whites) for the simple fact that he has blue eyes and he responds accordingly. The Essential Blue-Eyed goes some way in depicting a “casual” racism in an atypical environment and that undoubtedly increases the impact it has on the observer. This is directly related to the application of the concept of discrimination. In the film Jane asks a hypothetical question by stating that: “some of the blue-eyed people are going to get angry – but why is that? They knew this is temporary…nothing was threatened…yet they are going to get angry”. It shows that discrimination is not a one-moment event, it shakes a person down (especially one that does not typically experience it) that they will get so angry even in a temporary and illusory environment. I think that the last two terms we can apply to this film, prejudice and stereotyping, serve to highlight the really abstract nature of racism when examined from a rational perspective. Everyone in that room knows that having blue-eyes is not a standard reason for prejudice that does not have the slightest bearing on how one could act (a blue eyed person can come from any socio-economic background), yet we see the reactions of both the blue-eyed people and the others (who get angry when they state that this is how many of them are treated on a daily basis for equally sad reasons). Stereotyping is similar and it was used in the film to absurd levels: why should blue eyes tell you anything about anyone? Yet it was used to make decisions that affect some of the individuals lives.
Reaction to the film
This film served to both highlight the absurd nature of racism and depict its consequences to people who do not normally suffer them – I think this very valuable. Yet, my opinion changed throughout the film because I frequently felt like it was too well aimed at white people rather than talking more generally about the consequences of racism. I think one would have to come from a certain perspective to gain something out of the film – without which I can see one just agreeing with everything said and turning it off. Thus, I would only recommend it to certain friends I thought could benefit from it, rather than all of them. That being said, I think this would serve as a good film for high school students as it reminds everyone present that racism does exist. I do not think all would benefit from this film but I think many high school students do not have any experience of racism (to them or otherwise) whatsoever and by watching this film they can get a grasp on how it does really manifest itself in day-to-day society.
Throughout this paper I have touched upon the “so what” of the film: it serves to highlight both the absurdity of racism and to demonstrate how it can be easily flipped to disadvantage any group. The bigger meaning of this film is perhaps to provide a large mouthpiece for sociology’s biggest tenant: it is a study into the world that aims to see it from an objective standpoint not a biased (and in this film, ridiculous) opinion. This film begs the audience to see the world from a sociological standpoint.