Sociology | Social Problems & Policies
S101 | 4064 | Rosenbaum

Topic:   Social Problems Through Cinema


In this course, we will examine contemporary social problems in
America.  We will employ a sociological perspective to understand
the social-structural foundations of these various issues, and to
assess the role of public policy in resolving the problems.  For
each topic, we will read and discuss alternative causal explanations
and their policy implications.

The bonus in this course is the “cinema” portion of the course
title.  While this is NOT a film class, we will analyze cinema as a
cultural artifact that can help us understand contemporary
interpretations of social problems.  Films will help us answer two
questions in this course.  First, to what degree does mainstream
cinema represent a popular consensus of opinion on social issues?
Does it reflect mainstream norms and values, or is it an artistic
medium that challenges deeply entrenched attitudes and beliefs?
Secondly, how does the cinematic experience help shape our
collective understanding of social problems?

Example 1:  Is “Natural Born Killers” another example of the
degeneration of our collective morality, to be blamed for increasing
violence in our society?  Or, is it a valuable, thought-provoking
film that leads viewers to step back from their semi-conscious
involvement in a fast-paced, material culture which values fame and
gratification over empathy and spiritual worth?

Example 2: How did films such as “Philadelphia” help redefine HIV
and AIDS as a public issue and target of social policy, rather than
a private trouble outside the realm of mainstream social and
political discourse?

Note: Many of the films we watch will be rated R.