CRASH: INTERGROUP THEORY IN A
MUTLI-CULTURAL HIERARCHICAL SYSTEM
A central feature of virtually all intergroup analysis is the persistently problematic relationships between individual people and collective social process. Paul Haggis’ 2005 film, Crash sets in motion a series of events that expose the sense of isolation our society experiences even as we collide with people from different cultures on a daily basis. Several stories interweave during two days in Los Angeles involving a collection of inter-related characters, a police detective with a drugged addicted mother and a thieving younger brother, two car thieves who are constantly theorizing on society and race, the Caucasian district attorney and his irritated and pampered wife, a bigoted veteran Caucasian police officer who disgusts his more idealistic younger partner, a successful Hollywood director and his wife who must deal with the racist police force, among others. Crash is a movie that brings out bigotry and racial stereotypes within the context of intergroup relations and examines the degree of inter-connection or embeddedness we experience throughout our lives. Most of the characters depicted in the film are racially prejudiced in some way and become involved in conflicts which force them to examine their own prejudices. Through these characters' interactions, the film seeks to depict and examine not only racial tension, but also the physical and emotional isolation between people in general. The movie is set in Los Angeles, a modern multi-cultural metropolis that is seen as a microcosm of our current society. The story begins when several people are involved in a multi-car accident in the desert hills outside of Los Angeles. From that point, we are taken back to the day before the crash, seeing the lives of several characters, and the problems each encounters during that day. Many of the characters transition between roles in a manner that shows the multi-layered complexity of our society. In doing so, Crash examines the interdependence among individual, group, and intergroup processes (Rice, 1969) within a relatively short time span of 36 hours. Within the context of the Los Angeles Police Department I will expound upon Alderfer’s categories on intergroup relations through a discussion focused on individuals who act as representatives of a larger group or find themselves in conflict with members of other identity groups or sub-group within their own organizational group. Hierarchical Groups and Embeddedness
Alderfer defines an organizational group as one “whose members share (approximately) common organizational positions, participate in equivalent work experiences, and as a consequence, have consonant organizational views” (1987, p. 204). In Crash, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) is portrayed as a bigoted, hierarchical organization that promotes conformity and maintains the current socio-economic power imbalance in an ironic interpretation of its motto “To Protect and Serve.” African American officers are rarely found in positions of authority, but are caught in the middle ranks of the organization as they attempt to “hold the organization together in an uneasy alliance between the highest- and lowest ranking members” (Alderfer, 1987, p. 207) in order to maintain their own position or perpetuate the system itself. Lieutenant Dixon, portrayed by Keith David, is Sergeant Ryan’s and Officer Hansen's shift Lieutenant and realizes that minorities occupying a “favorable position in a system may be muted by its being at a relative disadvantage” (Alderfer & Smith, 1982) in either the larger organizational group or society as a whole. He is African American police officer who has gradually worked his way up the chain of command and is self-protective of his leadership position as he approaches retirement. Dixon realizes the salience of his position as an African American...