Film Analysis - Social Penetration Theory in the Breakfast Club

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Social Penetration Theory in The Breakfast Club

The Social Penetration Theory, adapted by Irwin Altman and Dalmas Taylor, is based on the idea that people are layered like onions, (Griffin 133). These layers are made up by different things that hide an individual’s true self. One’s true self can include his or her hopes, fears, likes, dislikes, aspirations and other things that one thinks about. For individuals to become close, they must get past all of the facades and disclose their true selves to one another. In the movie The Breakfast Club, each of the main characters exemplifies this theory. At the beginning of the movie, characters Claire, John, Andrew, Allison, and Brian are each individuals who separate themselves from one another. At the conclusion of this movie, they are united as one group, whose fears and anxieties are known and each person’s true self is revealed. Through the interaction of the characters at the beginning of the movie and at the end, the audience sees the social penetration theory in effect. There are three aspects of the Social Penetration Theory. They are stages of development in a relationship, analysis of the rewards and cost, and the influence of reciprocity. The four stages of development are orientation, exploratory affective exchange, affective exchange, and stable exchange, (Griffin 135). In the Social Penetration Theory, Altman and Taylor make comparisons between people and onions, “...It is a depiction of the multilayered nature of personality. Peel the outer skin from an onion, and you’ll find another beneath it. Remove that layer and you’ll expose a third, and so on,” (Griffin 133). An individual’s personality, as described by Altman and Taylor, is multilayered in nature. At first, when you meet someone new, you talk to them, and soon, layer by layer, you know them. In the beginning, the conversations tend to be superficial, involving hobbies, likes, dislikes, and other trivial items, taking you from the orientation stage to the exploratory effective exchange. After a while, more important discussions may take place involving one’s goals, religion, morals and concept of self. This is self-disclosure in the effective exchange. Self-disclosure is said to have a give and take relationship, balancing the openness between the two parties involved. After consistent exchange of information, the two have moved on to the effective exchange stage. Penetration is the result of self-disclosure in the effective exchange. This is when the two parties are revealing their inner core to one another, achieving a more significant relationship as the conversations go more in depth and breadth and eventually leads to the stable exchange. Because it is human nature to minimize costs and maximize benefits, one decides on how much to reveal by analyzing the possible rewards and cost of such interaction. The better the ratio of reward to cost, the faster penetration takes place, (Griffin 139). Finally, depenetration is the withdrawing of self-disclosure. This is a result of a deteriorating relationship, where there is less intimate detail being exchanged between the two parties. The Breakfast Club, written and directed by John Hughes, is a movie that captures the social and emotional frustrations of being an adolescent. The story takes place on Saturday, March 24, 1984, at Shermer High School in Shermer, Illinois. Each individual in The Breakfast Club is afraid to show his or her true nature. Because of this they each put up walls to hide their individual qualities, and in result are pigeonholed into certain groups by society. At first, each character keeps to him or her self and does not try to understand the others. However, after spending the day together, talking about their lives, feelings, and other personal things, the five individuals become friends. Through their disdain for the way society sees them, the individuals come together. Though the movie...
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