Sociological Perspectives of the Film 'Erin Brockovich"

Topics: Sociology, Émile Durkheim, Max Weber Pages: 5 (2212 words) Published: May 11, 2011
In the film Erin Brockovich, several different social theories can be related to the storyline of the film. Although different, theories from Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim, and Max Weber can all adequately describe what happens in the film. The film is about a small law firm that takes on an extremely powerful organization, PG & E (Pacific Gas & Electric), on the account that they were knowingly polluting Hinkley, California’s water supply and harming the citizens. From Karl Marx, the film can be explained through his base-superstructure model of society, with PG & E serving as the powerful base, and the rest of society in Hinkley, CA serving as the superstructure. From Emile Durkheim, this movie can be portrayed through his evolutionary theory, through the way that Erin and the rest of Hinkley, CA progresses from a mechanical to organic society, and as a result their idea on law progresses from repressive to restitutive law. Thirdly, the film can be represented through Max Weber’s theory on rationality, in the way that PG & E expresses its domination over the rest of society. The film relates to several different theories of Karl Marx in more ways than not. With Marx’s ideas on class conflict, PG & E can serve as the all powerful upper class who control the modes of production, while the rest of the town of Hinkley, CA that resides near PG & E’s plant serve as the lower class. Through all of Marx’s ideas of class conflict, his base-superstructure model most sufficiently portrays what happened in the film. In his theory, Marx describes the base as the foundation of the model, where it comprehends the forces and relations of production employer-employee work conditions, the technical division of labor and property relations into which people enter this base to produce the necessities and amenities of their lives. The base determines the conditions of its counterpart, the superstructure; the cultural, political, and social forms of life. Marx regarded this mismatch between the base and superstructure as a major source of social disruption and conflict. (Sutton, 2001) In the film, it is obvious in the ways that PG & E serves as the base of the society. PG & E dictates everything in the film; they appear to be the all powerful, goliath-like company that nobody can touch. They serve as society’s largest and richest company, which makes them the base of this analogy to Marx’s model. On the other side, the rest of society in Hinkley, CA serves as the superstructure to the base PG & E. All of the cultural and social factors completely fit the interests of PG & E, and not society as a whole. PG & E used chemicals that polluted the area’s water supply and threatened the health of the entire population. However, PG & E did not care because they knew that they were the most dominant institution in that society. Nobody was able to touch them because they were bigger, and more powerful that anyone else. Ed Masry, the lawyer of the film, was even tentative of taking on the case because PG & E threatened him by blurting out how much money the company is worth. Next, until the end of the film, the law completely reflected towards the interests of PG & E, or the base of this model. Marx argues that you need capital to dictate the law, which PG & E clearly has. As the largest company, PG & E controlled the law entirely to the point where nobody could touch them. Marx also argued that even in those instances where the state tries to regulate capital, the capitalists find a way around it. Similar instances occur all throughout the film with PG & E acting as the base. Even though the government baned the use of hexavalent chromium, PG & E continued to use this chemical and in turn lied to the public by saying they were using a different form of chromium. They also cover up their lies by telling the public that this different form of chromium is not harmful to humans, and...
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