Roger and Me
Roger and Me
“Roger and Me” is a 1989 documentary film that highlights the impact of closure of General Motors plants in Flint, Michigan. It was directed by Michael Moore and narrates his attempts to reach the General Motors CEO Roger Smith. The closure of the regional branches in Flint had adverse effects on the community. Many people were economically and socially devastated. The community had enjoyed relatively good relations and people would interact in social settings and gatherings.
“Roger and Me” was inspired by the fall and decline of Flint, Michigan which was a zone of a thriving GM plant. However the closing of the plants in the community had negative implications on the social life of the people and its vibrancy.
The film is set on a community of people living in Flint where many people work in General Motors (GM). People are hit with the sudden news that General Motors will be closing all the manufacturing plants and move out of Flint.
Initially the main character Moore, begins to here complaints by some of the employees in GM about the new Chief Executive Officer Roger Smith. It is later revealed that he plans on closing the plants in Flint and open in Mexico where there is cheaper labor and lowered costs. When Moore is denied access to Roger, he starts to look into the major events occurring in Flint. As the film progresses more people especially public figures visit Flint in attempts to give the people hope.
One of the major sociological theories in the movie is the social conflict theory. The conflict theory is a perspective that premises on the material inequality, social and political superiority existent in a social group. The movie “Roger and Me” reflects the concepts in this theory. It critiques the wider socio-political system that detracts from ideological conservatism and structural functionalism. The film draws attention to the power differentials in America. Class conflict and the role of ruling class in society are dominant throughout the movie. The movie therefore gives an in-depth analysis of society.
Flint is a city within America which is a capitalist society driven by capitalist ideologies. Conflict theory highlights the implications of such a system and ideology on social structures. Society is fragmented into groups which compete for economic and social power and resources. The group that has access and control to the means of production has the ultimate power. Maintenance of social order is done through domination with those hording the greatest number of economic, political and social resources having power and control over the whole society. Flint is an example of such society when GM CEO Roger and other rich residents make decisions that influence the entire community.
In such societies, there is little or no concern for the working class as the bourgeoisie exploit them. Moore chronicles how the United Auto Workers was formed. The group of workers was separate from the management of GM and had less pay. The workers were striking because of the working environment and reduced wages. In addition, Moore interviews laborers who have a strong dislike for the GM Chief Executive Officer, Roger Smith. Inequalities are clear in the movie. In conflict theory, inequalities exist as a result of the control among the elite. Those in control therefore make decisions and activities to their advantage at the expense of the poor or working class in the society.
Roger Smith represents the bourgeoisie who make decisions to maximize profits at the expense of a community that has served and worked with GM. Plant closures in Flint are viewed as a betrayal to a community that helped GM establish itself in the motor industry. Thousands of Flint residents lose their jobs. More become unemployed, homeless and impoverished. Roger does not seem affected by this decision. General Motors Company claims the closures and the overall impact they have had in Flint are regrettable. However the company diverges from the truth that it is recruiting cheaper labor from Mexico.
In conflict theory, the masses are not guided by society, the social structures and values. The masses are coerced and guided by those in power. Moore attempts to reach Roger but he can not even reach him at his office. Groups and individuals proceed to advance their personal interests while they struggle tirelessly to control societal resources. Roger used his power to close the plants in Flint. In addition, groups of elites such as celebrities and president Regan come into the city. They do not offer proper solutions but rather advice and urge the citizens to be patient and persevere through the tumultuous period. It is also interesting to notice that despite Regan being a national leader, he does not foot the bill for the pizza he eats.
Social exploitation is dominant in the movie. Roger Smith closes the GM plants to layoff workers. The workers in America are seen as a group of people who are aware of their rights and are members of trade unions and socialist movements. They are therefore a threat to mainstream companies seeking to maximize on profits and reduce on labor. Instead General Motors opts for cheap labor in Mexico. Mexico is a state that is not as developed as America and the cycle of capitalist exploitation between the core and periphery is evident. This is a tenet in the Marxist social theory.
Classes exist in every society and Flint is no different. Though Flint is a small city and most of the people who were employed at GM were not well paid, there lives a community of wealthy residents. The residents live lavish lifestyles and were renown throughout Flint. They live detached way of life distinct from the regular communities in Flint. They even reside in the affluent suburbs of Grand Blank. The closure of General Motors in the city did not seem to have any effect on their finances and lavish lifestyles. They view themselves to be better off than most of those who lost their jobs. When Moore talks to them, they exhibit classist attitudes towards the hardships in Flint. In addition, they host a party themed for the Roaring Twenties it is noted that they hire workers who were laid off as human statuses. It is clear that these people hold those who are poor as with the lowest esteem.
Many celebrities sing messages of hope such as Pat Boone and Anita Bryant. Celebrities are social figures that can be used to influence a group of people. The arrival of Ronald Regan is deemed as a ray of hope. However it is satirical that he visits the city and eats with some jobless folks only to forget to pay the bill and leaves. Many steps are undertaken in order to improve the current conditions but it seems that the damage has already been done. Among the community individuals begin to start their businesses and local enterprises experience a boost despite the crisis. Others opt to move out of the troubled city.
This movie delivers the message of corporate entities and the increased emphasis of profits among them. Most focus on revenue and output only to forget about the lives of their workers. People are devastated by the events as more people become unemployed. General Motors failed on the role it has as a company with social responsibility to improve the lives of the people who work tirelessly and diligently to maintain the standards and accolades it has among the consumers and general public. The closure of the company therefore had a dangerous social impact on the lives of the people in Flint consequently affecting their overall wellbeing.
Socialization is one of the most important processes in the life of a human being. Socialization refers to a lifelong process of disseminating and inheriting the ideologies, norms and customs to provide an individual with the habits and skills that are necessary to participate and interact with people with the society. It begins at birth and continues in the course of the life of a person. Socialization therefore assists a person to acquire the necessary skills in order to act as a functioning member in society. The major agents of socialization include the family, school, workplace and other social structures. GM was a suitable workplace that was an agent of socialization in Flint.
The social structures in Flint are also affected. Social interactions occur on a daily basis in all communities (Fulcher, et. al., 2011). Many people interact in various places and institutions such as school, markets, leisure zones like parks and zoos and the workplace. The workplace is considered one of the most significant zones in the process of a human being. Interactions take place between people of diverse backgrounds, class and levels in leadership. Socialization at the workplace is important because of the overall results of the company’s profits. People in Flint have had GM around for a long time. Moore cites that his father used to work there. Many people established permanent relationships while working there to form a network.
Social networking at the workplace is established among people who have similar mannerisms and interests. Moore expounds on the social importance of GM by stating it was a social hub for the whole community. Generally people who share the same class, background, class and social preferences tend to align themselves together. In Flint, this is clear when the working class comes together and expresses concerns over the new management and the policies under implementation. In the beginning Moore explains that even in the past laborers have come together to oppose the poor pay they get. Majority of the relations at GM continue as the colleagues meet in other areas within the city.
The people in Flint enjoyed meeting and being together within their neighborhoods. Neighborhoods create stable systems for people to interact collectively. However this mechanism was slowly changing. People moved out of Flint in search of jobs and better opportunities. Other people were slowly becoming poor and evictions were the order of the day. There is also a media report in the movie showing families had been evicted on Christmas Eve. For many Americans, Christmas is considered a time to celebrate with family and friends. Homelessness at this period does not offer suitable conditions for such social activities.
Unemployment has a ripple effect on most of the people. It is estimated that when the average American loses his or her job they are less likely to have another opportunity immediately. This was a grim reality among most people in Flint who had been used to working and earning regularly. Accordingly, the sudden closure of GM was a drawback to the normal social life they had been used to in their working days. Most of those retrenched were now forced to adjust to a new social system. It is difficult for an individual to amend and restructure their social life to a new and distinct model. The process is more complicated when the person is forced by circumstances instead of personal will and motivation.
Generally, the socialization process is influenced by the feelings and perceptions of the individual. The overall well being of a person is important for socialization. Lack of employment opportunities can have an effect on the emotional stability of an individual. There is a lot of shock and mental disorientation that arises from sudden job loss. Many who lose their jobs tend to suffer psychological conditions such as trauma, stress and depression. These conditions ultimately have an impact on how a person relates with other people. Job loss psychologically affects some of Moore’s friends.
In the movie, Moore becomes concerned with the emotional impact the plant closure is having on his friends. Previously, he would meet them regularly and talk. They would share on the events in their lives either at work or at home. However, they have become emotionally distressed and interactions have been less frequent. Ben Hamper suffers a nervous breakdown at the assembly line. He is later admitted to a mental health facility. With such circumstances it is hard to interact with other people because mental conditions affect a person’s methods in communication. People also tend to be afraid of such people because of disagreements and misunderstandings.
Poverty in society can be referred to as the lack of access to basic requirements. Poverty in any community affects all aspects of life. Some societies are enshrined in a culture of poverty while others are introduced to it because of unavoidable events and economic circumstances. Flint is slowly evolving into poverty. When people lose jobs and have limited resources they gradually plunge into poverty. While some leave the city in search of employment those who are left become poor. In Flint the Sheriff Fred Ross evicts families that are unable to pay rent. Consequently, more families became homeless and impoverished.
Societies which have high poverty levels tend to record high crime cases. People resort to crime because of unemployment and lack of basic necessities. In Flint, people become helpless and desperate. Many unemployed persons have taken up criminal activities to as a source of income. These people have either attempted to find jobs but failed or generally given up and use crime as the easiest mode of getting finance. Crime rates in Flint skyrocket with regular killings and shootouts. Insecurity and murder become common occurrences in the community. Crime is so prevalent that when a news program for ABC called Nightline attempts to show a live story the network van together with cables are stolen causing the broadcast to be stopped abruptly.
Insecurity is a social evil that affects every community. Normal and regular activities are disrupted. Crimes such as theft, burglary, shootings and murder tend to instill fear among people. Areas that exhibit high crime levels have been associated with poor social vibrancy. Increase in crime causes tension and suspicion between members of a community. Suspicion breeds hatred which ultimately affects interactions among people. Conflicts and disagreements are also reflections of poor social relations especially among people in Flint. Living conditions become unbearable. According to Money Magazine, Flint had been rated the worst place to live in America.
Drug abuse is also a negative impact of poverty. Many people become hopeless in poor societies and engage in drug abuse. Drug abuse is used by such individuals as a means of escape from the reality and problems in their lives. Most of the people who lost their jobs in Flint engage in drug and substance abuse as a regular pass time because they lack other productive opportunities. The use of drugs also affects the health of the user and can lead to terminal conditions and death. Families also suffer emotionally and financially taking care of their kin. Drug abuse is also responsible for the crime in Flint.
In conclusion, the movie “Roger and Me” offers a wide variety of lessons in sociology. Theories in social conflict premise on the powerful people in the movie coerce and manipulate power to produce and control the social order. Socialization is also a key aspect in the movie with people undergoing the process at home (when Moore was young), at work in GM and among peers with Moore expressing and reviewing the opinions and plight of his friends. Social evils such as crime, murder, shootouts, drug abuse and classism threaten to destroy the social order in the city. However there is hope that the community will rise again despite the shortfalls. People are slowly adjusting to the new social order and others are starting local businesses to improve development in Flint. The film therefore a story of a society that has been shattered but is determined to re-establish itself.
Fulcher, J., & Scott, J. (2011). Sociology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.