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Hollywood Goes to High School: Cinema, Schools, and American Culture

Hollywood Goes to High School: Cinema, Schools, and American Culture
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    American Sociological Association is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to  Contemporary Sociology. Hollywood Goes to High School: Cinema, Schools, and American Culture by Robert C. Bulman Review by: Michael DeCesare Source: Contemporary Sociology, Vol. 36, No. 6 (Nov., 2007), pp. 597-598Published by: American Sociological AssociationStable URL: 10-08-2014 14:28 UTC Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of contentin a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship.For more information about JSTOR, please contact This content downloaded from on Sun, 10 Aug 2014 14:28:03 UTCAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions  Education 597 and border patrolling [my term] as important contexts to the doing of race in this high school as she explores the racial projects called upon and created by the kids in their everyday experiences. The title of the book, Learning Difference, does not quite speak to the analysis Staiger provides (or the work the students are doing). In fact, upon reading the book, it becomes clear that the students are doing and teaching difference as they patrol the borders and create alliances, as much as they are learning. At a minimum, Staiger shows, they are very active learners. Staiger writes: Racial meanings and structures inter sect and evolve through the interplay be tween institutions, individuals, and groups, who are at once influenced by and influence and shape racial structures and meanings (p. 19). Staiger's strength lies in her keen insights into the daily production of race. She aptly identifies the myriad influences on the racial dynamics. Boundary maintenance is one of the more interesting pieces of the analysis. The students use the tools creatively, defin ing boundaries between racial groups, show ing clearly the way these students are more than learning about race-they are teaching, creating, and patrolling racial ideologies and actions. Some boundaries are set for them: tracking, housing, gangs, and immigrant his tories. However, Staiger shows the unending creativity of students to work these bound aries. Another wonderful piece of the story is the way white students seem to take their privilege for granted. Staiger does not spend time analyzing why the white students are overrepresented in the GROW track, but, with that as a starting point, she is able to show the way students of color, denied ac cess to upper tracks, are compelled to nego tiate racial meanings in almost every nuance of their lives, while many of the white stu dents are blind to the inequalities, the prob lems caused by the racial order. In a few in stances, white students did recognize race, but as the old telling goes, not racism. This piece more than any other shows that while white is a race, in terms of the racial order, whites are permitted to ignore race as they are protected and well-situated to move onto college and place their energies into prepar ing to become the next generation of those with institutional power. One piece of the research and analysis could have been shifted to explore a needed area: young women and the construction of race. Staiger shows the role of gangs in the intersecting production of masculinity and race. In the analysis, gangs are nearly reified and thus become the explanatory tool for why the analysis is largely played out through the world of males. My dispute is not with the strength of gangs or the production of race and masculinity-her analysis is right on. I would have liked to understand how race is being produced at the intersection of race and gender through the lens of women/girls-this is the much less analyzed piece of racial production and given the strength of Staiger's research and insights, a piece she could likely tell-and tell well. In stead, I left this book wondering about the salience of race in the young women's lives. Overall, this book is well-researched and written in a clear, concise, and accessible manner. I recommend this book for under graduate and graduate level courses in soci ology, race studies, and of course, education. Hollywood Goes to High School: Cinema, Schools, and American Culture, by Robert C. Bulman. New York, NY: Worth Publishers, 2006. 191pp. $24.95 paper. ISBN: 0716755416. MICHAEL ECESARE Merrimack College. Once in a while, a sociologist manages to write a book that is theoretically grounded, empirically sound, and generally interesting. Robert Bulman has written such a book. His Hollywood Goes to High School provides a re freshing breeze across the increasingly arid sociological landscape. Amidst the recent calls for a more public sociology, especial ly, it will likely find a niche. With this book, Bulman convincingly demonstrates that soci ologists' work can be both sociologically rig orous and intellectually interesting to people who are not sociologists. In chapters 1 and 2, Bulman pours the conceptual and theoretical foundation for his analysis. The first of these chapters briefly describes the author's research methods, re views the small body of existing research on high school films, and outlines the plan of the book. Written in serious but easy lan Contemporary Sociology 36, 6 This content downloaded from on Sun, 10 Aug 2014 14:28:03 UTCAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions  598 Education guage, chapter 2 explores Americans' obses sion with individualism-both the utilitarian and expressive varieties-as well as our cul tural notions about the middle class and ado lescence. It also explains how sociologists from Durkheim and Weber to Bellah and Bourdieu have contributed to a deeper un derstanding of all three. Chapters 3, 4, and 5 constitute the heart of the book. They present an analysis of Ameri can films that are set in urban, suburban, and private high schools, respectively. Using care fully chosen dialogue from the films to punc tuate his discussion, Bulman makes three broad arguments in these chapters. The first is that the teacher-hero usually found in films about urban high schools-Jaime Escalante in Stand and Deliver is the prototype-repre sents the middle-class hope that troubled in ner-city students can be saved by a dedicated, unconventional teacher. Social structure is of no consequence; all students really need is to be guided by the right teacher toward better behavior, smarter decisions, and a more pos itive attitude. Hollywood films about urban schools remain true to our collective belief in the power of individualism, and to the mid dle-class values of hard work, persistence, and conformity. Interestingly, the films about suburban schools call into question this very promotion of a middle-class ethos. In these films, Bul man sees a reflection of various middle-class phenomena: a frustration with existing status hierarchies, an emphasis on self-expression and rebellion against the system, a belief in the ultimate emptiness of a life based on competition and conformity, and above all, the development and expression of one's true identity. Unlike the urban high school films, academic success is not the focal point of the suburban school films. Academics return to the fore in the private school films. Whereas academic achievement is posed as the answer to the problems of in ner-city students and schools, it is presented as a burden to the students who are featured in private school films. Bulman demonstrates that the pressure to achieve academically leads, in these films, not only to the moral bankruptcy of the upper class, but to the rise of an outsider working- or middle-class hero and the subsequent triumph and cele bration of the middle-class values of individ ualism, merit, and integrity. One might accuse Bulman of being too narrow in his analysis; after all, he does not discuss the actual production of Hollywood films. He also does not answer the questions of who gets to make movies, or who decides what movies get made (and how they arrive at their decisions). Indeed, the study never departs from the films themselves as its sub stantive focal point. I do not level such a crit icism here, however, for an examination of the production of films is not Bulman's objec tive. His is a decidedly cultural, rather than a structural, analysis. The book's emphasis is on films as artifacts, as coins in our cultural gaz ing pool. A fairer criticism can be leveled at one as pect of Bulman's method. His sample of 144 American films was carefully chosen and seems comprehensive enough. As a result, the analysis based upon it, as it is presented in chapters 3 through 5, is convincing. The same cannot be said, however, for the exam ination of foreign films in chapter 6. Com posed of 41 films, the sample is neither suffi ciently large enough nor representative of any of the 15 different countries that it includes. Bulman admits these shortcomings, but pro ceeds with his analysis anyway. The sole pur pose of this chapter is to demonstrate defini tively that American films do represent some thing unique about American culture (p. 145). From my perspective, he did not need chapter 6 to make this point. Indeed, at bare ly 15 pages, it almost reads as a throwaway chapter. It adds very little to the depth of the analysis in the preceding three chapters. This critique aside, Bulman's book is both thoroughly enjoyable and insightfully socio logical. Few books manage to be both and for that reason alone, Hollywood Goes to High School should be recommended, if not re quired, reading in every high school and uni versity introductory sociology course. This is no exaggeration, for I believe there is quite a bit that both teachers and students of sociol ogy can learn from it. By planting one foot in the humanities-and in film studies, in partic ular-and the other in the social sciences, Bulman has carried out a thoroughly socio logical analysis that is intellectually sound, frequently insightful, and always engaging. Simply put, he has accomplished the increas ingly rare feat of writing a book that speaks sociologically to scholars and the lay public alike. Contemporary Sociology 36, 6 This content downloaded from on Sun, 10 Aug 2014 14:28:03 UTCAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
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