Tanya Ray Richard Russo once said, “Even at its most perceptive, sociology deals in abstractions”. Sociology describes the function of the human society and deals with sparingly different ideas. There are so many sociological theories because societies are too large for a single title or label. These theories are prominent everywhere in the world including entertainment like in movies. Hairspray is a movie that displays a Caucasian heavyset female that has a desire to be on The Corny Collins Show, a popular television show, but does not have the ideal image for it. She falls in love with a perfect pretty boy and has to struggle to earn her spot on the show. Hairspray embodies structural functionalism, social conflict, and symbolic interaction and is an outstanding movie to get a glimpse of America in the 60s while obtaining amusement.
To begin with, structural functionalism is the “sociological approach that emphasizes the way in which the parts of a society are structured to maintain stability”. In Hairspray the media, school, families, and government are all key components of the society. All of these parts are vital for the society to prevail according to the functionalist’s point of view. In particular, school serves an important function in the movie because “several of the teenagers on The Corny Collins Show attend Tracy and Penny’s high school”.
The school functions as a social meeting ground for all the teenagers in the movie and connects to the television show since some of the students that attend are also a part of the show. Because of this, parts of the plot development takes place at school like when Tracy gets detention. Another example of functionalism in Hairspray is media, specifically the Corny Collins Show. Everyone desires to be on this show and references it for many situation. Since all of America watches the Corny Collins Show, it creates many of the trends and societal norms. An example of a sanction that people received from being on this show was popularity. Given these points, Hairspray effortlessly depicts structural functionalism since it uses all parts of the society in order to have a good balance. Secondly, the social conflict theory is “a sociological approach that assumes that the best behavior is best understood in terms of tension between groups over power”. An example of social conflict in Hairspray is racism and discrimination. The Corny Collins Show “is exclusively white with the exception of a “Negro Day” held once a month”. The show expresses a dominant ideology towards the white culture and dedicates only one day to people of color out of a whole month, which causes displeasure in the African-American community. The racial tensions that take place in Hairspray mirror what American was like in the 60s and suggests “that racism is an issue of attitudes rather than of policies”.
Despite the unequal media representation, the media creates cultural diffusion in both the American and African-American culture due to the fondness of dance that both cultures seem to have. In addition, another form of social conflict within Hairspray is the social stratification of body image. Since the Corny Collins show displays the “ideal image” of a teenager, “Tracy… is seen as something of a social outcast among her classmates because of her chubbiness”. Due to Tracy’s weight, she receives social inequality from those all around her and is seen to have a lower social status. Body standards in terms of what society considers to be acceptable and not are evident not only in this movie but in America as a whole. Altogether, Hairspray demonstrates social conflict through racism and social stratification. On the other hand, symbolic interactionism is “a sociological framework in which human beings are viewed as living in a world with meaningful objects”. Some examples of internationalism consist of symbols, nonverbal communication, and human interaction. On the Corny Collins Show, there is “a group of talented teens that are supposed to symbolize clean cut American values”. The teenagers in this show represents what America recognizes as desirable, values, and model what teenagers “should” look like. This type of symbolization can be demeaning to others who do not particularly look like those in the show, like Tracy, and set unnecessary physical requirements for them to adhere to those standards.
Another instance of interactionism that Hairspray exemplifies is Tracy using cultural relativism when, “she gets put in detention with the black students and earns their respect by keeping up with their happening dance moves…”. Instead of having a bias towards the African-American students, Tracy chooses to interact with them on a personal level and connect with them as a people. This interaction serves as a very important point in the movie that leads to the point of the unification of both cultures at the end. This also leads to Tracy becoming an advocate for the African-American culture and wanting to allow them to dance on the Corny Collins Show for more days as oppose to just one. Overall, symbols, nonverbal communication, and interaction display symbolic interactionism and all takes place in Hairspray.
All in all, Hairspray is an incredibly humorous movie that showcases America in the 1960s and the major sociological theories, structural functionalism, social conflict, and symbolic internationalism. This movie also demonstrates other sociological concepts like cultural diffusion and relativism, sanction, and norms. Racism also plays a huge role in Hairspray and leads to the next question: Is America ever going to overcome racism and discrimination completely? The answer is truly up to the American society.