March 20, 2008

Do You Believe in Your Community?

author_sally By Sally Raskoff

How many people do you know in your community? Beyond your friends and family, how many people can you name or at least recognize? We may see some people repeatedly if we visit the same places regularly. Though we might recognize them, we may not know their names or think to introduce ourselves, even if we see them every week. 

In my neighborhood, because people walk their dogs regularly, we know most of our neighbors by sight as they walk by our windows: the guy with the Great Dane, the gal with the lab, the guy with the two schnauzers. I may not know all of the names of these neighbors, but their presence helps make my neighborhood a community rather than just a place to live. I like to think that we’d all come together if something were to threaten the community.

If you haven’t yet seen Be Kind Rewind, see it as an example of how neighbors can rally together for their community. This movie has many levels of complexity that make it perfect for sociological analysis. If you haven’t seen the ads or the movie, the main story involves two neighbors, Mike (Mos Def) and Jerry (Jack Black), who ruin Mr. Fletcher’s (Danny Glover) video rental business by accidentally erasing all the tapes. Mr. Fletcher’s character is away on a journey to see if he should revive his business or give it up since his building is about to be demolished. Mike and Jerry attempt to save themselves and the store by re-taping their own short versions of the movies that people want to rent.

Although I’ll try not to give everything away, if you want to keep the rest as a surprise, read no further until you’ve seen it. 

clip_image002Before the clerks erased the tapes, Fletcher’s video store was not doing well; his crumbling building and business are a symbol of the dysfunctional community. The few people who do come in for videos here (rather than go to the larger chain video store some distance away) are angry, rude, or not entirely functional, which is another reflection of the disintegrating community life.

Mike, Jerry, and Alma (Melonie Diaz, a neighbor who joins their adventure) discover that their film process, which they call “sweding,” takes off after Miss Falewicz’s (Mia Farrow) nephew and his friends find the new versions entertaining. When Fletcher returns and decides to close the store, the whole neighborhood is in line to rent the sweded movies.

The building itself is a central character in the film, as the supposed birthplace of jazz pianist Fats Waller. Mike proposes that developers make the building an historic landmark because of the Waller connection. But Mr. Fletcher tells Mike that he had just made that up years ago to help him feel better; not deterred, the neighborhood comes together to make a sweded movie about their history as Fats Waller’s birthplace. 

clip_image004There are many other movies that use a crumbling community as a backdrop for a storyline, and the community is saved by 2some action of the lead characters. For example, in Two Weeks Notice, Sandra Bullock and Hugh Grant bicker but eventually save her parents’ neighborhood center. In Life Stinks, Mel Brooks’ slumlord experiences homelessness and brings the community together. 

In those two movies, the main characters purposefully organize the solution to saving their communities. However, in Be Kind Rewind, the entire community knowingly fabricates the “fact” that their building/neighborhood/community is the birthplace of Fats Waller. This is an example of self-fulfilling prophecy and the social construction of reality.

Robert K. Merton defines a self-fulfilling prophecy as a false belief that is acted upon and becomes real in its consequences. When we believe something is real and we act accordingly, we make that thing real because “it” changes our behavior. If we didn’t act as if it were real, it wouldn’t exist as more than a thought. 

The social construction of reality is a theory that members of a society create (or construct) for that society, and then forget that they do so. Society then seems like it has a reality outside the people, and the society then perpetuates itself by creating (socializing) more members. The members and the society are busy creating or maintaining each other, although the members are not conscious of their part in the process.

The concept of self-fulfilling prophecy is typically applied at the micro level, focusing on people’s behavior, while the social construction of reality is a macro theory focusing on entire societies and their overall structure. However, both of these are apparent at the community level in Be Kind Rewind

The community decides to believe that Fats Waller was born there. They pursue historic status and once they do so, it appears that it becomes “true.” The once distant and demoralized community rallies around that idea and becomes a vibrant community once again (at least for the closing scenes).


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I found a site that helps bring the construction community together and I hope it helps.
The site is

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