The Blind Side

by Michael Lewis

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Apply functionalist theory, hegemonic theory, and critical race theory to make sense of how race and class play out in either the film or the book version of The Blind Side.

Overall, functionalist and hegemonic theory provide insight into the story of Michael Oher and how his value changed as a result of the Tuohy family's support. Critical race theory is evident in the subtle racism that Michael faces at first, but it is mainly used to describe how systemic racism works to make sure that Michael remains disadvantaged due to the color of his skin.

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The different social theories all stem from similar ideologies and work together in an understanding of the treatment of Michael Oher and other children in the book and film The Blind Side.

Functionalist theory is a groundwork for social structure that states that a society functions based around a...

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set of shared mores and values that have been formed through interdependent relationships. Essentially, as an individual or group depends on another group, they form values that uphold their worth to some extent, and due to the interconnected structure of society, each group is dependent on another. Plainly stated, a person or group's functionality provides them with value in the eyes of society.

Hegemonic theory states that the ruling leaders—the hegemony—of a society or organization can twist the values and culture to shape their personal desires and needs. The power at the top of a social unit can influence it according to their own values so that the rest of the society values it as well.

Finally, critical race theory states that racism is inherent and ingrained into the American psyche. It is more than just personal prejudices; it is a systemic, learned behavior modeled after a long history of similar social behavior that influences people to treat another race a certain way (in this case, white Americans mistreating black Americans).

In the film The Blind Side, Michael Oher is a kindhearted, massive African American teenager with failing grades but incredible athletic aptitude. He is orphaned and on the verge of dropping out of high school and living on the streets when a high school football coach recognizes that he would make an excellent offensive lineman due to his stature.

He is ultimately adopted and begins attending the private school at which the football coach teaches, where his grades improve; he goes on to college and, eventually, the NFL. The story can be understood through any of the three theories listed above.

Per functionalist theory, Michael Oher is practically abandoned and overlooked until his athletic value is noted. He makes little contribution in the classroom and is seen by many as more of a burden than he is worth. When the football coach notices how well he can play—or function in his system—and therefore benefit the coach, he begins to advocate for Oher. This shows that social function ascribes value to the individual in the story.

Through a hegemonic lens, the hegemony of the story—namely, the coach and the Tuohy family—wield a great deal of influence. Their simple act of taking Michael in and showing him care tells the other members of the town that they have deemed him a worthwhile individual, which instantly begins to validate him in their eyes. The leaders of society often use their influence to sway the majority of the society towards their view; luckily, in this situation, the outcome is positive for Michael Oher.

Finally, analysis grounded in critical race theory would note that racism's pervasiveness in society takes a few forms in this narrative. First of all, there are several instances where various characters ask Mrs. Tuohy and other members of the family if they feel safe with a boy like Michael in the house, the implication being that a black teenage boy is inherently dangerous and less trustworthy than someone else. It is also evident in the fact that Michael Oher is abandoned and not cared for initially; because he is a black teenage boy, he is not tended to by many of the people in that town until he is given value by another person who is valued. The people in the town do not consider themselves racist and believe they uphold Christian values, but it is evident that they have inherent bias against Oher because of his race.

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