Rarely do you find a film both intelligent and entertaining like “The Gods Must Be Crazy”. The film is a collision of the individual journeys of three separate groups: the journey of Xi, the bushman, traveling to the end of the earth to get rid of a Coca-Cola bottle; the growing relationship between Kate Thompson, a school teacher, and Andrew Steyn, a clumsy scientist; and the actions of a band of terrorist led by Sam Boga. One day, a Coca-Cola bottle drops from the sky and lands unbroken near the temporary home of the bushman. The bushman family, completely isolated from humanity, has never seen such a thing and perceive it as a gift from the gods. Although the object proves to have many uses, its singularity becomes the source of jealousy, anger and violence. Xi decides to banish this “evil thing” forever since it has caused so much unhappiness. At the same time, former news reporter Kate Thompson decides to change her life and become a school teacher in an African village.
In order to arrive at the village, Kate has to endure the experience of staying overnight in the Kalahari due to the clumsy antics of her driver, Andrew Steyn, and a dysfunctional vehicle aptly named ‘the Antichrist’. Their relationship grows through their various experiences. Meanwhile, Sam Boga is leading a pact of terrorists in violent attempt of revolution. These three different story-lines merge in a conflict in which Xi and Andrew must rescue a group of school children along with their teacher, Kate, who are being held hostage by Sam Boga. This very entertaining and thought-provoking film provides perfect examples of the three sociological theories.
These theories are widely accepted frameworks that sociologists have created in order to answer the question ‘What keeps a society together?’ Moreover, the frameworks help us analyze social change and development. Each individual plot line in this movie is driven by change; therefore the three sociological frameworks, which are social functionalism, conflict theory and symbolic interactionism, are supportive in assessing the film’s story-lines. Firstly, Xi’s experiences are best explained by structural functionalism. Through the motivation of the terrorists, the conflict theory becomes very apparent. And finally, the budding romance between Kate and Andrew shows how society uses symbolic interactionism.
To begin, structural functionalism concludes that a society is a system composed of structures or institutions that perform in harmony so as to maintain order in society. This theory is best represented by Xi the bushman and his experiences. According to social functionalism, the family plays a major role in society. In Xi’s society, family is the one and only institution. Everyone in the family knows their role and they work together in harmony to live through each day. The family works as a cohesive unit, and since it’s the only known function in society to these people their society runs flawlessly. The society is so cohesive that it is too unusual for most modern ‘civilized’ people to understand. They have no words for anger, hate or conflict. Through the function of the family these values are passed down to children, ensuring a stable and cohesive society, set on order, which is what social functionalism strives to achieve.
Although social functionalism lives on order and harmony, they also analyze the question ‘What social event is interrupting specific functions of the institution?’ In Xi’s case, the undoubted corruption to his peaceful society came along with the Coke bottle that dropped out of the sky. The Coke bottle was the instigator of change. Up until this point, the bushmen had no sense of ownership because there was nothing to own other than the trees and the earth. The singularity of the Coke bottle brought up unknown feelings of selfishness, ownership and greed. It disrupted the sharing function of the family, and in cases escalated to violence. It becomes the responsibility of the institutions, mainly the family in this case to bring back order in society, and they believe it best done by banishing the ‘evil thing’ or the thing that interrupted their regular way of life. In continuing, structural functionalism looks at situations from a macro level, often over-generalizing situations. During his journey to the end of the earth, Xi is jailed for killing a goat. The institution of law is one that Xi has not been introduced to yet. They refuse to look at Xi as an individual case, and give him the same sentence that everyone committing that crime would get. Structural functionalism looks at the general not the specific.
That is why they refused to take into consideration Xi’s different background and his unknowingness of social laws. Moreover, this theory states that rapid change is seen as disruptive. As Xi leaves his home in search for the end of the earth he is introduced to many modern products and a whole new species of people which never knew existed. While staying with Andrew and Mpudi he is introduced to new technology and even learns how to drive a car. At one point Andrew offers him money, but Xi refuses to accept it because it is worthless to him. Throughout his journey he takes a huge leap from the life that he knows to this modern era. Through it all he is willing and accepting, yet at the end he still sticks to his values. He is not influenced by the events that interrupted his goal, and slowly returns to his family and old lifestyle. His actions show that change must occur slowly for a stable and healthy society. Xi’s experiences prove though institutional harmony, analyzing the cause of disruption, the errors of over-generalizing and the importance of gradual change that his story is best investigated by structural functionalism.
Secondly, conflict theory states that society is analyzed in terms of the conflicts between social institutions. Social order is maintained by authority backed by force because people are constantly struggling with one another to gain power. This translates perfectly through the activities of Sam Boga and his followers. Conflict theory believes that tension between those of lower class and those of higher class would lead to a revolution, where the lower class wants to take control of the society. Sam Boga’s terrorist group is rebelling against the government in their country. These two very different institutions are constantly in conflict with each other. The government is expectedly the higher power institution, with the rebels composed of the lower class of people. As predicted by conflict theory, the authority in power will be questioned by the lower class in a violent upheaval of power. In continuing, conflict theory says there is a constant struggle in between classes.
When introduced to the storyline of these terrorists, it is evident that the government consists of the highest class while people right outside the government buildings are of the lowest class. The government building is a solid structure lavishly built and furnished, while a 15 minute drive outside shows uninhabited land and villages made of mud huts. The terrorists are trying to overtake the government in an effort to minimize the gap between classes and achieve a better sense of equality. They openly engage in fire at the president’s office, yet they harm no civilians, even making arrangements for more food when a small child can seem to go no further. Furthermore, this theory argues that there is constant change in society, and this change is a result of shifts in the balance of power. At the beginning of the film, the government was clearly the ruling institution, but throughout the story they lose their grasp on power, as the rebels gain more.
When the terrorist take the school children hostage they gain power so much so that they have the government facilities working for them. Sam Boga makes sure that the government and the police force follow his every instruction as he marches through the country. With his power he is able to instruct the government to move its citizens out of his way and to place food and water at certain check points. By analyzing the society through this point of view it can be concluded that it is constantly changing because of the power struggle in between classes. These continuous discrepancies between the rebel band and the government are best examined by conflict theory.
Next, symbolic interactionism studies the meaning that people give to their worlds, and how they experience reality. This is best portrayed by the experiences and growing relationship between Andrew Steyn and Kate Thompson. Social interactionism takes a micro look at society, treating each case individually and the relationship they form with society. Both Kate and Andrew go through virtually the same experiences, yet individually they would both have very different account of the events taking place. For example, while Andrew would tell the story of a rhinoceros trampling the fire while he pushes Kate out of the way, Kate would retell the same moment as Andrew getting crazy urges and then stamping out the fire himself so as to have an excuse. Both experience the same events but have very differing opinions about them and social functionalism would look at them individually. Moreover, symbolic interactionism deals with the importance of self-image.
Andrew is ashamed and distraught over how foolish he believes that Kate thinks he is: “I told her I collect elephant manure. I didn’t tell her I analyze it for my doctoral thesis. I bet she thinks I shovel the stuff for Christ’s sake!” Andrew tries to rehabilitate his self image by dressing up in his best clothes and driving over to see her at school. Kate also feels she has to withhold the western ideal for a lady with long dresses. When Xi sees her at first he comments how, “even though it was a hot day outside, she was covering herself with skins.” There is not practicality to gown in the Kalahari yet Kate wants to maintain a self-imposed image as much as Andrew wants to correct his. In the western culture that both Andrew and Kate come from physical appearance is most closely connected with self–image, and they believe changing one will impact the other.
Likewise, symbolic interactionism speaks of ‘self-fulfilling prophecies’, meaning that once people have an establish thought or image about themselves, they see out experiences that reinforces these ideas. Kate perceives herself as very ladylike and proper. From the world she just came from those are supposed to be the characteristics of a woman, and therefore she will seek experiences to prove that so. Andrew is very nervous about Kate because he perceives himself as foolish and clumsy around women and therefore becomes just that.
They think of themselves like this, yet that does not necessarily mean that their perceptions of themselves are true. Andrew is a nimble scientist who “can catch the tiniest insect without hurting it” and Kate has enough nerve to stand up to Sam Boga. Both Kate and Andrew are clear representations of symbolic interactionism because their romance is individual. Their path towards the inevitable relationship is unique and cannot be generalized with the rest of society. They experience their own realities and form their own images of themselves and seek their own experiences.
All things considered, all the characters and their surroundings can be analyzed by one of the three social theories. Xi’s journey to the end of the earth is best evaluated by structural functionalism. Sam Boga and his assembly of terrorist are best assessed by the conflict theory, and the romance between Kate Thompson and Andrew Steyn is best represented by symbolic interactionism. Through the development of the three main social theories people can better understand the function of society and social change. As the French writer Michel Montaigne once wrote, “No two men ever judged alike of the same thing, and it is impossible to find two opinions exactly similar, not only in different men but in the same men at different times.” Social change is the major catalyst of events in this film as well as in many of our lives. By looking at it through the sociological frameworks, it gives us an outlining structure to our otherwise constantly changing lives.