18 November 2018
The movie Hairspray was chosen as my topic because it is a personal favorite of mine. I have seen both versions of the movie (1988 and 2007) and my high school did a version of the play during my junior year so I have a strong understanding and familiarity with the plot and storyline. Hairspray shows multiple versions of inequality. The main type of inequality shown is racial inequality, but social class inequality is also present even though it is usually overlooked.
The film Hairspray is set in 1960s Baltimore. It surrounds a plus size teenage girl, Tracy Turnblad, with aspirations to be a dancer on a famous local tv show, The Corny Collins show. After becoming apart of the cast, Tracy becomes an overnight celebrity and attempts to use her new fame to bring about racial integration on the show (Shankman, A., Dixon, L., Zadan, C., Meron, N., Wittman, S., Blonsky, N., Travolta, J., 2007). The characters that experience racial inequality are the African American teens at the high school and the ones who are interested in being dancers on the Corny Collins show. The African American teens are introduced in the movie in a way that shows institutional racism. Institutional racism refers to the way in which racism is embedded in the fabric of society (OpenStax College, 2016, p 228). Tracy gets sent to detention where she meets the blacks at her school. The amount of black students who are in detention demonstrates a form a racial profiling. One of the African American students, Seaweed, is a highly skilled dancer that is on the receiving end of prejudice and discrimination because of the color of his skin. The Corny Collins show does not allow people like Seaweed, regardless of talent, to be on air any other time besides “Negro Day” once a month (Shankman, A., Dixon, L., Zadan, C., Meron, N., Wittman, S., Blonsky, N., Travolta, J., 2007). Because of the time period, the discrimination these teens feel is normal for them and the way they usually dealt with it was to just stay positive and appreciate the time that they did have to shine. Tracy Turnblad’s popularity on The Corny Collins show and her non-prejudice mindset helps the African Americans in the area to fight for equality on the show. By the end of the movie, the teens have successfully protested and “The Corny Collins Show…is now and forever officially integrated!” (Shankman, A., Dixon, L., Zadan, C., Meron, N., Wittman, S., Blonsky, N., Travolta, J., 2007).The other form of inequality demonstrated in this film is social class inequality. The difference in social class is never explicitly discussed or discriminated against but in many ways the representations of the different classes can be seen.It is believed whites can be marginalized as well, making them “others” because of another marker, such as physical attributes or socio-economic status (Schrader, 2011). Hairspray creates a category for others based on other differences besides race. This other category is to place characters like Tracy and her mom who differ from the other whites because of their social standing, physical appearance, and personalities. Most of the whites in Hairspray are within the same class, however, Tracy and her family are some of the few white people in a lower class. The hierarchy feeling due to the difference in classes is shown through the multiple comments made by the rich white people, including Amber Von Tussle. For example, during the auditions for a spot on the Corny Collins show, Amber and her mother, Velma, sneer at the hand-me-down clothes of one of the girls auditioning (Shankman, A., Dixon, L., Zadan, C., Meron, N., Wittman, S., Blonsky, N., Travolta, J., 2007). The fact that the outfit is not brand new means it is not up to their standards, making the girl feel excluded and inferior because of the differences between them. . These items prevent them from being accepted in their white society.
When discussing inequalities such as social class, race, ethnicity, etc.., conflict theory is the best to be applied. A conflict theory perspective of U.S. history would examine the numerous past and current struggles between the white ruling class and racial and ethnic minorities, noting specific conflicts that have arisen when the dominant group perceived a threat from the minority group (OpenStax College, 2016). The conflict theory looks at society in a way where it has limited resources and inequality stems from differences amongst multiple groups of people.
OpenStax College. (2016). Sociology 2e. Houston, TX: OpenStax CNX. Retrieved from
Schrader, V. L. (2011). “Good Morning Baltimore”: Whiteness, Blackness, and Othering in the
2007 Movie Musical. Ohio Communication Journal, 49, 127–143. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com.proxy-ms.researchport.umd.edu/login.aspx?direct=true;db=ufh;AN=90651165;site=eds-live;scope=site
Shankman, A., Dixon, L., Zadan, C., Meron, N., Wittman, S., Blonsky, N., Travolta, J., … New
Line Home Entertainment (Firm). (2007). Hairspray. Burbank, Calif: New Line Home Entertainment.