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The Hollywood Blacklist and Deviance

This week, I made connections between the chapter 10 in my sociology class and the Hollywood Blacklist. This week we explored the concept of deviance and identifying patterns of crime in the United States and around the world. After reading Joseph Litvak’s The Un-Americans and thinking about the documentary we watched last week, I looked at the Hollywood Blacklist from a sociological perspective.

How a society defines deviance, who is branded as deviant, and what people decide to do about deviance have to do with society’s organization. Sociologist Steven Spitzer argues that deviant labels are applied to people who interfere with the operation of capitalism (Macionis Chapter 10.4.2). The HUAC hearings attracted a lot of public attention because of the high-profile people in Hollywood involved in challenging the status quo and disrespecting authority figures by refusing to testify. To defend capitalism against communism, the United States Congress and other conservative entertainment professionals worked together to stigmatize a group and label them as deviant.

They stereotyped actors, screenwriters, directors, musicians, and other entertainment industry professionals as a danger to American society because they were a communist or suspected of being one. This stigma overpowered other aspects of their social identity, so others discredited and isolated them (Macionis, Chapter 10.3.1). To punish this deviant subculture from endangering social norms, HUAC cited what is now known as the Hollywood Ten for contempt of Congress, and studios denied them employment.

One concept we touched on in sociology was stigma by association. Litvak writes, “Unlike Crossfire’s producer and director, none of the personnel involved in Body and Soul wound up in jail, but almost all of its authors and major players would soon find themselves treated like criminals” (84). Coworkers who associated with people blacklisted as communists reduced their chance of employment after working with them. Sometimes a single exposure to a blacklisted writer or actor was enough to influence their chances of getting hired. Therefore, people stayed away from those labeled as blacklisted or deviant to avoid the same fate. The Hollywood Blacklist demonstrates how those who have greater social power define what is and is not deviant.

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