Blog #2: House of Sand and Fog

The movie House of Sand and Fog demonstrates a variety of ideas and concepts that have been discussed in class. The plot has two intersecting stories that deal with changing class situations. Class situation changed according to Marx’s definition of class being defined by the ownership of property. A man named Bernini used to be a colonel in his old country Iran and hold a prestigious status, but now that he’s in the U.S he’s a working immigrant. Bernini is forced to work two back to back jobs to try to keep up with the lifestyle that he wants his family to continue. Thus, he comes out of work to then put on his suit to go home to a beautiful house that’s not really his. The other character Kathy has a house that she inherited from her father. This is when the class situation changes for her as well. Kathy comes from a middle class family and has her inherited house but then gets wrongfully evicted. She has to move from motel to motel to then finally living in her car. At the same time, Bernini is the one who buys her house. He perfectly shows practice in this protestant work ethic. He observes the market and invests in the house by receiving it a low price of which he uses wages of working from someone else (the American Dream). Kathy’s personal story doesn’t really matter to him because he believes that is how you’re suppose to behave in the market place; you can’t be swayed by these kinds of stories. This reflects on Weber’s type of social action which is instrumental-rational. His actions are carried out to achieve a certain goal; Bernini calculates which actions will lead in the best and most effect manner to the goal that’s been set. When Kathy’s lawyer asks if they can buy back the house for the same price he bought it for, he asserts “It doesn’t matter, this house is a necessity for my family,” which confirms how bad he needs this investment and can’t even contemplate not getting that money and being to finally live the life him and his family were pretending to live.

In addition, Bernini and his wife have a relationship based on Weber’s type of authority titled traditional authority, which shows that it rests on the established belief in the sanctity of immoral traditions. Every time they get into an argument it ends with him hitting her. Bernini displays a traditional type of social action in which his actions are controlled by tradition or deeply rooted habits (“the ways it’s always been done.”) This is also shown throughout the story of which he still corrects people when they do not refer to him as “Colonel Bernini”. This shows that he was still attached to his old title and clinging to a prestigious status which was based in his past life. Bernini abusing his wife and making her move all the time shows Durkheim’s concept of anomie regarding the wife. She shows a lack of moral regulation, a lack of feeling grounded due to moving all the time and not having a permanent home. She has a very strong fear of deportation (though it’s baseless because they are American citizens) because she doesn’t know what’s going to happen with them perhaps due to Bernini’s past.

On top of all this you have Officer Lester who expresses charismatic authority. He rests on the devotion to the exceptional sanctity, heroism or exemplary character of an individual person. Officer Lester is driven by ideals and principles and not by the rules and particular formal requirements of his job. He goes beyond this and wants to be a hero and take matters into his own hands. He shows this when he saves a woman from her abusive husband by planting drugs in his house (whom is on parole). Therefore, he is immediately sent back to prison where he cannot abuse his wife anymore. He displays this type of affective social action of which his actions are determined by his specific affections and emotional state. As an officer he is part of a law enforcement bureaucracy where he’s expected to obey certain rules and chain of command (treating everyone the same based on legal status where in this case they are American citizens). He violated these expectations when he took the law into his own hands regarding the abusive husband and again when he offers Kathy help moving the boxes out of her house. He doesn’t follow protocol which shows he is ideal driven and doesn’t feel restrained by the rules of his job.

— Nicole Rizzo

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2 responses to “Blog #2: House of Sand and Fog

  1. Excellent work, Nicole — razor-sharp observations and careful and precise presentation and application of sociological concepts! And I hadn’t even thought as deeply about Officer Lester Burton’s actions and relationship with Kathy. I think you’re right that the officer engages in affective social action, driven by his (volatile) emotional state. Your description also suggests “value rational” action (vs. instrumental-rational) in the way his approach to work was driven by his own sense of what’s “right,” regardless of the law and law enforcement protocol, his sense of a “higher calling.”

    I think you may be onto something by invoking “charisma” with respect to the officer. But I’m not sure we should call it “charismatic authority.” Authority presupposes the obedience of others. It’s not clear over whom Officer Burton exercised authority. But maybe there’s something like charisma at work in the relationship that develops between Lester and Kathy? Certain aspects of their relationship are similar to what typifies charismatic authority — the present-orientation, the sense of mission, the “irrationality” of their actions, their *intoxication*…

  2. I too agree with your great analysis of the movie in relations to sociological concepts.

    I do however wish to point out about the charismatic authority of the police officer however. When you say charismatic authority, to whom are you referring the charismatic authority was given to? When Officer Lester made an introduction of Mr. Behrani’s home, I do not believe his delivery in his message was considered charismatic authority. To have the title of charismatic authority in which a police officer is intended in society, would have required Lester to be professional and understanding. Officer Lester however clearly demonstrated compulsiveness and the use of intimidation as well, which are not qualities of a charismatic authority an officer is viewed as.

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