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Remember the Titans and its Portrayal of Social Cognition

03 Mar 2017Literature Essays

A story about a high school football team’s journey not only through an undefeated season but also through the breaking down of barriers between black and white people, Walt Disney Pictures’ Remember the Titans is a perfect picture of how people view themselves and those around them through what we now can call ‘schemas’ and ‘stereotypes’. Remember the Titans " produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, directed by Boaz Yakin, and released in 2000 " tells the story of the 1971 T.C. Williams High School (located in Alexandria, Virginia) football team, the Titans. The movie starts with a white football coach Bill Yoast leading an all-white football team. Because of a court-ordered integration, Yoast later learns of losing his head coach position to Herman Boone, an African-American.

At first refusing Boone’s offer to have him as assistant head coach, Yoast later accepts upon seeing how most of his players are willing to give up their spot in the football team if he is not around. The movie unfolds with depictions of how Boone and Yoast worked hard towards uniting the white and black members of their football team. Boone and Yoast may have succeeded uniting its team, but the town was still pretty much divided. Pictures of how the townspeople react to the combination of white and black players in one team were shown all throughout the film. But with the team’s winning streak, which leaves them undefeated for the whole season, the whole town came to realize that this is not about being black or white " they learn from the team that it is indeed time to accept the changes and embrace people from different races. The Titans became, for them, a symbol of unity and was instrumental in bringing the people of the town closer to each other, regardless of race.

As have been mentioned the story of the Titans illustrates the way people formulate their concept of themselves and other people through schemas and stereotypes. Outlined under social cognition, the “study of how people think and feel about their social world and how they interact and influence one another” (Meyers, 2003), schemas and stereotypes demonstrate how situations around us bear more influence on our behavior than we are wont to believe.

Because of the vast information that we are being exposed to everyday, we are in need of a system by which we collect and process data. As such, we are all built in with schema and schematic processing. Schemas are our “organized beliefs and knowledge about people, objects, events, and situations” (Meyers, 2003) and schematic processing is the process by which we match a schema with the data that we are handed out. This process happens quickly and instantaneously. Meyers (2003) even writes that most of the time, we are unaware that this processing of information is taking place. And with our schemas, we are able to generalize about the characteristics of a certain group of people. This “general person-schema” is what we call stereotypes. But schemas can also tell us something about a particular person, including ourselves. (Meyers, 2003)

But schemas and schematic processing are not very accurate in that they put biases in our perceptions and memories. These biases have already been proven by a number of researches and studies done. One result of such studies is the vividness effect, which proved that the more vivid the information, the more likely we are to remember that information. The primacy effect, on the other hand, points that we are more inclined to retaining the first information that came to us. (Meyers, 2003)A couple of experiments have also proven that schemas persist even in the face of contradicting evidence. This, dubbed as the perseverance effect, applies both to the way we see other people and the way we see ourselves.

All the abovementioned theories have been pictured in the Walt Disney pictures about the T.C. Williams’ Titans. In fact, a couple of scenes portray people " both Caucasians and African-Americans " applying schemas and stereotypes in sizing up the people around them. The first glimpse we see of this is when Boone was moving into a white community: an unseen female neighbor, presumably a Caucasian, asks her husband, “Are they the movers?” showing disbelief that an African-American family can actually ‘afford’ to be living in a place such as theirs. When the husband realizes that Boone’s family is actually settling in the house in front of them, he says bitterly, “It only takes one, the next time, we’re gonna be overrun by them.” Such statement reflects animosity towards the black race and is indicative of how the white race thinks of the African-Americans " that they just run amok and is without control.

Other similar scenes strengthen the film’s portrayal of schemas and stereotypes. The emphasis on these social psychological phenomena will be more apparent when the film takes us to the start of the integration of the black and white players of the T.C. Williams High School football team. Gerry Bertier leads the discrimination when he approached Boone prior to going to Gettysburg College for training. He says, “We don’t need your people in the team.” This attitude is solidified when Boone asked his players to get to know a teammate of a different race until they already knew each and every team member. Here are lines from the white player Ray Budds, displaying the way he viewed the African-American player Petey Jones based on his pre-conceived schemas:
Ray Budds (white): What’s your daddy’s name? I mean, you do have a daddy, right? …. And what’s he do? Wait. He does have a job, right? (Bruckheimer & Boaz, 2000)

There was also this one incident that reflected schematic processing in the part of a restaurant owner. When Ronnie ‘Sunshine’ Bass, a Caucasian hippie from Florida, walked in with Petey Jones in a restaurant after a Titans victory, the restaurant owner said that they’re already full when it’s apparent that there are still a lot of vacant tables. He shoos the players away with a demeaning, “Now you all want something to eat? You can take those boys out back and pick it out from the kitchen.” (Bruckheimer & Boaz, 2000)
Boone was also open to these discriminations. When a Caucasian coach was asked if he is willing to work with Boone, he answered, “I’m not gonna do anything to help that monkey.”

Bad as it sounds, Negroes have been stereotyped as having no regard for their families, lazy, and self-indulgent, which was why Ray Budds asked Petey Jones those questions. And since blacks were also generally taken for animalistic and physically violent, most establishments before have refused them service. These stereotyped descriptions of them have also led whites to brand them as ‘monkeys’.
But the discrimination does not only lie with the white " the blacks also tend to discriminate against the white people. When African-American students first stepped into T.C. Williams High School, we see the way the look at the white girls " sort of questioning, degrading, as if asking why such creatures can actually co-exist with them. And during training, when Blue Stanton was listening to Alan Bosley’s music, he cries out, “Does the term "cruel and unusual punishment" mean anything to you?” " this shows how much blacks like sticking to ‘their own kind’ and hate having to be forced to listen to white people’s sounds. Herman Boone’s daughter, Nicky Boone, also gives us a glimpse into the Negro’s views of the white. Seeing Sheryl Yoast, Bill Yoasts’ daughter, jump up and down during a football match, Carol asks,

“Mama, are all white girls crazy?” (Bruckheimer & Boaz, 2000) This reflected that she already ahs this pre-conceived notion that “white girls” are crazy.
Other scenes also illustrate how schemas can actually lead us to form concepts of ourselves. Based on his family history and his grades, Louis Lastik felt that he will never be able to go to college and will forever spend his life being a bum. This is apparent in the following lines confided to Jerry ‘Rev’ Harris:

Nobody from my family ever went to no college. I’m white trash. I ain’t gonna get no C+ grades. I’m just down home, no good, never-going-to-no-college white trash. (Bruckheimer & Boaz, 2000)

Even with Coach Boone’s and Rev’s insistence that they are going to help him out and that he has what it takes to pull those grades up and enter college, Louis insisted that he cannot do it " a perfect example of the perseverance effect.

Another scene that painted the self-schema theory is the scene where Julius Campbell visits Gerry Bertier at his house. When a police officer stopped in front of him, we see his fear and apprehension, proving that he believes the police officer is going to arrest him for something he has not done. It turned out that his fear was in vain for the officer just wanted to congratulate him for the last game’s job well done.

Yet as much as Remember the Titans is a good illustration of the way people’s schemas let them judge others, it also disproves in part the existence of the perseverance effect. It is true that it took the players and the whole town to accept the integration of blacks and whites, they were, in time, able to do so. This led the people to admit that their stereotypes are inaccurate and accept that Caucasians and African-Americans can actually co-exist peacefully. They have come to learn that stereotypes can actually be misleading and that if they only try to get to know the other race, they’ll discover that they have been wrong about their pre-conceptions. This is apparent in Coach Yoast’s statement during their championship game:

I hope you boys have learned as much from me this year as I've learned from you. You've taught this city how to trust the soul of a man rather than the look of him. And I guess it's about time I joined the club. (Bruckheimer & Boaz, 2000)

It is true that schemas and stereotypes do affect the way we interact with other people. And although it is also true that these schemas and stereotypes persist at times, the perseverance effect can be broken down. As Remember the Titans have shown, schemas and stereotypes can cease to exist if a strong group cares to demonstrate that there is nothing to fear in breaking down life-long conceptions.

REFERENCES

  • Bruckheimer, Jerry. (Producer), & Yaki, Boaz. (Director). (2000). Remember the Titans [Motion picture]. United States: Walt Disney Pictures.
  • Meyers, David G. (2003). Psychology (7th ed). USA: Worth Publishers.

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