American History X and the Epidemic of Youth Violence
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost,
But now am found,
Was blind but now I see.
James Garbarino (1999) discusses the boys who are lost and ways that they can learn to see again in his book Lost Boys: Why Our Sons Turn Violent and How We Can Save Them. He takes an in depth look at what he calls the "epidemic of youth violence" in America in order to determine its causes and origins. By gaining an understanding of the problem, Garbarino hopes to be able to ascertain some sort of solution. He provides useful advice and insight about steps we as a society can take to ensure our boys do not become lost. In order to develop Garbarino’s ideas in my mind, I thought it would be interesting to apply some of his points he makes in his book to a case. I chose to write on the two main characters, Derek and Danny, in the movie American History X. I will provide a brief summary of the movie, followed by an extensive examination of the characters, using Lost Boys as a critical lens. First I will discuss the importance of viewing the boys lives in their entirety rather that isolating one incident. I will then look at the risk factors and the racial implications involved in Derek and Danny’s life. The next two sections will focus on the lack of a father figure and the powerful influence Derek has as a result of the absence of a father. Then I devote a short section to Garbarino’s idea of affirmation instead of discrimination and how this could have helped Derek and Danny. Before concluding, I take into account psychologist James Gilligan’s ideas on violence and how they apply to this case. In my conclusion, I look at Garbarino’s possible solutions to the epidemic of youth violence and how they could help. And I make a few of my own suggestions. Although the movie is fictitious, there are boys who are living in America today that express similar actions and attitudes to those expressed by Derek and Danny. The movie is not a far cry from what is currently taking place in our society today.
Overview of the Movie
American History X tells a tragic story that focuses on two brothers, Derek and Danny Vinyard. The movie begins with a startling flashback scene in which Danny interrupts his older brother Derek and his girlfriend having sex to tell him that there is a black man outside trying to break into Derek’s car. Next we see Derek run outside and shoot and kill two African Americans and attempt to kill another driving away. Derek is in his early twenties and Danny is 16 years old. Danny witnesses the entire transaction.
In the next scene, it is the day Derek is released from prison, and Danny is in the principal’s office because he wrote a paper on Mien Kampf arguing for Hitler as an outstanding civil rights activist. He is instructed by the principal, who is African American, to write another paper on his older brother Derek. As the...