Summary: Why do people break society's laws and norms? In this scene ("Gee, Officer Krupke") from the musical West Side Story, members of a gang (the Jets) are confronted by a police officer who sees them as trouble makers. After he leaves, the men mock various authority figures by sarcastically singing about the causes of their behavior. For example, they sing "all our mothers are junkies ... we're misunderstood ... deep down inside us, there is good ... my parents treat me rough ... they didn't want to have me ... we're psychologically disturbed." Despite their sarcasm, they accurately identify the various reasons that psychologists, judges, social workers, and society more generally gives for explaining crime and deviance, further noting "juvenile delinquency is a social disease." As an intro to teaching a module on Crime & Deviance I regularly introduce the idea that there is more than one point of view of why people offend. I ask students before and after showing the clip to mind map as many reasons as they can think of as to "Why do People Offend?" Viewers may be encouraged to identify the various factors shaping crime and deviance, and how people perceive these factors from different social positions. Going deeper, we can also consider the role of reflexivity in their actions. What does their sarcasm say about these causes and their attempt to understand them? In his essay, “Some Politically Incorrect Reflections on Violence in France and Related Matters,” Slavoj Zizek argues this about violent offenders: "when really pressed for the reasons for his violence, and if capable of minimal theoretical reflection, he will suddenly start to talk like social workers, sociologists and social psychologists, quoting diminished social mobility, rising insecurity, the disintegration of paternal authority, the lack of maternal love in his early childhood… in short, he will provide a more or less precise psycho-sociological account of his acts so dear to enlightened liberals eager to 'understand' the violent youth as a tragic victim of their social and familial conditions." As noted in The Kugelmass Episodes, "the members of the Jets can easily re-frame their own experiences to win the maximum of sympathy from each successive 'handler' ... [but] the Jets aren’t simply making fun of the notion of delinquency. They are genuinely confused about their own actions, and suspect that somebody educated has the answer, but meanwhile there is a fundamental and unresolvable problem: the Jets like their gang, and the people in authority don’t."
Submitted By: Stephen Base