The importance of ‘identity’ as a primary concept of gang culture. Using theory to support arguments.
I think that the increase in the media’s interpretation of ‘gangsters’ and ‘gangs’ and what they should look like highly influences the identity in which gang members feel/think they should act, dress and even criminal activities that they participate in. For example movies like 50 cents’ ‘Get rich or die tryin’ had a massive effect on how young black boys (especially in America) act and ‘think’ they should be acting. They learn illegitimate ways to receive goods and services. They are exposed to what a “hit” is for example or a drive by shooting. I think that it could be argued that these films even educate these young people on how to get away with it. Economic deprivation plays a big part in the forms of gangs – witnessing because of the media all the money, nice clothes, women and big houses e.t.c and thinking ‘This is what gangster are – this is what I want to be’.
Before the age of eighteen, the average American teen will have witnessed eighteen thousand simulated murders on TV this it without films and all other types of media i.e music, newspapers and radio. Willis & Presdee observes that:
“Crime should be viewed as everyday responses to lives out within deprived, brutalised and often lonely social locations. In a society based on consumption to ‘have’ is to exist: to have nothing is to be nothing. Presdee asks rhetorically how – in the latter case- can we emotionally live life that is laden with such a shame and observes that is it through crime we can ‘have’, and therefore ‘be.’
It is the nothingness and loss of social status that is often the wellspring of social or personal harm, the trigger for violence as self expression, weather it is directed inwardly (self mutilation) or outward (the mutilation of others).”
There is, in many areas of the world, ‘dominance for identity’. For example in a lot of gangs even if its small gangs or large organized gangs its seems the more deviant you are, the more anti-social the more you are respected and looked upon – the more other members of the gang want to be like you. Gangs will often commit crimes to become this like this ‘respected ’gang member. Injecting this criminal identity were they are deviant, ruthless, scared of nothing – no one. Some areas such as Rio De Janerio (Brazil) the gang member will often have to kill to become part of the gang.
Studies from Chicago university have showed that people living in these socially disorganised areas with adopt different moral standards to people living in for example at the top end of Rio De Janerio as it is a town split into two worlds. For people that live in the ‘slummy’ areas this will contribute to their willingness to become more involved in criminal behaviour. As this is all they have know – this is who they are – their identity. Some of these patterns of behaviour however have been adopted and passed on from one generation to the next. (Parents were heavily involved in crime).
However, Thrasher (1947) argues that:
“The adolescent gang emerged out of spontaneous street play groups of young children in relatively permissive and socially disorganised slum areas were neither ‘disturbed’ or ‘psychopathic’ nor ‘driven’ by socio-economic forces beyond their control, they were simply looking for excitement, adventure and fun. This can be found on the streets but not at home”.
So the gang members or ‘deviant’ individuals may not have been brought up around criminal activities and may be completely unaware of crime and what in entails however some of what they see outside of what they know (school, home life e.t.c ) interreges them, these new identities that they are being exposed to excites them.
For many young gang member’s or young males and now even females thinking about becoming gang members much of this is due to their home life and financial situation. They join to find out their identity. Who they are, what they are or more what they should be, what they should look like.
For many young males joining gangs or getting involved in criminal activities a lot of it starts from their roots - their family situation. Talcott Parsons (1937) studies argue that women are more at home looking after children the house chores e.t.c while the male goes out to provide for the family therefore being absent a lot of the time – resulting in them being unable to function as a role model for his children. Males do have strong cultural expectations of how they should be, what makes a good father, a good friend, a good home provider and good ‘identity’ to aspire to. Whether the father is absent due to work commitments or the mother is a single mum this proves problematic as the young males have to adopt this masculine role with ‘no real concept of what it involves’. Talcott says that:
“He has, during his childhood, discovered that stealing, violence and destruction provoke the disapproval of his mother and hence identifies these as non-feminine and therefore masculine characteristics. Offending behaviour satisfies these criteria of masculinity”.
We could argue from this, also in relation to the media, that being in a surveillance society forces some ‘gang members’ to adopt identities that they are shaped and told to look like. In some circumstances for example the area in which they live in or the colour of their skin often contributes to this factor. For example young black men living in a council estate in London, may well want to better themselves and work they way up the social ladder but they are already stereotyped by society as ‘young black thugs – that wont/cant amount to anything’. I think this is very unfair though it could be suggested why these males keep the identities they all ready have and live up to what society and the media label them as. Studies of Gerland suggest that:
“contemporary life is characterised by a ‘culture of control’ where we are policed at home, at work, at pleasure and in a surveillance society were we cannot escape the dominate gaze (gaze of the dominate) , as we are watched and tracked, trailed, filmed, photographed as our ‘life trial’ is picked up by electronic panoptical society”.
Personal social decline plays a big part on deviant behaviour and identity. This is when we learn that we are ugly; we are different, apart and even excluded. In effect this can result in a silence and often being left isolated and lonely. However in some instances it can go the other way and in a culture were distraction is a part of everyday life – in Presdee’s theory the central question becomes: ‘Social survival or social destruction?’.
In conclusion, identity is hugely important factor in the gang lifestyle. Not looking a certain way, wearing a certain colour of clothing or even your hairstyle in different gangs across the globe could even get you killed in extreme cases. I think one of the most influential aspects that contribute to this at the moment is the media. In all its mediums, it is very stereotypical – young gang member’s pick up on this and begin to adopt this ideology that this is the norm to be included, accepted and part of a new criminal family. There are two areas in which gang members don’t understand the vital difference – ‘fantasy’ and ‘reality’. Suggesting that ‘identity’ in gangs is very much glamorised as said previously, they are not aware of the many negative realities that their activities will outcome. These people can often end up in prison (their sentence also increased if they are part of a gang), addicted to drugs or alcohol or even worse – dead.
However on this point, I would argue that every person has their own mind – and should have a good sense of right or wrong no matter where you live, how you were brought up or how much money you have. Identity and finding about your individual identity and who you are is part of growing up – I think that people in these gangs have so many different cultural influences that they may struggle to lose the identity or be stopped from gaining it when it’s what’s been programmed into them or the area in which they live produces this identity as the norm.