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Facharbeit: American History X - reality? - History

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On the following pages I will analyse the presentation of right-wing extremism in the movie American History X and whether this movie is only fiction or reality.
I have chosen to deal with this movie and its presentation of right-wing extremism because when I saw the film for the first time I was very astonished how cruel people, who call themselves neo-Nazi, can be. However I have come to the conclusion that it is very well depicted that neo-Nazis still exist today and how cruel such persons can be.
Therefore I have decided to analyse whether this film is fiction or reality because I like to deal with history then and now.

The movie American History X was published in 1998 and has been directed by Tony Kaye and written by David McKenna.
The movie tells the story of a young American man in the late 1980s and 1990s who is called Derek Vinyard (Edward Norton). Derek is drawn into the neo-Nazi scene after his father was killed by a black man. He believes that the black men are suppressing the white race. Derek Vinyard achieves an important position in the neo-Nazi gang of Venice Beach which is called the Disciples of Christ (D.O.C.).
One night Danny (Edward Furlong) his younger brother recognizes that a black guy is breaking into the car of his brother. He bursts into Dereks room and tells him that a black guy is breaking into his car.
Derek seizes his gun, puts on his steel toad combat boots and goes downstairs. He opens the door and shoots down two black men. The sheltering in prison completely changes his life. He works together with a black guy in the laundry and a friendship develops among them. Step by step Derek realizes that black men are not bad people and he feels ashamed of his past.
When his time in prison is over and he returns to his family again, he must recognizes that his little brother Danny has completely fallen into the neo-Nazi scene because he wants to be like his hero, who is Derek himself. Derek tries to resign him and Danny from the Disciples of Christ. At the end of the film Danny is killed by some black students.
So the audience is left with a sad situation which is caused by racism.

So in what way is right-wing extremism in America depicted in American History X?
The career of the protagonist Derek in the neo-Nazi group, The Disciples of Christ (D.O.C.), of Venice Beach begins with the death of his father, who is murdered by a social parasite, a black person (time 14:46min.). However the real trigger was earlier (compare time 98:32min.) which was his father who already showed some kind of hatred against the black people.
The indirect leader of this group is called Cameron Alexander (Stacy Keach). He is between 40 and 50 years old. He uses Derek to recruit a slew of insecure, frustrated and impressionable kids (time 13:53min.) and Derek does not recognize that he is exploited by Cameron. Derek himself says that he started the D.O.C. because white kids should not have to walk around scared in their own neighbourhood (compare time 17:14min) and that he was pissed off (time 94:50min).
His hatred against people of a different culture and skin colour is shown while he is speaking to a reporter about the murder of his father. He lists up many problems, for example the immigration, AIDS and welfare, which are problems of the black community, the Hispanic community, and the Asian community (time 15:02min.).
One day Derek delivers a speech to all members of the D.O.C. in front of a supermarket which they are going to destroy because it is owned by black people. He wants to open their eyes and achieve hatred against illegal immigrants who exploit their country because America spent three billion dollars last year on service for those people who had no right to be there (time 35:39min.). He also mentions the American Dream which cannot be fulfilled anymore because they are loosing their right to pursue their destiny (time 36:40min.). He tells about Statue of Liberty on which is written: Give me your tired, your hungry, your poor And he compares it to the Americans who are tired and hungry and poor (time 36:35min.) because their government cares more about the rights than the life of the Americans. His speech ends with the declaration of war: Are we going to ante up and do something about it? (time 37: 44min.). Would anyone of the audience answer, no?
Consequently the D.O.C. is against every person who is not white Protestant because these people are a burden to the advancement of the white race (time 27:37min.). Therefore they do everything against the spread of these communities.
This type of hatred against other people is called racism.
In the movie you can recognize which people belong to the D.O.C. because all members have closely shaved hairs (that is why they are often called Skinheads even though a Skinhead must not be a person who belongs to the right-wing extremism) and all members are wearing black flight jackets and shoes which are called Dr. Martens (He is an important person of the second world war who made experiments with the these people of whom he thought that they are non-liveable). Many of them also have tattoos which are racist because they have been developed during the time of Adolf Hitler who is a famous example for racism. These tattoos are for example swastikas or the eagle which is the symbol of Germany. These tattoos make them feel as one unit.
Dereks family life suffers from his racist way of life. This is shown when the family is having dinner with the Jewish person called Muray (Elliott Gould). He is a teacher of the Venice Beach High School and he wants to be the new boyfriend of Dereks mother who is called Doris (Beverly DAngelo). There he shows that he does not like all this euphemism of black criminals and that he does not accept anyones opinion which goes against his opinion of racism.
He does not recognize that he is getting a louder voice and that he becomes very aggressive. This quarrel ends up with Derek beating his sister who is called Davina (Jennifer Lien). After he calms down a bit he shows his swastika on his chest to the Jewish teacher and saying See this? Not WELCOME! The teacher leaves the house. Outside the house he says to Doris that she does not know the world her children are living in (compare time 49:05min.).
Dereks apologize for this break out is only that he has lost control (compare time 50:30min.). That is a sign that he cannot control himself when he is in rage which of course can be compared to his actions against black people.
His mother, Doris, has to recognize that she has lost control about the life of her children and she does not know what she can do to change their point of view.
Even Danny (Edward Furlong), Dereks younger brother, joins the white group of Venice Beach while Derek is in prison because he sees Derek as his hero and wants to be like him.
So Derek draws his younger brother into the right-wing extremism without knowing.
Dr. Bob Sweeny (Avery Brooks), a teacher of Venice Beach, notices that Danny is becoming a racist, too, and therefore he wants Danny to analyse and interpret all the events surrounding Dereks incarceration and how theses events helped shape his present perspective concerning life in contemporary America (time 10:15min.) within one day. For this reason he wants to put an end to Dannys career. Thus the main part of the movie is based on Dannys reminiscence of the past of Dereks career as a neo-Nazi in the D.O.C.
While he is in prison because he shot two black persons his point of view against racism changes. This is because he works with a black man who is called Lamont (Guy Torry) in a laundry who calls Derek a nigger and he tells him: Dont judge a book by its cover. (time 83:19min.) The nigger makes it clear that just because a person has a different skin than oneself he or she must not be a bad person.
When Derek gets out of prison he is a completely changed person and wants to leave the racist group because he is tired of being pissed off (time 95:07min.). However it turns out not to be so easy because Danny is a member of this group, too.
On the same day the D.O.C. celebrates Dereks return from prison which also makes it harder for him to leave this group.
This party once again shows how aggressive people of the right-wing extremism can be. A band is playing a song with hatred in their voice which is called The white man marches on. This symbolizes that only the white people are the ones who have the right to live.
Some people raise their hand up to welcome members. This kind of greeting developed in Germany while Adolf Hitler had the disposal of Germany.
Flags of Adolf Hitler on the party show that they celebrate him and his actions because he was a national socialist who did not like for example Jewish, black, handicapped, Russian or Asian persons. Summarized they hate nearly every person who is not a white protestant of Germany.
So this raising of hand which is connected with the two words Heil Hitler shows that they still remind of him and that they live on his dream of a nationalist state.
Some people welcome Derek as father Vinyard (time 57:51min.) because he is the leader of the group and therefore they see him like a hero and worship him.
This is why it is so hard to leave this group because if he leaves it, it shows automatically that he does not stand behind his preach any longer. That is why they would make his life like a hell on earth.
To save his and Dannys life they have to run away from the party and to some extent they have to hide themselves that their old friends cannot catch them.

At home Derek and Danny take down all the posters which remind them of the past. The movie ends with murder of Danny and the quote of Abraham Lincolns Inaugural Address in 1861:
We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained we must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched as surely they will be by the better angels of our nature.
Finally the question which is left open is if this movie is just fiction or reality?

American History X is a movie about right-wing extremism in America. It deals with racism, white-power movement and group dynamics.
Now, is this true reality?

The roots or the trigger for the hatred or even racism against people with a different origin or skin colour may have been developed within the American Dream.
One of its three core values is the belief in success. You only can have success if you work hard to get a job. Many white people criticize this because there are always some black people who do not work hard but they get a job and even take it away with the result that the whites have no work anymore.
This leads to hatred against these people who immigrate to America to work there. This is to some extent a contradiction to the American Dream because on the Statue of Liberty it is engraved a poem written by the Jewish poet Emma Lazarus which consists of: Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses () This means that all poor people should come to America to find work and to live the American Dream which results in a better life. Now many people immigrate to America, which shows the title of a newspaper article of 1999 Since 1970 the immigrant population in the U.S. has nearly tripled and that is why the old people who are living there for years are dissatisfied with this situation. That may be the reason why nationalism and nationalists developed.
Every country is proud of itself. You can see it on sport activities (world championship) or other activities, where there is a competition between nations. The inhabitants of each country celebrate it, if it is going to win, and they cry if they are going to loose. That shows that everybody of us is to some extent a nationalist. The inhabitants are proud to be a member of its culture, religion and its rituals. But mostly they also accept other nations, other kinds of view. But sometimes the term nationalism achieves a higher significance than normal. The best proof for it shows the history of Germany in the beginning of the 20th Century. There were two world wars, in effect of the nationalistic thinking. Many people died, because Germany wanted to become a world empire. In this empire only a few selected people should have got the right to survive. Other humans would be only parasites for them, and not more than working - machines. Germany is only one example for an abuse of the normal term of nationalism because it went into the extreme. Adolf Hitler achieved that many people until today believe in his theory and this people at the time of the Second World War were called National Socialists or Nazis but today they are called neo-Nazis. In the movie American History X the Disciples of Christ, a white-power movement copies many ideals of Adolf Hitlers theory and therefore its members can also be seen as neo-Nazis.
So America is not an exception. In its history you can find the basis of nationalism. Today there is no house in the whole USA where you cannot find an American Flag. Every American is proud of his history, but if you see the other side of the coin you can recognize, that only one President has not fought against other countries or people with a different way of thinking. The Declaration of Independence was significant by blood of many thousands of people who wants to become free, and who wants to live in their own free nation. Is this not one part of the definition of nationalism?

Out of this nationalistic way of thinking many parties and organization which fight for their right developed in the U.S.A.
There is for example the Nationalist Party of the United States of America (NatParUSA) and its first core principle out of ten is to seek out the illegal immigrants in their Country, and deport them immediately back to their country of origin. Jess David Peterson found this party because he is fed up with their (now failed) two-party system that rules these United States . That is nearly the same as Derek Vinyard in American History X preaches because he thinks that the government of the U.S. does not give a shit (time 35:50min.) while they are spending millions of dollars on service for illegal immigrants.
Another party is the American Nazi Party (ANP) whose name makes it clear that they are National Socialists who fight for a nation which should exist of people with the same language, rituals and same religions. But the people of this party do not act publicly as a gang would do to achieve a certain status.
Its homepage shows the point of view of the members as the picture on the left shows the declaration of war for white people . It is dedicated to the 14 words: We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children .
The red background and its swastika can be compared to the National Socialist German Workers Party (National Sozialistische Arbeiter Partei; NSDAP) which is the symbol of this party. Most of the American neo-Nazi parties are likely to show respect to the specific theories of the NSDAP which developed during and after the Second World War. So the neo-Nazi groups in the United States can be seen as the US branch of the NSDAP. There are many other groups which share nearly the same point of view as the neo-Nazis do. There is for example the Ku Klux Klan which treats blacks badly or FALN (Armed Forces of National Liberation, a violent Puerto Rican nationalist group).
However it is difficult to determine how many neo-Nazi groups exist in America because only a small minority draws public attention with their actions. Most of them do not make their actions public, like the American Nazi Party.

As the constitution of the United States guarantees freedom of speech, the political organizations have the right to express Nazi, racist and anti-semitic views. So people who express their view cannot be prosecuted but those who committed for example hate crimes can be prosecuted.
Sometimes police officers exploit their job to arrest innocent black people as the case of Rodney Kings pursuit shows. In March 1991 he was forced to obey what the officers of the Los Angeles Police Department say. Luckily a person filmed this action and some officers were imprisoned but three were acquitted which caused a 4 days long riot in Los Angeles.

A big problem of the USA is the violence.
Some just rob something but others murder someone else. This is shown by a comparison of European and American criminal statistics which the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) produces regularly and it is published by the US government in Washington, D.C.
Comparison: Crimes per 100,000 Population

American Whites
American Blacks

Sources: FBI Uniform Crime Reports for U.S. data, The Economist for European data. European data for 1990; American data for 1992

The diagram above shows that the Americans are more violent than the Europeans and that more violent crimes can be ascribed to the black Americans.
That shows that neo-Nazis or other people are right if they say that the blacks bring the violent crimes to America.
Another problem is that there are many different gangs which fight against each other. For example black gangs (Pink Panther, Black hands, etc), Italian gangs (Mafia), Russian gangs (Mafia) and the White Gangs (Skinheads or White Power movements as it is shown in the movie American History X). These are many different cultures, religions and people who meet within one country.
And that is why nationalistic gangs are so popular. Young unemployed people are the right victim, for their ideologies. They tell them, that the immigrants are bad, and that they are guilty for their unemployment, because they take the jobs of the hard-working white Americans, and laugh at them when they get unemployed. So the hatred starts to grow. That is the system of these nationalistic gangs.

National Socialism may develop in every country which has a high rate of immigrants and which leads to the dissatisfaction of the origin people.
Nearly every European country consists of groups which belong to the Neo-National socialism. The anti-semitic and xenophobic point of views of this neo-Nazis can adapted be compared to the German groups.
There was for example a neo-Nazi party in Greek which was namend Hrisi Avgi (English: Golden Dawn). It was founded and led by Nikolaos Michaloliakos. However it does not exist anymore since December 2005.

To come to a conclusion I would say that the movie American History X is not just a fiction but it is poor reality.
Its very direct and shows that also America has to deal with the problem of xenophobic and racial neo-Nazis, but I think not as much as Germany has to.
Though I cannot appreciate the fact that in a film a whole family life is destroyed because one person lives a life of a neo-Nazi.
My opinion is that it is exactly the other way round precisley because the family life does not work and noone has a perspective anymore. This people search for affection, appreciation and someone with whom they can share their thoughts. That is why most of the people join neo-Nazi groups.
Nevertheless it is well shown that it is wrong to be a neo-Nazi and that you do not have now less than ever any perspective.
I think every person should be aware of national socialism and should know how it influences everybodys life. If you are once in this scene you will not get out that easy, as you can see how hard it is for Derek Vinyard to get out of it.
I became fear of these groups as I have found out that there are many little groups in nearly each country which a normal person would not recognize because they most of them do not make their actions public.
Probably there will always be such groups as long as everybody is allowed to immigrate into a country and the people of this origin are dissatisfied with these foreigners who for example take away their jobs or are just parasites.

5. Quellen ???
Englische Facharbeit von 8-12 Seiten zum Film American History X und der Frage: reality? - ob es in Amerika wirklich so zu geht. Die Quellen sind auch angegeben! American History X was published in 1998 and has been directed by Tony Kaye and written by David McKenna. (3549 Wörter)
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