The movie is about Derek Vinyard who grows up as a vengeful white supremacist in Venice Beach. Derik’s father gets shot while fighting fire in Compton drug den. Due to his death, Derek joins a street gang with an intention of taking vengeance. Derek later shoots and kills two blacks after which he is convicted of voluntary manslaughter. Following this, Derek is sent to California Institution for Men in Chino for three years. In the prison, Derek joins the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang where he gets disillusioned with the gang.
In a twist of events, the film reveals that Derek unexpectedly develops good rapport with a black inmate called Lamont whom he works within the prison laundry. Derek’s fellow gang members don’t take this lightly. They finally beat and rape him in the shower. Derek is later visited by his former school teacher as he is still recovering the attack. Sweeny informs Derek of his Brother Danny’s intention to join the group neo-Nazi like him (Derek). In the process of conversation between Sweeny and Derek, it merges that Derek had reformed and denounced the Aryan group. He becomes anti-racist as opposed to whom he was before.
Culture is used differently in diverse contexts. One of the definitions of the word culture is one’s or a group of people’s excellence of taste in arts and humanity. Another deification of culture is that it is an integrated system of human knowledge, behavior and belief that is dependent on the capacity for individual thoughts and social learning. Thirdly, culture is a set of values, attitudes, practices and goals that characterize a given organization/ group/ institution. In the movie American History X, the set up from which the scene is picked for discussion suits the third definition. The third definition describes culture as values, attitudes, practices and goals of a given group or institution.
The prison set up is considered an institution with a given group of people who believe in same values, attitudes, practices and even goals. This is despite the fact that they come from totally different backgrounds. By coming together in prison, they adopt same values and attitudes. This scene best illustrates culture and cross-cultural communication as it involves actors from different backgrounds who come to understand one another and uses same language. This wouldn’t have been possible if these people never met here and stayed together to learn and create their own culture.
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Some of the communications during the scene are discussed to help understand cross-cultural/ intercultural communication. Cross-cultural/ intercultural communication involves examination of how people with different cultural backgrounds are able to communicate in similar or different ways amongst themselves. In the prison laundry, Lamont, a black inmate with whom Derek had good rapport warns him never to try to have sex with him since he controlled the underwear. The word ‘fuck’ is used repeatedly in this scene as these inmates converse. In the scene, the word fuck is both an insult and an action, a word that is common to all the inmates in the prison. Though Lamont is a black from totally a different background, they both understand the terms in which they converse with Derek. This wouldn’t happen so if the two had not been in this place for some time such that they had mastered this art of conversation.
While still conversing with Derek, Lamont talks of words like “... bad pass peckerwood…”, “… You the nigger …” These are also words that can only be understood in cross-cultural communication. In ordinary situations, two respectable conversing gentlemen never use these words while conversing as some words are considered to be for a particular group of people.
Another show of unique culture and cross-culture communication in this scene is the non-verbal communication that is common to most of the characters, especially the inmates. This group of inmates enjoys slow careless talk full of hands expression. While throwing insults and showing an act of sex, it is common for the inmates, especially the Aryan group to express this using their middle finger. This is known to almost every other inmate. Let us consider the conversation between Derek, Sweeney and Murray when they visited him in the prison when he was just recovering after the assault. In these conversations, Mr. Bob Sweeney speaks in a respectful language. Derek on the other hand tones down his voice to speak respectfully as well. Here, we don’t hear of words like fuck, ass, nigger etc. which are only best known and used by the inmates.
Derek later considers himself antiracist and develops very good rapport with Lamont, the black inmate with whom he works in the laundry. After the rape and the attack, Derek changes the group with which he hangs out with and joins the blacks. He does this so as to change his thought stream. He had in the past looked down upon the blacks. Lamont shields and introduce him to the rest of the black group. Culture is evident once again in the scene when it comes to the identity of the individuals. There are two groups in the prison, the Aryan Group and the neo-Nazis. One had to identify with either of these which he considered as his family.