Comments on a Sociological Paper

by Dr. Lisa Barnett

Deviant Behavior

The story of the last two years of Colleen Applegate's life-her involvement in pornography, addiction to cocaine, and eventual suicide-is a tragic tale. As individual and distant as Colleen's circumstances were, they can be better understood through the application of a theory on deviance. Social Control Theory can explain why Colleen strayed from conformity into deviance, and what effect society had on her. [1]

Social Control Theory explores the reasons people conform to societal norms rather than deviating. This micro-level theory states that all people have potential for deviance. A weakening in the ties that bind a person to society and its norms increases the likelihood that a person will engage in deviance. According to Hirschi (Kelly and Clark, 2003), the four bonds between an individual and society are attachment, commitment, involvement, and belief.

In Colleen Applegate's case, her move to LA in March of 1982 magnified the nascent weakening of her bonds with society. The oldest of five children, Colleen was involved in her Minnesota high school and received letters for cheerleading. In her last two years of high school, Colleen began dating Mike Marcel. Because her parents disapproved of the older boy, they argued with Colleen, and the attachment between parents and child was weakened. Also, Colleen was not especially committed to the norms of behavior in her town, because to attain her ideal career-modeling-she would have to leave the small town of 4,800 people. These factors combined to contribute to Colleen's first extreme act of deviance: overdosing on pills. [2] This act was treated as a simple cry for attention and aside from a single group counseling session, ignored.

Following graduation, Colleen moved to LA with her boyfriend Mike. The two had a difficult time finding jobs. As newcomers without work, the two were neither involved nor committed in the community. They had plenty of time to engage in deviance and little to risk by doing so. All of Colleen's friends and family were far away, so the bond formed by attachment to other individuals was lessened as well. This also involved commitment; Colleen had nothing to fear by engaging in deviance because most of her human connections were far away, and thus the risk was small. The one person in LA who she did know and care about-Mike-encouraged her to take a job he had found for her at World Modeling. Through World Modeling, Colleen began posing nude for magazines. Because most magazines would only feature her once, Colleen had to pose for progressively more vulgar magazines in a shrinking market. This eventually led her to enter the pornographic film industry.

Colleen's bonds with society-especially that of attachment to others-continued to disintegrate. Her boyfriend Mike broke up with Colleen and returned to Minnesota, where he told several others what career Colleen had entered into. This embarrassed her sister and parents. Colleen's parents ordered her to come home and she refused. When Colleen later returned to Minnesota for a wedding, the bride's mother wouldn't let her into the church. These are all signs of the gradual dissolution of Colleen's bonds of attachment. It is obvious Colleen wanted these bonds to remain strong. When two old high school friend visited her in LA, [3] she tried to convince them to get involved in nude modeling as well. She also tried to give her mother a picture from her portfolio of nude photographs. Both her mother and her friends refused the overtures, and the bonds of attachment thinned further.

With her bonds of attachment weakened almost to insubstantiality, Colleen's bonds of commitment weakened further. The people she cared about disapproved of her life choices already. Any more deviance would strengthen that opinion, and even if she left the porn industry, she would still be indelibly stained in their eyes. Thus, the consequences of engaging in deviance were lessened. Colleen became addicted to cocaine.

Eventually, Colleen left the porn industry to live with her cocaine dealer, Jake. Unemployed-without even the career many considered deviant-Colleen was also without involvement. This left her with plenty of time to engage in whatever forms of deviance she felt desirable.

In February of 1984, Jake was arrested and jailed for several years for dealing cocaine. Her attachment to him weakened, but was not yet broken completely. Then a guy from Minnesota who she's been secretly dating came to visit her in LA It seemed like Colleen would replace Jake with this new man. However, because she was high and had no car, Colleen forgot to pick up her boyfriend at the airport. They broke up. Even worse, Jake called from jail and broke up with her also. He told Colleen she had to move out of his house. It was then, with her bonds of involvement, commitment, and attachment almost completely broken, that Colleen shot herself in the head. She died 24 hours later. [4]

Besides explaining the deviance of Colleen's life, Social Control Theory can also be utilized to explain the relative lack of deviance in mine. Social Control is especially applicable here as it is structured to explain why people conform more than why they deviate. Unlike Colleen, the bonds I have with society are fairly strong. Even living away at college, I have a strong sense of attachment to my family, and I talk to someone in it at least once a week. Even when I'm angry with them, I know they would rush to my aid if necessary, and I don't want to disappoint them. Although I'm not the type to have tons of friends, I do have several, and those friends are all close ones. I also have other relationships with people I respect-teachers, coworkers, bosses. So my level of attachment is high. [5]

My levels of commitment are also fairly high. In commitment, one weighs the costs or risks of engaging in deviance, and often obeys out of fear for the consequences. I have a well-developed conscience-something I blame on early motherly guilt-trips-and thus am not a big risk-taker. I have goals for the future which include a steady well-paying job, and my own house. A good college education is essential for this, and so I don't want to risk my standing at Coe by getting addicted to cocaine, for example. Also, I try to avoid debt like the plague, so doing anything that would risk my scholarships and loans would be unwise.

As for the bonds created by involvement, I'm fairly busy. I'm a full-time college student with a part-time job. And while I don't like to get involved in very many clubs or organizations, I still have plenty to occupy my time. Bonds of attachment intermingle with involvement here. I often help my sister out by watching her four children, and help friends to "screen" new boyfriends, so to speak.

Belief is a more difficult concept to understand. I didn't talk about it in Colleen's case because it's almost impossible to know what she believed about the norms and rules of society. Without any input from her-an impossible feat at this point-I have no way of knowing what she thought. [6] In my case, however, I agree with many of the norms, or at least the values of groups I socialize and identify with. I generally obey the law because to undermine that undermines the organization of my society (besides, I've got this wide-awake conscience nagging at me all the time…). Also, because I was raised in this culture, many of the norms in it seem natural to me, and to deviate from them seems wrong. That said, if there is a norm I don't believe in, I'll disregard it. However, such disbelief in social norms does not apply, for me, to getting involved in porn or cocaine. My rebellions are usually over more minor things such as drinking age and dress codes. So unlike Colleen Applegate, I have strong bonds with society and therefore-according to Social Control Theory-I am less likely to engage in deviant behavior. [7]

Like all theories, Social Control is not perfect. It does not apply well to all forms of deviance, since such acts as embezzlement are often committed by individuals with strong bonds to society. Also, some of the bonds identified by Social Control Theory can have the opposite effect than stated; attachment to others, for instance, can increase a person's deviance rather than reduce it-if those individuals are deviant. This may have been the case with some of Colleen's relationships. One of her friends and fellow porn stars was a cocaine addicts, as were her boss and her boyfriend Jake. Colleen's attachment to these people may have increased her likelihood to engage in deviance. Social Control also doesn't explain why the first act of deviance occurs. It views deviance as inherently attractive to all people.

Given these weaknesses of Social Control Theory, there are other theories that would apply to explain Colleen's deviance. Learning Theory, for instance, would say that Colleen learned how to become deviant by associating and identifying with other deviants, such as Jake her boyfriend/coke dealer. However, this too has its flaws because according to the Differential Association Theory of Learning, the influence a person has varies according to frequency, duration, primacy, and intensity. Thus, Colleen's mother-whose influence had the most primacy, a duration of approximately eighteen years, and I high frequency within those first eighteen years-would have more influence on Colleen than subsequent individuals. [8] Obviously, this was not the case.

Labeling Theory can also be applied to Colleen's situation. According to this theory, it is the response of society and not any single act that makes someone deviant. Thus, the negative reaction of Colleen's family and friends to her chosen career made it deviant, but in and of itself, the pornography was not deviant. Also within Labeling Theory, Colleen's case can be seen as illustrating Lement's theory of secondary deviance. Her primary deviance was posing for nude photographs. Once others became aware of this behavior and labeled her as a "bad" girl for it, secondary deviance began. Colleen internalized the label and became more deviant. It was not until after society had reacted to her nude photos that she became involved in pornographic movies and cocaine use. However, Labeling Theory fails to account for the first instance of deviance, nor does it explain why Colleen chose the forms of deviance she did.

Strain Theory could explain that Colleen engaged in pornography as a means to her goals. Posing for nude photographs made Colleen a model-her lifelong dream-and also gave her a job and money. However, there's no sure sign that Colleen felt anomie (a sense of normlessness), because she was nearly always involved in some sort of relationship with its own norms and values.

Finally, neither Social Disorganization Theory nor Functionalism are applicable in Colleen's case because both are macro-level theories which apply to society as a whole. Colleen's case was a micro-level situation, revolving around the life of one individual.

No single theory of social deviance can completely explain the life oc Colleen Applegate, or any person. There are too many factors to understand any life. However, theories go a long way towards helping people to comprehend at least part of the situation. In Colleen's case, Social Control Theory particularly applies. The increases in deviance for Colleen corresponded to increases in the weakness of her bonds with society. Thus, Social Control Theory can shed some light on deviance and its relationship to society, even if it can't illuminate human behavior completely.

Works Cited: [9]

1. "Death of a Porn Queen." Frontline. [Video]

2. Goode, Erich. (1996). Social Deviance. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

3. Kelly, Delos H. & Clark, Edward J. (2003). Deviant Behavior: A Text-Reader in the Sociology of Deviance. 6th Edition. New York: Worth Publishers. [10]





1. Nice concise intro! Good because it contains a general intro, wraps up the main events of the movie, and introduced theory. Didn't just charge right into the issue.











2. Maybe give a bit of context for the behavior (the suicide attempt). Set stage more, by saying she was still in high school, clarifying that it wasn't just friends that ignored it, but neither parent took it seriously either.















3. The friends actually lived out there too, moving to LA shortly after Colleen and Mike. (Clarifying accuracy of information-usually a huge deal in assignments; less so in this because it's a video watched only 1-2 times)
















4. Where's belief? You talk about belief later. Maybe move some of that up here.








5. Good! You use the specific points of the theory to explain your lack of deviance; don't just discuss it generally.













6. I was wondering when you were going to talk about belief! Maybe move some up to top of page. Don't push the issue off to the side. You can say one factor applies less to Colleen's case. Theories don't fit perfectly to situations in the real world.





7. It can also relate to the notion of "conventional" vs. "unconventional" belief systems.
















8. Good! Talking about primacy, duration, frequency. Going into the theory deep enough; don't review theory superficially.























9. Not all of this is actually "cited" but I'm glad that you cited sources.




10. General Comments:

-I don't have rigid expectations.

-One great way to organize this is to make the narrative interwoven with the theory.

-There's no one organizational structure for my papers.

-Many students are too safe. They look for "the" answer, but there is no one way to write the paper. Originality is good because if I'm bored and I gave the assignment, that's not a good thing. I have to read all of these papers, so diversity is good.

-Other organizational things: intro and a conclusion, although I don't need the typical 5-paragraph essay.

-Titles are good. Not a title that's the name of the assignment. That's as good as no title. A good title sends the message that you've thought about the topic.

-I love good grammar and sentence structure. I used to take too much time correcting assignments, fixing every grammar mistake. You will lose points if it's clear you haven't at least read over the paper for grammar. Even if you edit it just before class. I would much rather see handwritten corrections than obvious mistakes.

-This paper's audience is the semi-informed reader. Someone who knows the theories, but maybe hasn't seen the movie, or saw it a long time ago.

-This assignment was mid-level formality. The informality of "I", "me," and "we" are fine in sociological papers, even formally-written published ones.



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