Arguably, Ryan’s acts—sexual and verbal offenses—are best explained by the Strain Theory of Deviance wherein an individual is driven to commit deviant acts or acts that are deemed unacceptable to society because one perceives that socially-acceptable measures of attaining one’s goals are not available or are already impossible. (Henslin 2007:144) Agnew (2001) argues, for instance, that strains and contradictions in the individual arise when an individual is unable to conform to social values or notions of goals.
These unattainable goals, which are often rooted on socio-economic success, intermittently affect the perception of self-worth of the individual who may then seek alternative means of validating his or her ego or “alleviating negative feelings” although it may entail the commission of acts that are not acceptable to the society or what is known as deviant behavior. (Agnew 2001:319)
The conflict in Ryan’s persona and his conscious decision to commit a sexual offense is therefore borne out of his own perceived inability to conform to societal expectations of middle-class living or the status which he feels he should have by virtue of his being a male, white American. It is this bitterness which fuels his bigotry for black Americans—most especially those who are wealthy and in power—whom he views as competitors.
Magnifying this stress on Ryan is the fact that the two individuals who occupy positions of power in his life are both black Americans: his chief at the police department and Shaniqua, his father’s healthcare company supervisor. Unlike the former, however, Ryan treats the latter more with contempt since he feels justified in doing so because she is both black and female—societal positions that have often been associated with inferiority.
Ryan’s racial discriminatory values are often echoed by other characters in the movie and are in fact portrayed to be prevalent with the status quo, which poses a problems since his motivations are validated and to a certain extent reinforced by the society he is a part of. (Hirschi 2002:5) To some extent, the only deviant act that Ryan would be considered guilty of is the part where he sexually abuses a woman.
His bigotry becomes justified because it is almost part of the norm, certainly ironic in a multi-ethnic society. Notably, Ryan’s deviant acts were often directed at women, which raise the issues of power relationships and gender. It highlights the continued sexual discrimination against women which makes women vulnerable to abuse stemming from the male’s assumption of women being the weaker sex. The problem is compounded when a woman is of ethnically-different origin, since racial discrimination adds to the problem.
This shows how Ryan, from his point of view, is able to lay claim to a position of superiority and is able to violate women of privileged status. Clearly, socio-economic status does not shield women from abuse; on the otherhand, they are more likely to keep their silence to protect themselves or their families’ image. In the end, the character’s redemption comes from confronting the nature by which his demon—his hatred for women of color—is challenged by the task of having to save the very woman he violates earlier in the movie.
This is where Ryan, forced to play his role as the policeman who must rescue the person in need, and his erstwhile victim are driven to establish a relationship based on trust that necessitates overcoming the negative emotions associated with their first encounter. Above all, it is also where the movie most provokes its viewers to critically examine the values and stereotypes that they themselves hold by shattering the stereotype of Ryan’s character to show that, contrary to viewer expectations, he can transcend the racist mold.
The shift in character therefore echoes his previous advice to his partner officer: “You think you know who you are? You don’t. ”
Agnew, Robert. “Building on the Foundation of the General Strain Theory: Specifying the Types of Strain Most Likely to Lead to Crime and Delinquency. ” Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 38. 4 (2001). Haggis, Paul. (Writer/Director). Crash [Motion Picture]. United States: Lionsgate Entertainment, 2004. Henslin, James. Essentials of Sociology: A Down-to-Earth Approach. (7th ed). Pearson: Allyn & Bacon, 2007 Hirschi, Travis. Causes of Delinquency. London: Transaction Publishers, 2002.