Human beings are products of the societies in which they live. Therefore, their life, perceptions, behavior patterns and conception of phenomena around them largely depends on the prevailing social conditions. In 8 Mile, Jimmy Smith Jr. (Eminem) embodies how racial and stratified societies suppress the potential of an individual thus subjecting them to overly rely on their self-drive to overcome such socially instigated barriers. Through the eyes of Jimmy, it is evident that prejudice and social perceptions not only constrain the expression of talents but also promote social tension. Jimmy has an ability in music, specifically hip-hop, but the fact that he is a white and the genre of music is socially construed to be for the blacks forces him to singlehandedly fight for his space, nurture his talents and assert himself so that people begin to appreciate his abilities. Jimmy turns to his crew (Three One Third) for emotional support since they seem to be the only people around him that believe he is talented in hip-hop music. The others chastise him for venturing in a field of music which according to them is a preserve of the blacks. At some point, the bashing and ridicule that Jimmy experiences while on stage makes him develop a stage fright, become nervous and completely gets mixed up thus causing him to give up. The struggles and challenges of Jimmy in which he has to consciously evaluate societal attitude towards him in informing the path of his decisions as well as wading through a series of interactions has encapsulated in 8 Mile embodies game theory and social exchange theory in action.
8 Mile is a film written by Scott Silver and directed by Curtis Hanson ("Wonder Boys"). The film embodies the challenges that Jimmy Smith Jr. (Eminem) undergoes in his quest to realize his ambitions and achieve self-actualization. Smith as the protagonist in the film rises from some of the most unfortunate incidences and background to rise to an arena of achievement. Initially, he tragically fails in his pursuit of art but later succeeds. He fails in romantic overtures but then finds solace and comfort in his friends. At the onset, Jimmy conceives his struggles as a terrible unkindness of the world to him. He strives to be diligent and provide for right his fiance, Janeane (Taryn Manning) in vain. For instance, he tries to make her comfortable by giving his old car but what he gets in return is a breakup from the wife who is by then pregnant. Depressed and downcast, Jimmy carries his clothes in a garbage bag and has to survive on the menial job as a press operator (Curtis Hanson, 2002). Amidst his predicaments and episodes of failed attempts to make his life the best, Jimmy resorts to embark on a spree of realizing his ambitions in hip-hop music. At this time, he contemplates and eventually is ready to actualize his dreams in art music. Whereas at first Jimmy seemingly blames his struggles on other people, he later wakes up from his stupor to realize that the world around him would not change to suit him hence he has not only to be bold and assertive but also take complete responsibility for whatever befalls him.
In 8 Mile, Jimmy has perfected the action of social exchange theory. Classically, the social exchange theory posits that human social behavior results from some exchange processes. This exchange serves the purpose of evaluating situations in such a way as to leverage costs while maximizing the resultant costs. The theory sees human beings as overly conscious of any decision or choices that they make so that the nature of social interactions they have depends on their value perception of such an engagement. In cases where the benefits outweigh the rewards, people slowly drift apart or even terminate entirely the relationship in question. In essence, social relations are framed as having some element of giving and take which must be dynamically balanced. In 8 Mile, Jimmy is aware of the confrontational relationship that a rap group called "The Leaders of the Free World" has towards him hence he too develops a condescending attitude towards them resulting in the rap battle which acts as a final conflict between him and the group. The group harasses Jimmy throughout the film as manifest in the deteriorating friendship between him and Wink (Eugene Byrd) (Curtis Hanson, 2002). At first, Jimmy has a warm relationship with Wink who even promises to help him grow and become more successful. At this point, he has a particular embrace for Wink since he too longs to have a breakthrough not only in his hip hop music but also in general life. However, as it turns out when Jimmy shows up at the studio, he finds Wink having sex with Brittany Murphy (the character for whom Jimmy has affection). At this point, the cost of his betrayed love for Murphy outweighs the promise for a personal growth hence Jimmy becomes enraged and beats up Wink as Alex tries to break up the fight. This episode turns the relationship between Wink and Jimmy from a cozy one to aggression, vengeful and confrontational one. Here, the cost-benefit balance is not effective hence Wink colludes with "The Free World" brutally beats Jimmy in retaliation.
Central to the theory of social exchange theory is the concept that people are likely to repeat interaction that elicits approvals than those that which result in disapprovals despite the fact that people seem insensitive to the talent that Jimmy has in hip-hop, his close friends and the member, so the crew nudges him to showcase his unique abilities. They encourage him by constantly referring to him as an incredible rapper. Even when he succumbs to the ridicule at the stage where he performs, the crew still expresses confidence in his artistic abilities. Out of this support and motivation, Jimmy gains the courage to move on and in a three rounds performance tournament faces and triumphs over a member of the "Free World." In the final round of the tournament, Jimmy is pretty aware of the fact that his competitor knows what weaknesses he has hence trades that off with using a freestyle performance (Curtis Hanson, 2002). He tactfully exploits the 'white trash' background and other inflictions put on him by the "Free World". Jimmy knows that he has the alternative of performing in his conventional way which the competitor knows hence his decision to be creative and to portray him for what he is. He inadvertently reveals the truth about Papa Docas being a thug with a privileged background. Here, the type of relationship that Jimmy would have with Papa Docas after the performance is inevitably antagonistic but then it is the best thing that works for him in the given situation.
The character of Jimmy well pays into the game theory. Game theory is a sociological model that explains the nature of human interpersonal interactions as being like any other game in which each person tries through all means possible to maximize personal benefits and minimize own costs (Longhofer & Winchester, 2016). While it is naturally expected that an individual may easily hide the truth about his or her background, Jimmy employs tactfulness not disguise himself as a rich white. He also expresses himself as a weak, despised and defenseless personality so that he brings out the humiliations he has endured from the Free World gang. Through this expression of inability, Jimmy perfectly sets the foundation for him to defeat the otherwise quintessential Papa Doc in the tournament. Out of a sheer feeling of defeat and reassignment, Papa Doc gives back the microphone to Future making Jimmy win the rap battle.
The game theory also shows that the decisions that an individual take in any given situation is based on their best assessment of the potential yields from them (Leyton-Brown & Shoham, 2008). Jimmy in 8 Mile initially succumbs to the allusion that the world is unfair to him and blames his predicaments on other people. He feels that he has lost out in life completely but then when he realizes that his life is not likely to change by passing accusations on the rest, resorts to active activities that eventually transforms his status. Game theory is fundamentally based on calculative maneuvers by character to achieve a particular end. In this regard, the end justifies the means (Shubik, 2006). For instance, at one point Jimmy gains a renewed look at life which makes him question whether his circles of friends among them "Future" (Mekhi Phifer), have no boldness for achieving more significant things. In this state of mind, he goes all out of his way to beat members of The Free World in a tournament which was unlikely were he to retain his victim mentality.
Curtis Hanson (2002). 8 Mile. The USA. IMDb
DeLamater, J. D., In DeLamater, J. D., & In Ward, A. (2013). Handbook of Social Psychology. Dordrecht: Springer.
Leyton-Brown, K., & Shoham, Y. (2008). Essentials of game theory: A concise, multidisciplinary introduction. San Rafael, Calif: Morgan & Claypool Publishers
Longhofer, W., & Winchester, D. (2016). Social theory re-wired: New connections to classical and contemporary perspectives. Routledge.
Shubik, M. (2006). Game theory in the social sciences: concepts and solutions.
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