The Use of Ideology in Films. "Jarhead" as an example

Bachelor Thesis, 2017

24 Pages, Grade: N/A


Table of Contents




Literature Review




Reference List


I would like to thank my God for giving me wonderful, amazing and loving parents and family. I would also like to thank my supervisor, Dr. Venetia Evergeti for her support and guidance. I would also like to thank the University of Surrey.


This Dissertation involves an examination of the use of Ideology in Film, specifically the war film Jarhead. In addressing this subject I use the works of the three prominent sociologists, Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and Antonio Gramsci as reference points for the study. The starting point is establishment of a definition of ideology which, overall, satisfies the views of these writers. Having followed Marx’s and Engels’ sketch of the historical evolution of the concept of ideology, I consider sociological perspectives on film, violence and war, giving reference to the film Jarhead. An analysis is then made with regards to four ideological themes identified in the film, considering the effectiveness of the messages being conveyed. This Dissertation uses the qualitative research method, being based on previously available information.



This Dissertation seeks to examine the use and effect of Ideology in film, focusing on Jarhead as an example. I intend, therefore, to consider first the historical origins and meaning of the concept of ideology, and then to see what sort of role it plays in society by reference to this specific film. Among other aspects, I shall determine whether the roles are implicit or explicit in nature.

The research will be drawn primarily from information and writings of some leaders of Sociological thought, namely Marx, Engels and Gramsci, although various other sources will be included. We shall consider examples of these ideologies in the film as well as its possible effectiveness, in some instances, with the viewer.

Topic Background

The concept of ideology emerged in 1796, coined by Antoine Destutt de Tracy. He used it to refer to an aspect of his “science of ideas”, applying the term to the study itself and not to the subject of the study.

Overview of My Dissertation

The Literature Review section considers some key and critical literature relevant to the chosen research topic, with a focus on the writings of Marx, Engels and Gramsci.

The Methodology section links what I had done in my Literature Review with the information that I will be focussing on in my Analysis section.

The Analysis section addresses type of analysis (content) suitable for this type of research (qualitative). It discusses why I chose qualitative analysis rather than quantitative; the chosen form of analysis and the advantages and disadvantages of the chosen research method. This section also contains a background into the main people behind my chosen topic of analysis and an informative insight into my chosen themes from the film Jarhead.

Literature Review


This section provides an insight into the relationship between ideology and society by taking into consideration the views of three of the most highly influential theorists of ideology, Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and Antonio Gramsci. I will be discussing and referring to literature – books, journal articles and papers – written by them, or by others with references to these great thinkers’ works. Later, in the Dissertation analysis I hope to show the role ideology can play through films, using Jarhead as a case study. Ideology has been known to be one way the ‘rich’ can maintain control over the poor. So, it is worth looking at how these theorists view its formation and workings.

Karl Marx/Friedrich Engels: The German Ideology, 1845

Ideology in History

Regarding the history of men, Marx states that “…almost the whole ideology amounts either to a distorted conception of this history or a complete abstraction from it. Ideology is itself only one of the aspects of this history.” (Marx and Engels:3). Marx, therefore, seems to suggest that while ideology is one part of history, it is an element whose true nature is not necessarily what it appears to be – that the truth (usually) is either altered by those promoting it or very different from the reality. This suggestion that ideology is a manipulation of ideas fits in with the Marx/Engels concept of society – the combined structure of state, politics, economy, religion, law and other parts making up the greater human association. It is necessary then that we briefly review how this came about.

Growth of communities and classes

In The German Ideology, Marx outlines the progression of society from the earliest small tribal gatherings and the ownership of property; subsistence involved hunting and fishing, animal rearing and basic crops. As tribes grew, “patriarchal family chieftains” ruled members below them as well as slaves. The complexity of communal relations grew as populations increased along with needs, resulting in trading exchanges such as bartering, or even war. Growing and competing communities developed in towns and countries.

Similarly, Marx identifies the evolution of relationships within communities from patriarchalism to slavery, estates and to classes. Civil wars and external wars helped to consolidate communal and private property holdings. These forces of change also had effects on the productive forces: over time the conversion “of the plebeian small peasantry into a proletariat” took place, positioning the new ‘working class’ between the property-owning citizens and slaves. Marx says that as the feudal land ownership system solidified in the country, and in township the “corporative property” formed, each system saw the growth of guilds and other associations which would work to define new relationships in society (Marx and Engels 1845:9).

Growth of consciousness and ideals

Marx and Engels stressed the fact that peoples’ ideas, aspirations and even concepts of ideals are shaped primarily by their actual experiences and the conditions around them. These might include the terrain, the available resources of production, or other conditions not under their own control. Through chasing after material gains people are motivated into developing relationships.

So too with “mental production” in the form of morality, religion, law, politics and so on. “Men are producers of their conceptions, ideas, etc” (Marx and Engels 1845:10). Marx and Engel believe that men’s ideologies essentially arise from their direct or relevant experiences: “Life is not determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life” (Marx and Engels 1845:11). Therefore, with the major share of man’s existence devoted to the issues of a roof over one’s head, clothing, feeding, and means of livelihood (for example cropping, artisanship or goods production), “the nature of individuals thus depends on the material conditions determining their production” (ibid). Thus, their mental and material activities will become shaped to protect their individual interests. Such ‘personal’ interests actually form the basis for the thinking and the proposals which contribute to what are broadly considered principles and elements that make-up ideologies.

Evolving social demands and forces of production

In this far-ranging discussion, Marx and Engels, identify “fundamental conditions” that enable man to “make history”. They identify the action of man to satisfy his basic needs (eating, clothing and other things). Gradually, in their efforts to solve new needs, “men, who daily remake their own life begin to make other men, to propagate their kind…” (Marx and Engels 1845:13). In other words, men increasingly show interest in not just themselves, their family, and their local community, but beyond. The importance of family is now overshadowed by the larger social interaction which involves the “double relationship” (ibid) of production – the procreation of life and the individual’s work or labour.

These two factors combine into a “productive force” (Marx and Engels 1845:14) which helps to define the story of man’s “history of industry and exchange” (Marx and Engels 1845: 49). Marx and Engels seem to conclude that all social relationships are dictated largely by considerations regarding production and ownership of factors of production (see the Communist Manifesto). The “social stage” (Marx and Engels,1845:49) grows in importance and affects the issues of needs as well as how to satisfy those needs through production. Marx links this interaction between men (and growing populations) with a consciousness that is shaped by man’s developing/evolving needs and circumstances. He states that from this growing mix of forces and needs, “consciousness is in a position to emancipate itself” (Marx and Engels 1845:15) – that is, that man’s thoughts start to develop “’pure’ theory, theology, philosophy, ethics, etc.” to help him master or influence the rising conflicts between social demands and forces of production (ibid).

Social power and market forces

The division of individual or family interests from the interests of the community or State has helped the growth of property. Social power then becomes increasingly important for individuals who must bargain for their needs, their skills or property in this developing market. Inevitably, in this process, many people end up in production activities which are not of their choice, but which instead are forced on them by the need, in order to meet their own obligations. Marx and Engels state that men become “more enslaved under a power alien to them… a power which has become more and more enormous and in the last instance, turns out to be the world market” (Marx and Engels 1845:18).

Marx’s discussion leads step by step towards his famous solution of revolution. His repetitive theme that production forces and market needs are exploiting the proletariat leads him to declare that “not criticism but revolution is the driving force of history…” (Marx and Engels 1845:25). He searches for evidence that “this sum of productive forces, capital funds and social forms of intercourse” (ibid) will eventually cause a “revolutionary convulsion… strong enough to overthrow the basis of the entire existing system” (Marx and Engels 1845:59)

Ruling class and ruling ideas

Marx states that “the ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas…” (Marx and Engels 1845:39). This class already controls the means of material production in a dominant relationship. They also control ‘mental production’ through that segment of the ruling class who are its thinkers – the “conceptive ideologists, who make the formation of the illusions of the class about itself their chief source of livelihood” (Marx and Engels 1845:68). These theoreticians focus on developing justifications for the class positions and interests. He notes too that since the 18th Century ideas developed in these ways are frequently presented or seen as universally valid – often as the only sensible and valid ones. In this way, the current ruling class is able to dominate society with its own perceptions and often retain hegemony over others by passing off its own values as the social norm or ideology.

Antonio Gramsci’s concept of Hegemony

Hegemony before Gramsci

“Hegemony”, prior to Gramsci’s writings was simply understood to mean the dominance of one nation over others, usually in an alliance of friendly states. And Marxists before him considered hegemony primarily in an economic context. Gramsci’s researches and writings however expanded significantly the application of the term to mean “in a nutshell… the formation and organisation of consent” (Ives Peter 2004:2). This summary might appear misleading, but it actually includes power relationships which can cover cultural studies, literature and other aspects of social life. We will show here how his concepts provide a richer meaning and contribute in the understanding of the role of ideology.

Gramsci’s broader view

Gramsci’s analysis is broader. He looks at the entire range of human activities beyond economics: politics, culture and relationships of power within the industrialised democratic capitalist countries. For him, politics are not just about the Government or the State; the term involves every aspect of living from our behaviour and beliefs, education, religion, books we read, films, languages we speak or choose to learn. It includes how we view the world.

The importance of all these aspects of everyday life is well shown by Gramsci’s analyses. Language, for example, is a political issue due to its use in government policies concerning education curricula or other communications affecting groups (especially those with some disadvantage). He objects to language structure being dependent on history; rather, he supports a language that evolves grammatically according to the relationships it serves. (Ives 2004:92-93) That way all groups may be better involved by the ruling powers. This principle agrees with his favoured form of hegemony, the Integral type. Similarly, Gramsci believes that culture is also an important factor in maintaining the status quo of democratic capitalism, because the institutions impacting on citizens help to maintain their outlook – he fully agrees that economic status (perhaps as much as class status) determines one’s behaviour. The books one reads can reflect one’s aspirational influences: for example, “why [would] Italian peasants more often read French novellas than Italian ones”? (Ives 2004:4)

Hegemony defined

Joseph Femia (1987), describes three forms of hegemony which range from the most accommodating to the least in the order of preference to Gramsci.

Integral Hegemony. For Gramsci this is the ideal type of hegemony because it involves the optimal degree of co-operation. This would involve “mass affiliation [that] would approach unqualified commitment” by the majority of groups towards the rulers. (Ives 2004:68) This means that those ruling are able to satisfy both their own interests as well as those of all significant groups in society. This would result in what Gramsci called the “national-popular collective will”.

Decadent Hegemony. This older form of leadership relies on a Ruling Class (like a feudal aristocracy and a bourgeoisie) which is not able to meet the needs of all groups. As a result, there would not be active support from the general population. This situation would require class hegemony to maintain its leadership even if there is no feasible alternative leader.

Minimal Hegemony. This represents the least acceptable form of hegemony for Gramsci. In this scenario, those who are ruling are representing mostly the interests of the owners, the corporate bosses. Therefore, they can only continue to rule by exercising some form of domination on the masses. This might include enticing or absorbing the leaders of the dissatisfied masses into their elitist gatherings. Such control would likely involve a degree of coercion.


Excerpt out of 24 pages


The Use of Ideology in Films. "Jarhead" as an example
The University of Surrey
BSc (Hons) Criminology and Sociology
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ISBN (Book)
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Jarhead, Film, Ideology, violence, war
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Raphaelle Sylver-Francis (Author), 2017, The Use of Ideology in Films. "Jarhead" as an example, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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