Social Construction of Race

Money does not last forever. All the money in the world can become the reason why people change their personality and behavior. In the film The Jerk by Carl Reiner, a complete moron struggles to make it through life on his own, until a bizarre invention makes him unbelievably a wealthy man. Navin grew up in Mississippi as an adopted son of a black family, but on his birthday he decides to discover more about the outside world and sets out to St. Louis.

There, everyone exploits his simplicity, but then a simple invention brings Navin a big fortune that will become his main downfall as the film continues. Like many comedies, The Jerk pokes fun at social norms and stereotypes in order to make people laugh. This film supports the idea of the article, “Shadowy Lines That Still Divide” by Janny Scott and David Leonhardt, which explain how it’s possible to start poor, face challenges, and become rich. But also how society ranks a person based on the amount of money he has.

Scott and Leonhardt also explain that class is a social mobility, meaning that individuals move between classes. Even though Navin struggles throughout the film, he will realize that wealth will become his downfall. Scott and Leonhardt’s ideology of class as a social construction is exemplified through the film The Jerk, by the explanation of how money helps people if invested properly, but also how it can destroy people if money is invested incorrectly. Society has created the idea of class based on the amount of money a person has.

Scott and Leonhardt state in their article that individuals can move between classes. Scott and Leonhardt state, “There are poor and rich in the United States, of course, the argument goes; but as long as one can become the other, as long as there is something close to equality of opportunity, the differences between them do not add up to class barriers” (86). This makes it easier to understand that an individual can experience the different classes: poor, middle, and rich.

For instance, Scott and Leonhardt use the example of individuals that start out poor, but work their way up to move from their original class, into a different class. To represent the concept of social construction of class, they use the example of “a hand of cards” to emphasize a person position in social classes. The authors use the idea of the hand of cards to explain “The four commonly used criteria for gauging class: education, income, occupation, and wealth” (88). This explains how an individual can be ranked into classes based on the level that an individual shows on each class.

To sum up, Scott and Leonhardt’s key argument is that as a social construction class has a big influence when it comes to rank individuals based on how much money they have and social class. Scott and Leonhardt would argue that Navin from The Jerk would go against the idea of working hard and becoming rich. Navin is a poor “black child” that’s constantly being abused in a way that the characters in the movie take advantage of his kindness. Navin is a foolish white man, raised by a black poor family of sharecroppers, and he doesn’t realize he’s not black.

This shows how Navin starts out in the poor class, but worked his way up to the rich social class. The social construction of classes’ impact Navin is illustrated on how a simple idea such as the “Opti-grab” led him to a big fortune. For Navin, growing up in a poor class family inspired him to discover more about the outside world. For example, one scene in which class as a social construction is being displayed is when Navin is in bed where he finds himself instinctively tapping his feet to a sound on the radio, instead of a low-down blues.

He says “It’s unbelievable! …, well if this is out there think how much more is out there! This is the kind of music that tells me to go out there and be somebody! ” (The Jerk). This quote shows how from this point forward Navin’s adventure to St. Louis and the movement between classes starts. Therefore, although he grew up in a poor family, Navin will experience the idea of moving between classes. Navin experiences the movement between classes through the different jobs he is able to have; as a pump gasser, weight guesser, and as an inventor of the “Opti-grab.

These jobs support the idea of social construction of class in a way that he starts out with a job where he gets pay “$1. 10 per hour” which is basically consider poor class, then he goes into a carnival where he works as a weight guesser which can be consider middle class, and last he invented the Opti-grab which made him get a fortune. I noticed that every time Navin gets pay, he sends a small portion of the earning money to his family. That money later on will become the salvation of all his problems.

Undoubtedly, the main way The Jerk uses humor to poke fun at the social construction of class is through the idea of the “Optic-grab” glasses. One day at the station, Navin has an idea which led to the creation of the “The Opti-grab,” a combination handle and nose-brace for eyeglasses. When Navin fixes Mr. Stan Fox glasses, Mr. Fox says, “If I can develop these glasses, we are going to divide 50-50 the earnings” (The Jerk). This invention would later bring a big fortune to Navin’s life. Navin was surprised when Mr. Stan Fox give him the first check of “$250,000 big ones” for the sales of the “Opti-grab” glasses.

As the movie continues, Navin experiences mobility when he moves from the poor class, then middle class, and the rich class. This means that all the money he earns from the glasses, he uses to buy the house of his dream. Therefore, the “Opti-grab” idea left a big fortune for Navin, that didn’t last forever. The “Opti-grab” is a product offered for sale without testing it, and after earning all that money, his entire fortune die because of a mistake he made for no testing the product. Navin lost all his fortune because of a suit against him and his irresponsible selling of a product which he didn’t even test.

Carl Rainer a business man explains that the Opti-grabs is “like a magnet, your eyes are constantly drawn to it and you end up cock-eyed” (The Jerk). As a result, Navin is forced to return all the money earns for the sales of the glasses. This means that all his fortune is over and now he does not have money at all. The profits that he made from the Opti-grab evaporated in a class action lawsuit. The movie ended with a poor Navin Johnson getting back together with his now rich family and Marie, his true love after his rags to riches story comes to a terrifyingly sudden ending.

In conclusion, as a social construction class is mobility, meaning that individuals move between classes. In the film The Jerk the concept of social construction of class is illustrated by Navin, an adopted son of a black family that experiences the movement between classes that’s known as mobility. Navin teaches us a lesson that money is not everything in this world. Currently, the word humor is defined as the quality of being funny and amused. Nowadays humor is used to entertain individuals, while teaching a big lesson. For example, in The Jerk humor is used to entertain viewers,

but also to teach a big lesson that family is more important than money. Overall, humor can help us understand things such as morals, manners, beliefs, and values of a story or anything in life. I believe humor is one of the most important things for human because it helps individuals laugh, while learning a big moral about life. Lastly, as time goes humor will play a big role in human life because through humor we can see and raise the value of some of the best and most beautiful things in life. Humor is another important instrument for finding happiness.