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FRONTLINE is committed to providing a venue for documentaries that fully explore and shed light on the critical issues of our times. FRONTLINE remains the only regularly scheduled long-form public-affairs documentary series on American television. FRONTLINE produces more hours of documentary programming than all the commercial networks combined.

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We hope you enjoy these documentaries and see them as effective learning tools for becoming familiar with critical issues in our society.

Chapter 1

Country Boys

This program tracks the dramatic stories of Chris and Cody from ages 15 to 18. It bears witness to the two boys' struggles to overcome the poverty and family dysfunction of their childhood in a quest for a brighter future. This film also offers unexpected insights into a forgotten corner of rural America that is at once isolated and connected, a landscape dotted with roughshod trailer homes and wired with DSL. The program is a story of the American dream seen though the eyes of two boys about to become men and an intimate journey through that exhilarating twilight of adolescence when our lives are poised between who we were born and who we could become.

  1. Use the sociological imagination to explain the link between these two individuals and society that is central to this program.
  2. Note and describe the social forces at work in the situation presented in the program.
  3. How were these boys affected by the larger social forces? How did they resist them?

Chapter 2

The Storm

This report examines the chain of decisions that slowed federal response to the calamity of hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, government's failure to protect thousands of Americans from a natural disaster that long had been predicted, and the state of America's disaster-response system four years after 9/11.

  1. What elements of the larger social structure can be observed in this program? Think in terms of statuses, roles, groups, organizations and social institutions. Can you find examples of role conflict?
  2. What can we learn about norms and values of local and national culture from this case?
  3. Explain the problem from each of the three major sociological perspectives.

Chapter 3

News War

This program examines the political, cultural, legal, and economic forces challenging the news media today and how the press has reacted in turn. Through interviews with key figures in print, broadcast and electronic media over the past four decades -- and with unequaled, behind-the-scenes access to some of today's most important news organizations, the program traces the recent history of American journalism, from the Nixon administration's attacks on the media to the post-Watergate popularity of the press, to the new challenges presented by the war on terror and other global forces now changing -- and challenging -- the role of the press in our society

  1. Use this program as a case study to explain how reality is socially constructed.
  2. Do any of the actors in this situation fit the profile of moral entrepreneurs?
  3. Can you find any examples of a self-fulfilling prophecy in this episode?

Chapter 4

The Mormons

This program explores both the history and the current reality of the Mormon faith. The producers gained unusual access to Mormon archives and church leaders as well as dissident exiles, historians and scholars both within and outside the faith. The director explained that, "Through this film, I hope to take the viewer inside one of the most compelling and misunderstood religions of our time."

  1. Explain the Mormons as a religious subculture.
  2. What are their institutional norms?
  3. How do they impose sanctions?

Chapter 5

The Soldier's Heart

This program explores the psychological cost of war and investigates whether the military is doing enough to help the many combat veterans coming home with emotional problems. With unprecedented access to active duty service members at Camp Pendleton, a Marine base in San Diego, and through interviews with mental health experts both in and out of the military and members of a Camp Pendleton support group, the program uncovers one of the underreported stories from the war in Iraq.

  1. In this program, the soldier's problems are explained psychologically. Can you explain them sociologically?
  2. How has the experience of war affected their selves and identities? Do the soldiers give you any insights into the construction of a looking glass self? If so what are they?
  3. How do you think their military socialization plays into the situation? What are the consequences of being in, and out of, a total institution (i.e., boot camp and the military in general) for the soldiers?

Chapter 6

A Hidden Life

In May 2005, readers of Spokane's Spokesman-Review awoke to a startling story: Spokane's Republican mayor Jim West had been leading a double life. In public, he was a conservative politician who had co-sponsored legislation forbidding gays from teaching in public schools. But in private, the paper reported, West spent hours trolling for young men on the Internet, sometimes using the trappings of his office as bait to lure them into more intimate relationships. The story briefly made national headlines and ultimately destroyed West's political career. This program looks beyond the headlines to find a story that is much less clear than it initially seemed. Featuring access to all sides of the story and close readings of the mayor's Internet chats and other documents, the program examines a man's struggle with his sexual identity, a newspaper's controversial online sting, and the growing tension between a politician's private life and the public's right to know in an age of online communications.

  1. Explain the story of Jim West dramaturgically in terms of the dynamic between front stage and back stage?
  2. What techniques of impression management were employed in this case? Were there performance teams? If so, what were they and who comprised them? Can you find examples of accounts, aligning actions or cooling out in the program?
  3. Use this program as a case study to explain the link between social problems and private troubles.

Chapter 7

The Farmer's Wife

This program takes us deep inside the passionate, yet troubled marriage of Juanita and Darrel Buschkoetter, a young farm couple in rural Nebraska facing the loss of everything they hold dear. It recounts the moving story of Juanita and Darrel's romantic love affair and begins the journey to the core of their emotional struggles, which have pushed their marriage to the brink.

  1. What is the impact of social class on this family?
  2. How do they fit into the model of the traditional family? How does the normalization of divorce factor into their situation?
  3. How is the family affected by economic forces?

Chapter 8

The New Asylums

This program provides a look deep inside Ohio's state prison system to explore the complex and growing issue of mentally ill prisoners. With unprecedented access to prison therapy sessions, mental health treatment meetings crisis wards, and prison disciplinary tribunals, the episode provides a poignant and disturbing portrait of the new reality for the mentally ill.

  1. Explain what you see in this program in terms of the three elements of deviance?
  2. How do power and labeling play into the situation presented in this program? Is deviance depoliticized in this context?
  3. Explain how this situation fits into either, or both, of the models of criminalization or medicalization?

Chapter 9

Is Wal-Mart Good For America?

This program explores the relationship between U.S. job losses and the American consumer's insatiable desire for bargains. Through interviews with retail executives, product manufacturers, economists, and trade experts, correspondent the program examines the growing controversy over the Wal-Mart way of doing business and asks whether a single retail giant has changed the American economy.

  1. How does "the Wal-Mart way" fit into the discussion of McDonaldization? How is it similar? How is it different? How does it complement the theory?
  2. Use what is presented in the program to explain the processes of globalization. Be specific and give examples.
  3. Can the impact of Wal-Mart on society be described as a social dilemma such as the tragedy of the commons? How or why not?

Chapter 10

A Dangerous Business

This program examines one of the most dangerous companies in America. In iron foundries danger is everywhere and demands on workers are relentless. And in this very dangerous business, where they make the water and sewer pipes essential to our lives, there is one company whose production, the government says, has left a trail of death and dismemberment. But even when workers have been killed the company continued to put employees at risk. And the government has few tools to stop them. With foundries stretching across 10 states and Canada, over the last 7 years the company has amassed more safety violations than all its major competitors combined. Privately owned by one of the wealthiest families in the country it is called the McWane corporation. This program is a report on how thousands of employees and neighboring communities in the United States and Canada have been repeatedly put at risk by a company in a dangerous business.

  1. How do the situations of the workers at the McWane plant fit into the discussion of the social class system from the text?
  2. Discuss the McWane story from a structural-functionalist perspective.
  3. Use a Marxist class model to explain the circumstances surrounding the McWane story?

Chapter 11

The O.J. Verdict

On October 3, 1995, an estimated 150 million people stopped what they were doing to witness the televised verdict of the O.J. Simpson trial. For more than a year, the O.J. saga transfixed the nation and dominated the public imagination. Ten years later, this program revisits the "perfect storm" that was the O.J. Simpson trial. Through extensive interviews with the defense, prosecution and journalists, the program explores the verdict -- which, more than any other in recent history, measured the difference between being white and black in America.

  1. Can you find expressions of prejudice and racism in this case? What stereotypes were exploited?
  2. How did institutional racism factor into the different reactions to the Simpson verdict?
  3. Use examples from the program to explain the concept of quiet racism?

Chapter 12

American Porn

This program reports on the forces behind the explosion of sexually explicit material available in American society. Through interviews with adult entertainment executives and lawyers, porn producers and directors, federal and state prosecutors, anti-porn activists and a Wall Street analyst covering the entertainment industry, the program examines the business ties between respected corporations and porn companies, the rise of extreme hardcore porn, and the pending political battle that may soon engulf the multibillion-dollar pornography industry.

  1. Use what you observe in the program to explain the process of objectification. Be specific and give examples.
  2. Explain the connection between pornography and rape as presented in the program.
  3. Does pornography, as presented in this program, lead to the devaluation of women? Why or why not?

Chapter 13

Living Old

For the first time in American history, those over the age of 85 are now the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population. Medical advances have enabled an unprecedented number of Americans to live longer, healthier lives. But for millions of elderly, living longer can also mean a debilitating physical decline that often requires an immense amount of care. And just as more care is needed, fewer caregivers are available to provide it. This program investigates this national crisis and explores the new realities of aging in America.

  1. How does this program fit with what you have read in the chapter?
  2. What impacts of age structure can you observe in the program?

Chapter 14

Tank Man

In this episode the producers go to China in search of the single, unarmed young man who, On June 5, 1989, one day after the Chinese army's deadly crushing of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing, stood his ground before a column of tanks on the Avenue of Eternal Peace. Captured on film and video by Western journalists, this extraordinary confrontation became, an icon of the struggle for freedom around the world. The program asks: Who was he? What was his fate? And what does he mean for a China that today has become a global economic powerhouse?

  1. Use your sociological imagination to explain the link between the individual and society that is central to this episode.
  2. Note and describe the social forces at work in the situation presented in the video. What role does ideology play in this context?
  3. Find examples from the video that illustrate reform, revolutionary and counter movements.