Film & Media Studies Theory

Whitman College – FMS 387

Actress or Courtesan?

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One of the things that struck me most about postmodernism in relation to modernism was postmodernism’s push-back as to the question of what is art. Modernism often quoted popular culture but did not embrace it. Modernism was marked by a distinction between high and low culture. It is this distinction that some aspects of postmodernism push-back against. Moulin Rouge (2001) exemplifies this question through Satine’s (Nicole Kidman) character and her fixation on becoming a real actress.

The first real scene of the Moulin Rouge is when the crew of the Spectacular Spectacular attend the show in the hopes of acquiring funds for their production. The extravagant musical number to introduce the setting is fantastic in it’s own right but Satine is of course the star of the show. Satine is lowered down from the ceiling covered in diamonds and singing“Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend.” I was immediately struck with a similarity between her showmanship and that of Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953). Satine is constructed as the center of the show, all eyes are on her and she is loving it.


Later when we are given access to Satine’s less guarded moments and her more private thoughts we learn her true desire is to become a “real actress.” She means a stage actress, like what she becomes later in the show but who is to say what a real actress is or isn’t. This is further highlighted when Satine’s first number in the Spectacular Spectacular is again “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend.” The difference is that this time she is on a stage in a “legitimate” play wearing Indian style wardrobe.


Moulin Rouge challenges the idea of what it means to be an actress. Satine is already a star in the beginning of the show, that’s why she is so desirous to begin with. “The most important consequence of the new sensibility, with its abandonment of the ‘Matthew Arnold notion of culture, finding it historically and humanly obsolescent’ is its claim that ‘the distinction between “high” and “low” culture seems less and less meaningful” (Storey, pg. 183). Partly due to the way the story of Moulin Rouge is constructed Satine’s character in Spectacular Spectacular is the same as her character within the rest of the movie. The lack of difference between Satine’s character as a “real” actress and her character as “the sparkling diamond” of the Moulin Rouge is a postmodern push back as to the idea of high and low art. Postmodernism moves past that distinction, as does Moulin Rouge with the question what does being a “real” actress entail.


For my example of the simulacrum I chose Grand Theft Auto 5. And also this article about a beta from Auburn who wanted to have GTA5 in real life. The creation of Southern California (albeit satirical) and the world of GTA5 in relation to real life and how real life operates. The concept of the video game open world as real life.

Auburn Beta Steals Truck, Kidnaps Woman, And Hits 9 Cars, All To See What Playing Grand Theft Auto Was Like


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