Film & Media Studies Theory

Whitman College – FMS 387

Tango de Roxanne

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While it may seem impossible to see parallels between the fantastical, magical world in Moulin Rouge and ours, there are a few commonalities within post-modern rhetoric. One of the most obvious I see is that the individuals in Moulin Rouge are incredibly wealthy. Similarly to our culture’s “Western elite”, Moulin Rouge can be linked to post-modernism generally in that their borderless world is filled with those who “have the wealth and power to travel, consumer and freely choose their lifestyles” (2).

But, more specifically, I look towards the “Tango de Roxanne” scene in Moulin Rouge. It is reiterated over and over again in our reading that post-modernism tends to “focus on questions of style and artistic representation” (9), which I find this scene to perfectly embody. It takes a classic song, “Roxanne” and slows down its tempo, has an Argentinean man sing it in a low raspy voice, and pairs it with dramatic, intense tango dancing. When I listen to the original “Roxanne” I hear the loud consistent guitar strum and the high-pitched voice of Sting. To me, it doesn’t encapsulate any of the moods that Moulin Rouge seemed to give it. But that is, essentially, post-modernism. As Jencks argues, “[it] entails a return to the past as much as a movement forward” (15). The “Tango de Roxanne” scene is only one example of many; many of the songs in Moulin Rouge are covers and takes on previous songs. Thus, Moulin Rouge is ironically taking the originals and duplicating, spinning and twisting them. “…[it] acknowledges its contemporary context in the use of materials and design in order to create an environment that playfully refers to a range of styles and epochs to generate a multi-layered space for its inhabitants” (15). It is a ‘double code’, an artistic representation. It’s trying to show that through de-creation and deconstruction, a song can have multiple layers and meanings. As Ihab Hassan lays it out in our reading, Post-modernism has an “open form” and a “dispersal” of meanings (7). If Moulin Rouge included the songs within their original forms, it would be a modern work of art. It would have the same form, the same purpose and the same presence as the originals.

Additionally, it raises questions about the songs themselves. Are there originals? Can something be altered and become the ‘new original’?

This leads me to my example of a simulacrum: The Stanford Prison Experiment. The original plan was to study psychological effects of being an inmate. After randomly selecting inmates and prison guards, the researchers were forced to cancel the experiment because people actually took on the roles of guards and prisoners- having intense psychological breakdowns or becoming harsh and crude guards. Similarly to Baudrillard’s example of tanning, the simulation became the reality. The distinction between the two became less and less important.

[link to the WIKIPEDIA article of the experiment:


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