Film & Media Studies Theory

Whitman College – FMS 387


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The “Male Weepie”

 

The movie 50/50 is a prime example of William’s notion of the “male weepie” as articulated on page 611. The movie is centered around Joseph Gordon Levitt’s character who is diagnosed with are rare spinal tumor and given a 50% chance of survival, fulfilling the obvious melodramic role of the sick woman. He and his best friend, played by Seth Rogan, deal with the implications of his diagnosis, and display genuine care for each other, engaging in the “activation of the previously repressed emotions of men” and break the taboo against “male-to-male hugs and embraces” (611). By doing so, the characters help usher in a “new femininity of men” (611).

Furthermore, this was one of those films that made me leave the theater like oh shit man, all the feels, all the feels up in here. Thus, banking on personal experience, this movie is a serious “male weepie.” 

ALSO:

BROGRABS

 


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The Darkest Timeline

 

            Key in the understanding of postmodernism is the eradication of the difference between “popular” and “high” art; indeed the postmodern creed allows for the “popular” to become elevated into the realm of “high” art (Malpas, 21). This elevation of pop art allows for a “democratisation of art,” freeing artists to do non-classical types of work, thereby expanding “the forms and techniques that might be counted as artistic [and allowing for] the involvement of sections of the community” who had previously not been considered artistic to create “high” art (Malpas, 20). Postmodernism, as John Storey describes it, is a “populist attack on the elitism of modernism;” rather than accepting that the ideas of past eras as canon, postmodernists insist that all those who came before were asking and answering the wrong questions through their art (Storey, 405).

            In Baz Luhrmann’s award winning musical, Moulin Rouge!, the postmodernist philosophy can be seen in action. Set in 1899, the middle of France’s famous Belle Époche,  in the bohemian Montmarte district of Paris, considered part of the city’s underworld, the film sets out to redefine our understanding the era’s art. In the film, cabaret, a highly popular and successful nightclub/theater style is elevated from, smutty, “popular” art, to glamorous, “high” art; while the star of the titular cabaret of Moulin Rouge!, the courtesan/prostitute Satine, is too elevated from lady of the night to star. Indeed the other main character, Christian, represents the “democratisation of art,” as he, almost by accident, is able to gain access to this glamorized world in order to produce a play (Malpas, 20). This elevation creates a certain desirability in what could otherwise be considered an undesirable situation.

            In the scene El Tango de Roxanne,” the glossy façade begins unravel, as the viewer is shown the dark realities of courtesan life in the Montmarte district. Satine, faced with the choice between losing everything she dreams of, or sleeping with the despicable Duke, reveals herself as a true courtesan, sacrificing her body for the sake of the production. As she prepares consummate this sacrifice, her lover, Christian, and the Argentinian, Koman, sing a mashup of Roxanne (a song written and performed by The Police, themselves part of the postmodern, populist New Wave genre of the 1980’s) and the Tango. With the lyric “you don’t have to sell your body to the night,” makes the view painfully aware of the situation, creating questions about “what sort of world is being created” in this moment of the text (Malpas 24). The viewer is left with no doubt that these characters, despite their previous allure, are creatures of the underworld, as Zidler, the owner of the titular cabaret of Moulin Rouge!, is so keen to remind Satine throughout the film. 

 

THE SIMULACRUM:

HAL 9000 is a perfect example of a simulacrum as he (I guess its a he…?) exists without existing, he is “hyperreal,” appearing and interacting with other characters despite lacking a physical form. Indeed, on a base level, HAL 9000 is nothing but a string of binary, rendering him fully in the realm of the simulacrum. 

 

ALSO! In my book is probably the second best use of “Roxanne,” with the best being in the episode “Remedial Chaos Theory” of Dan Harmon’s Community.

LOVE IT. 

http://www.free-tv-video-online.me/player/gorillavid.php?id=xtr8xaevc5cv


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An Snobbish East Coast Boarding School’s (but actually a culture theorist’s) Take on Spike Lee’s “Bamboozled”

According to his writings, cultural theorist Stuart Hall would have seen Spike Lee’s Bamboozled as an exaggerated yet effective means of demonstrating the hold that “inferential racism,” or the “apparently naturalized representations of events and situations related to race,” has on our society (162).

Lee’s film is centered around a television show entitled Mantan: The New Millennium Minstrel Show, a weekly variety show starring African American actors in blackface performing boorish acts and supposedly lampooning racial stereotypes. Originally designed by its creator, Pierre Delacroix, a black film executive, to be unpalatable to any audience due to its extremely racist content, the show somehow gets picked up by the network and becomes an overnight sensation, becoming popular with people of all demographics, but also inspiring an expected negative response.

This sudden popularity, as Hall would argue, is due to the “grammar of race,” specifically the  “base-image” of “the clown,” an entertainer who pokes fun at his own race by “putting on a show for others” (164). Creating a situation where the performer is acknowledging his own race and its racial stereotypes in order to create humor, however, as Hall writes “it is never clear whether [the audience] is laughing with or at” the entertainer, leaving much room from interpretation (164).

In Bamboozled, the implication is that the audience is doing both, laughing at the buffoonery of the characters on stage but at the same time identifying with them, as evidenced by the number of people (including people of all races) who attend the show’s taping in blackface and proclaim themselves loudly (and in horribly racist accents) to be “n*****s.” For Pierre and the audience, the show’s “modern and glossed up images” of racist representations and performances allow the audience to “put the old world of [racism] behind them” and allow them to feel a form of identification with black culture (165).

However, this is a false identification, as Hall argues the “white eye is always outside the frame,” as the identifiers (“rhythmic grace [and] expressivity,” along with childlikeness, boorishness and over-excited-ness) are not actual representations of black culture, but rather “unquestioned assumptions” formulated during a long passed era that have been “naturalized” overtime (163, 162). Additionally, the “white eye” serves to “position” the characters on stage, meaning those traits that “the clown” is acknowledging are not in fact actual, racial identifiers of his race, but rather pre-assigned and “naturalized” assumptions (163, 162).Therefore, the audience cannot identify with the material in the manner they seek, and instead identify only with their ideological norms.

Spike Lee even uses personification to demonstrate the “white eye” in the form of Thomas Dunwitty, the white executive responsible for green-lighting Mantan, and claims to be “more of a brother” than Pierre because he has a black wife and two multi-racial children. During the final taping of the show, Dunwitty shown in blackface, viewing the proceedings from the control room; when things go awry, his muffled voice can be heard cursing through the glass. Despite his efforts to identify with the show’s content (wearing blackface) he cannot, as he is physically watching through a window and behind glass, and metaphorically left “outside [of] the frame” (163).

Clearly Spike Lee’s Bamboozled demonstrates the hold that “inferential racism” has on our society by illuminating that racial comedy is one of the more insidious means by which racism remains in our twenty-first century society, and illustrating the ways that the “white eye” influences our societies understanding of race (162, 163).

Also my example:

Dave Chappelle’s Comedy Central show was literally cancelled because Chappelle realized that no matter what he did his show only reenforced racist stereotypes and inferential racism in America and ran off to Jamaica. Thus, I give you my example.


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Frankenstein’s Monster: A Love Affair

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Since it’s writing in the early 19th century, Mary Shelley’s classic monster novel “Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus” has captivated readers; and, with the rise of the cinema has grown into a cultural obsession, one that continues have an intense effect on our society. To date there have been fifteen official adaptations and countless other free adaptations, demonstrating the tale’s hold on our consciousness. Indeed Frankenstein is an incredible example of abjection in western culture.

The creation process of  Frankenstein’s monster, though largely glossed over in Shelley’s work, involved the reanimation of dead flesh (in the 1931 film, directed by James Whale, the monster is constructed from the severed limbs of dead criminals) with the application of electrical current. Frankenstein’s creation is nothing more than an galvanized corpse, but as the monster is literally constructed from the humanity must dispose of and “permanently thrust aside in order to live” (Kristeva, 3).

In both Shelley’s original and the Whale adaptation, the creature, once born, is rejected by its creators, causing the creation much shame. In the original, the creator, Victor Frankenstein himself, is horrified with his creation, he reacts violently “in the presence of signified death” and flees from his laboratory, abandoning his creation, which flees into the wilderness (Kristeva, 3). In this moment, Frankenstein sees the monster, eight feet tall with black hair and lips, and feels “a massive and sudden emergence of uncanniness,” the creature has been created on man and in man’s image but is not man and thusly monstrous; rather than “assimilate” his creation, chooses to “expel” it (Kristva, 2-3).

The creature itself most definitely inhabits the “border” between filth and purity, as it its a “composite,” of both life and death (it lives yet it is constructed from the dead) and of the individual cadavers that constitute its body (Kristeva 4). Moreover, as Frankenstein’s creation is not human, it directly “threatens life,” and must therefore be “radically excluded” from society, an act performed by the villagers in the Whale adaptation (Kristeva, 2).

Honestly I can think of no better example of the abject than Frankenstein’s monster due to its cultural longevity and our society’s perpetual “pleasure in [the] perversity” of the walking cadaver (Creed 256).

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$10,000,000,000 and I won’t see a dime.

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Through the application of eligibility restrictions, which include enrollment, a minimum GPA, amateur athlete status (no financial reward for competition), the NCAA is able to exert its “domina[nce]” and impose “moral leadership” over the student athletes by forcing them to conform to the established system (Gramsci 75). Before they can ever compete or even practice with their teams, student-athletes must sign a waiver of acknowledging the NCAA’s eligibility rules, and consenting to their application.

By signing this document, the player signs away his right to any financial or material reward for his or her contributions to the team, the rights to use his or her image on promotional materials. The student-athlete also agrees to the NCAA’s right to drug test them at any NCAA event.

Thus the NCAA is able to secure a workforce and their media rights, without having to pay them a dime, all whilst holding them personally accountable for following the NCAA’s rules to the letter and attending school.

The NCAA can then sell the rights to broadcast NCAA competitions and funnel the profits directly to the member institutions without ever having to pay the players a dime. For example, in 2010 the NCAA sold the media rights to broadcast thousands of collegiate athletic competitions through the year 2014 to CBS/Turner for $10.8 billion dollars (NCAA.org/finances).

Technically, the NCAA “does have and request consent” from its athletes before profiting from their image and endeavors, but “it also ‘educates’ this consent” by limiting the players other athletic options, meaning that the content of the agreement is left to the private initiative of the ruling class” and contains no input from those who sign it (Gramsci, 79).

By enforcing the rules of amateurism, and coercing the cooperation of student-athletes across North America, in effect commodifying their athletic pursuits, the NCAA is able to ensure unbelievable profits for its Member Institutions, all without having to compensate the student athletes. Therefore the NCAA functions as a perfect hegemony, able to exploit its athletes, whilst restricting their ability to to do the same.

http://ncaa.org/wps/wcm/connect/public/ncaa/finances/revenue

http://deadspin.com/5860390/the-ncaa-accidentally-leaked-five-years-of-financial-statements-online


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And the Crowd Goes Wild.

There was a time when people believed in heroes who walked among us. Heroes who stepped out upon the sprawling greens of America’s baseball diamonds and performed feats of strength unmatched in the history of sport.

In the fall of 1998, after a long summer, Mark McGuire performed one final feat of strength: on September 27 he hit his seventieth homerun of the season, becoming the first player ever to do so, and setting the all time single season homerun mark a full nine higher than the previous record.

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In 1999, this advertisement, featuring Mark, a bat, a glass of milk, and his famously monstrous biceps and forearms bared for all to see, was published. The baseball bat, which had looked so large in the hands of the great sluggers of yesteryear now looked tiny, almost like a toothpick in the hands of McGuire.

To see this advertisement was to see McGuire, the summer of ‘98’s great hero, relaxing with a cool glass of milk. This would clearly denote to the viewer that Mark McGuire drinks Milk. But it would also connote that the source of Mark’s great homerun hitting prowess came from his enjoyment of a cool glass of milk. Thus the message was simple: Drink milk, be like Mark, hit homeruns.

For America, which had recently renewed its love affair with baseball, after a bitter strike ended the 1994 season and sent the sports popularity into a freefall, the association of milk with the mythical Mark McGuire, must have been resulted in a prodigious increase in sales. This advertisement not only represented Americans love of Mark McGuire, Milk, and the homerun, but with baseball itself. But, in due time, the mythology of the ad would change drastically. The ad, which had once represented the revival of baseball’s popularity would come to represent the downfall of one of its heroes.

The myth had begun to change even before McGuire hit his seventieth homerun of the 1998 season. On August 22nd, CNN/SportsIllutrated had posted an article detailing McGuire’s use of the partially banned steroid “Androstenedione,” know colloquially as Andro. The drug was proven to increase strength and improve recovery, meaning that McGuire’s seemingly superhuman feats were just that: superhuman.

By 2005, everything had changed; public outrage over steroid usage in baseball had resulted in Congressional hearings on the subject. McGuire was asked to testify, and in front of the Congressional committee, exercised his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent. With allegations flying, suddenly McGuire was a villain.

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The Myth of McGuire and his milk, of the power hitting savior of baseball, had been eroded and in its place was new image: Mark McGuire and syringe. To look upon the original image would denote the same meaning as in 1999: Mark McGuire Drinks milk. But it would connote something new entirely. The connotation has become that Mark McGuire, once a hero, was a liar, a cheater, and a drug abuser. The American people now knew why the bat looked so small in his hands. His smile, the subtle tilt to his head, the milk mustache, all of it seemingly dripped with deceit. For his actions in the clubhouse and before the US Congress, Mark McGuire lost his hero status.

When I look at this advertisement, the connotations I see are likely very different than what most people see. I grew up idolizing Barry Bonds, who, in 2001, would break McGuire’s record by hitting 73 homeruns. He too was implicated in the use of steroids and other performance enhancing drugs. What I see when I look at this image is neither blind admiration nor hatred. What I see is sadness. Some of my fondest memories are of Barry Bonds driving a ball deep into the night sky. Of almost blinding camera flashes in the stands behind him. Of Bonds standing, arms raised high, bat falling to the ground, watching as the ball sails high over the fence while the crowd goes wild. In this ad I see sadness and I know that these memories are colored by the revelations of steroid usage in baseball. I see the loss of that childish naivety that every man, woman, and child had when seeing the feats of strength performed by these men.

Thus, this advertisement is indeed a stunning example of the mythology of an image, and how that myth can change and vary. As Barthes said, here we “reach the very principle of myth: [where] it transforms history into nature” (Barthes, 114 ).

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Non Class Reading Sources:

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/baseball/mlb/news/1998/08/22/mcgwire_supplement/#more

http://yesterdayrecaptured.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/markmcguire-gotjuice.jpg?w=264&h=300

http://www.baseball-almanac.com/feats/feats1.shtml