Gotham City

Hey, guys, sorry this one is a little late, Relay for Life threw off my circadian rhythm a bit and I’m not sure how long I’ve been asleep in the past couple days.

When we were talking about urban decay in the past few class sessions, I could not help but think of Batman and Gotham City.  It seemed, in many ways, like the epitome of the concept.  It is a morally bankrupt city rampant with crime and super villains, with one beacon of hope, who himself is shrouded in darkness and mystery.  The citizens seem very alienated from each other and this is further compounded by the fact that their hero lives a lifestyle, almost through necessity, that embodies isolation.  Bruce Wayne is housed in a gated mansion and leaves for appearances at events with individuals he has only superficial connections with.  His alter ego, Batman, is also a loner to a large degree and takes time to accept robin as a sidekick.  It is a very interesting society.  Even Harvey Dent, former District Attorney and defender of the law becomes mutated by a horrible chemical to become Two-Face, a criminal with a twisted, extreme view of the justice system.  This is just one example in the city of corruption.  Crime bosses control all, ranging from traditional mob bosses to humanoid villains as a few vigilante heroes attempt to hold them back.  The most organized groups in the city are criminals, not law enforcement.  May such a city never come into existence.

When we spoke about New York and came to the topic of alienation and the distance people feel from one another it really made me think.  I truly believe that physical and perceived distance created from overpopulation and long work hours can be overcome through effort.  We must be optimistic or we would never undertake the actions necessary to change the type of society we find in the city.  I am not saying everyone will be accepting of our efforts, but it is the type of lifestyle and community worth fighting for.

Anti-Communist Propaganda and Anti-Anti-Communist Comedy

When I was young I loved cartoons of all kinds, ranging from Tom and Jerry to Popeye The Sailor Man to Dragonball Z. Through this simple, animated medium I saw continual rivalry, heroism and the power of spinach. A well-made series broke down larger, more complicated concepts in a way a child could understand and did so in an exciting and captivating manner. This being said, it would make sense for any group wishing to promote an agenda to use cartoons to communicate a message to a wide demographic. In the following cartoon, Dr. Utopia’s wonderful formula promises to cure all the ails of the America population.

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For the farmer it promised a great yield and favorable weather, for the manager massive profit and no strikes, for the politician government control and the ability to choose your salary, and for the worker higher wages and security. All each of these individuals had to do was sign on the dotted line and they would receive their bottle of ISM free of charge. The only person who chooses to question the contract is John Q Public. He discovers that the contract actually offers the signer’s freedom and that of future generations in exchange for ISM. When he tells the others to sample the product, they imagine a world of slave labor in which the government determines all and they have no power to retaliate. Ultimately, Dr. Utopia is run into the distance by the other characters as they hurl ISM bottles at him.

Through the oversimplification of both positions, the cartoon exalts American freedom and government while demonizing the ideals of communism. This is a feature of many of the films of the Cold War era we have read about and seen in class presentations. Furthermore, it continues to be a feature of the modern day media, especially in times of questionable governmental action. It is easy to unite against abstract forces that seem to be the root of all-evil, no matter which ISM they are. The media develops blanket terms that threaten our way of life and anyone who does not unite against the forces is deemed un-American. It is a divisive strategy that, on the surface, serves to give credibility to the actions of any group, especially the government. Recently a friend of mine directed me to an article I found most disturbing.

Simply put, it states that the Texas Board of Education is debating legislation that will alter textbooks in a radically conservative way. Among the proposed changes are decreased emphasis on the influence of the Latino population and the addition of country music as an important cultural influence (hip-hop is to be dropped from the list). More importantly, Texas sets standards for approximately eighty percent of the nation’s textbook market. Potentially this could alter the way children learn, inundating them with false and biased concepts about the nation’s history. In middle school we all learned about the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus. We learned about his three ships and the first Thanksgiving. However, many of us did not learn about his massacre of the Native Americans rivaling that of any conquistador. Early education system tends to have a conservative slant, almost denying the atrocities the United States has committed in its history. It is yet another method to generate blind patriotism in the nation’s citizenry. It is only as I have developed a more cynical, yet pragmatic, view of the world that I have truly realized the half the media sounds like this underneath all the jargon and propaganda.

Gender Roles in Film Noir

Sorry for the delay in the post guys, but here we go!

Pandora's Box

According to Wikipedia’s article on the famed Pandora’s Box, “Pandora had been given a large jar and instruction by Zeus to keep it closed, but she had also been given the gift of curiosity, and ultimately opened it. When she did so, all of the evils, ills, diseases, and burdensome labor that mankind had not known previously, escaped from the jar, but it is said, that at the very bottom of her jar, there lay hope.” Now, such myths, in collaboration with the biblical tale of Eve tempting Adam to partake of the forbidden apple, have characterized women as the downfall of mankind. This concept, in my opinion, has had a significant impact on the media and all forms of art ranging from painting, sculpture, drawing and, in our study, film. What I speak of is the prominence of the femme fatale character in the films we have studied thus far. Whether it is Elsa Bannister from the Lady of Shanghai (1948), Gilda from Gilda (1946), or Laura from Laura (1941), women are shown to stir the emotions of and expose the vulnerabilities in the male leads. Furthermore, our reading of Laura Mulvey demonstrated that women are also display pieces that satisfy our scopophilic urges whether we view them from the perspective of an audience member or look through the eyes of the cast. Film’s paternalistic roots have made it such that women are primarily objectified and, in the instances in which they demonstrate power, they do so out of self-interest and treachery. We have bought so far into the idea that, a “strong woman” is viewed as a woman who behaves like a man.

In the Lady of Shanghai, through her beauty and feminine charm, as well as her ability to portray herself as a damsel in distress, Elsa uses Michael and George as tools to further her own agenda, eventually leading to Michael’s imprisonment. In Gilda, Gilda provokes Johnny to no ends, compromising his position and causing him to act irrationally. You see the rage that arises on his face each time she enters the room and, despite his attempts to be apathetic, he acts out of spite. Though the film has a happy ending, Gilda has an overall negative effect on the male protagonist. In Laura, a calculating and overly logical human being, Walso, is transformed into a possessive and jealous man for love of the fair Laura. Though it can be argued that his own ego is his downfall, even Laura herself seems to feel that she is, at least partially, the source of his demise. In all these films, women have a severely negative impact on the behavior of the male lead, despite their intentions. Their power is apparent only as far as they can exert influence on the male characters, as they are shown to have no direct control of their own. Viewing the films in this light, as is commonly done in film noir, however, would be a mistake. There is greater complexity to the roles, as is discussed by Julie Grossman’s piece, Film Noir’s “Femme Fatales,” Hard-Boiled Women: Moving Beyond Gender Fantasies. She explains how our characterizations of woman limit the ways in which we view them in society and shows us the necessity of reassessing the concept of gender. Women are to be seen as they are as human beings, beyond the constructed ideal that has been imposed upon them.

It was very interesting when, in class, we found it extremely difficult to name strong female characters that did not demonstrate traits we found to be classically male. I believe this is rooted in a tradition of male defined social roles. We must realize that social dynamics are products of the people of their time. There is no male or female trait until we ascribe value to an abstract feature, whether it is sensitivity or apathy, or passiveness or forcefulness. These are just features of human beings that have been accepted as defining one sex or another for so long that we have become accustomed to them. Despite the revolution in thinking brought about by the feminist movement and the civil rights movement, our mainstream film has lagged behind the times. If only the hope found at the bottom of Pandora’s Box could lead to film representing the true HUMAN condition.

I would love to hear all of your thoughts on this issue.