Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Deconstructing Stephen King's "The Mist"

A consequence of late capitalism has been the emergence of the culture industry where there was once the works of great men of art and music, there is now only a massive manufacturing of ideas and popular themes from the wealthiest of sources. A school of complaint has been that culture has been totally assimilated into capitalism, where standardized portions of it are being doled out in the same manner as Che Guevara t-shirts or pre-ripped jeans. The typical belief, even amongst the most generous of us, is that the culture industry has been dictating beliefs and morals down to the audiences for years now, where, “…the masses are not primary, but secondary, they are an object of calculation; an appendage of the machinery. The customer is not king, as the culture industry would have us believe, not its subject but its object” (Adorno 55). The idea to get across is that the kings of cultural icons, such as Hollywood, have been beaming intentions, ideas, and needs down into the masses through their vehicle of mass media.

Through their control of the media that so many people watch and spend for every day it’s purported, by many of us, that they are able to influence or even control the thoughts and spending habits of the typical viewer. The implication being made here, which has grown into an outright claim in some camps (particularly Marxist ideologists), is that us common people are rendered helpless while the rich and powerful masters of media dictate to us their message. However, I volunteer that this premise is fundamentally flawed, and that the audience does not simply serve as a vessel waiting to be filled by the ideas of Hollywood.

Another late capitalist school of thinking, deconstructionism, has emerged from the school of Jacques Derrida. He begins by drawing upon an earlier philosopher who demonstrated that the idea that anyone, much less a higher industry, sending down a message to an audience without it receiving some sort of interference or otherwise alternate interpretation on the way was astounding in its sheer ignorance. To presume that any mode of communication, movies in this case, could initiate such a perfect transfer of information from the lips of Hollywood to our minds would be to assume that we have achieved a level of perfection in language rendered impossible by the logic of Ferdinand de Saussure, who says that, ““…language has neither ideas nor sounds that existed before the linguistic system, but only conceptual and phonic differences that have issued from the system” (Saussure 70). The entire framework of language, according to Saussure, is based off of signs which only attempt to represent meaning, rather than being intrinsically meaningful in themselves. What this means is that communication necessitates an intermediary which will always obscure the original meaning, if only a little bit. In terms of Hollywood it means that even if they execute a given clichéd scene over and over in each movie, they cannot deliver the same meaning behind it ever time because although the same cliché may attempt to signify the same idea it is always up to our interpretations.

If language universally cannot be used to present a consistent meaning with each telling then the premise behind the culture industry weakens significantly; it is almost impossible to claim that an industry holds sway over the minds of an audience when each member is not even assured of seeing the same thing. The primary consequence of this is the disassociation of language from any sort of intended meaning, forcing meaning to be determined in the minds of the viewers, spawning any number of interpretations. Saussure says that, “The bond between the signifier and the signified is arbitrary. Since I mean by sign the whole that results from the associating of the signifier with the signified, I can simply say: the linguistic sign is arbitrary” (Saussure 62). The signifier is the word in language, and the signified is the meaning that the word is trying to convey, and their relationship has no meaning.

The subversive message that this entails is that if we analyze any given movie which is purported to have a single meaning or intention behind it then we know that that presupposition is a lie. The movie, by the necessary failings of language and the sign, can be deconstructed and shown to have any number of interpretations, even ones highly contradictory with the intended meaning. In this way I will deconstruct the film “The Mist”, showing that while the movie’s methods of delivering its message may appear solid and describe a certain narrative meaning, but because it’s content can never truly reflect thought or meaning, the movie’s message ends up subverted by its own content.

It is ironic that this deconstructionist bent does not allow me to summarize the movie, or any text, for another individual as I may simply use an interpretation which supports my own beliefs the most strongly. I will, however, present a summary paraphrased from Rodger Ebert’s own website:

“In ‘The Mist,’ based on a Stephen King story, a violent storm blows in a heavy mist that envelops that favorite King locale, a village in Maine. When the electric power goes out, David Drayton and his young son Billy drive slowly into town to buy emergency supplies at the supermarket […] You may not be astonished if I tell you that there is Something Out There in the mist [such as] Creatures that devour half a man in a single bite. David and Mrs. Carmody become de facto leaders of two factions within the store: (1) the sane people, who try to work out plans to protect themselves, and (2) the doomsday apocalypse mongers, who see these events as payback for the sinful ways of mankind” (Ebert)

The tagline of the film is that “Fear Changes Everything” (Berardinelli) and coupled with the obvious dichotomy set up between the protagonist and the religious Mrs. Carmody there is clearly a message that we are intended to see here. Being familiar with many Hollywood clichés and continuous plot line recycling, we can gather that the conventional meaning drawn from the movie is that untamed people blinded by their prejudice are bad, while being the opposite (a thinking, accepting person) is a good thing. The movie’s message is a very classic one in Hollywood, and up until the ending the movie superficially follows through to deliver the message on all fronts. The ending is a bit of a twist, so I will warn you that I am going to spoil it later on in this paper.

Regardless, however solid the movie’s premise and subsequent message may appear, even a small degree of scrutiny will demonstrate the contradictory elements in their presentation. The actual content goes beyond and veers away from the supposed overall message, leaving the movie (as stated earlier) subverted by its own language. Having presented a brief summary, I will go through several key scenes in the movie and show the contrasting anti-moral that lies within them.

To say it in short, when we actually look at the movies content closely, it will portray the exact opposite outcome from what is commonly believed. Rather than saying that people should use reasoned opinions based on evidence, common sense, and human decency, I will show that the movie advocates blind faith as the ideal way of looking at the world. The movie demonstrates this through its text, the plot and the action based consequences which occur to the various characters, leaving bad ends for those who do not simply utilize blind faith. The message “Fear Changes Everything” will not change people for the worse, but for the better, when they become blind and reflexively prejudiced.

The movie begins with an argument between the white protagonist David and his black neighbor Brent. I mention their skin color because this dichotomy is clearly made in order to deliver the quickest impression of difference and contrast possible. The two eventually come to a mutual understanding with each other because both of them have suffered property damage in a thunderstorm the previous night. This is where the movie begins to set up a theme of acceptance and setting aside your differences, and even David’s son Billy speaking approvingly of the scene, asking, “Does this mean you’re friends now?” The text, incidentally, is consistent with their message so far.

When all three of them reach the supermarket the scene goes out of its way to introduce three soldiers who, ordinarily browsing the market for snacks, are called back from leave (vacation) and proclaiming that, “Another half hour and we’d been gone”. For our purposes this is a significant scene because it introduces a sort of fate, which we know to be a powerful narrative force keeping them within the store. While we cannot say that it is the author or director, as they have been divorced from the scene the moment ink was put to paper, the content itself speaks to us that they have a purpose and cannot leave.

The first truly important deconstructive moment, though one whose impact we won’t see until the end of the movie, appears at the next scene. The titular “Mist” rolls in, with a man stained in blood running away from it saying that anyone who enters it will die, which sets up the next moment now that the fate of those who enter the mist seems to be certain death. A woman ignores the reasoning of everyone there (namely, going into the mist will kill you) and says that she must find her children, and she’s certain that because she wants to find her children so badly that she will be alright. This is the first test of blind faith here, but no one follows her, with her even asking, “Isn’t anyone going to help me? Won’t anyone escort a woman home?” She is met with only silence and with that she walks off into the Mist.

Jumping ahead to the end of the movie I will say that she survives, having been spared not only death in the Mist (for no apparent reason, people were dying in the Mist both before and after the time she stepped out of the store) but the rest of the madness that is soon to take place in the supermarket. This first and ultimate test of blind faith, faith without any knowledge whatsoever, comes out to be the most successful. The lesson the text itself is giving us here is to ignore what people say and even ignore what you may think, and simply act on your impulses. Regardless of what the audience may think, the text has her succeed by every measure the medium can produce: She lives, doesn’t suffer, and the plot bears all this out. A litmus test for the veracity of her actions is to ask yourself, if the other characters did exactly what she did instead of what they did do, would they be better off?

Derrida has said, “The exteriority of the signifier is the exteriority of writing in general, and ... there is no linguistic sign before writing” (Derrida 309). The writing, and in this case the entire movie, is exterior to the intentions of the director and author. As strange as the morals and lessons I say the movies presents appear or sound, it cannot be denied that the text cannot transmit the more Hollywood friendly ideas that the director wishes to place upon us. The text is now on its own, leaving us to judge it based by the sheer amount of content and consistency it has within its own plot.

Continuing, the people now trapped in the Supermarket now begin to split up into groups. What Ebert missed in his review is that there were three main groups: The first group is headed by David’s neighbor Brent who represents the demand for evidence because they refuse to believe there are monsters in the mist unless they see them with their own eyes. The second group is the solitary Mrs. Carmody who believes that God’s wrath has finally come down and that they should listen to her as the voice of God if they wish for penance, though she has but a single follower at this time. Lastly, there is David, whose group is desperately trying to tell Brent that there are indeed monsters and that they shouldn’t leave.

Consistent with the contradictory sub theme I’ve presented, Brent refuses to take blind faith in David’s words about the monsters. As the audience we know this is foolish because we’d just seen David fight off a monster on his own, though unfortunately out of view of everyone else. What ends up happening is that Brent takes his people out into the Mist looking for help, and then they all die horribly. We are not assured that their fate is ambiguous like the woman at the very beginning (who simply faded out of view) because we are treated to a gore fest with a character even being split sideways at the waist. The text has shown us again that blind faith was the right path.

Later on, Mrs. Carmody, the religious leader is portrayed as psychopathic, petty to a murderous degree (willing to kill people for small slights), willing to sacrifice human lives to the Mist and a God who she claims only she can hear, and quick to judge and condemn anyone who does not follow her own beliefs and commands (calling nonbelievers whores and destined for Hell). She even puts forward a brand of anti-progressivism, counting amongst the blasphemies against God, “Walking on the Moon! Stem cell research! Abortions!” Clearly we are meant to see this as a regression to barbarism and she as a very unsympathetic character, even being cast and made up as more ugly than a beautiful blond woman (who has a professional vocation, unlike the jobless Mrs. Carmody) who sides with David. This is the classic case of the villain being set up only to be knocked down by our hero later. Once again, however, the text screams out to us that even through the typical Hollywood characterization, she and her brand of blind faith are the correct ways to do things.

Mrs. Carmody begins to gather followers with a series of predictions she makes regarding the Mist, most of them along the lines of saying that monsters will attack in the night or that people who venture out will get killed. When she promises peace after a human sacrifice, the monster in the Mist strangely do not attack that night, and when she promises that they will strike against unbelievers (those who leave the store and her influence) many of them do die. The audience is set up to believe that there are painfully obvious predictions that only gather listeners because they are scared and primitive (she’s a villain, of course she is wrong on some level), but the plot of the movie portrays a very different message. Like the woman at the beginning, everything she says in the name of blind faith is right, and we soon find out that she also passes our litmus test, with everything possibly having turned out better if David simply listened to her.

In the buildup to the climax, David and his small group decide to leave on their own in fear of Mrs. Carmody but are found out. She incites the mob to attempt to sacrifice David’s son, cementing Hollywood’s intention to cast her as an incorrect villain, and she is shot in the head and killed in the aftermath. The curiously drawn out scene of her blood pooling beneath her is a final look at the end of her evil ways, and David’s group is able to stalk out of the store unopposed. Their plan is to drive in a single direction until they can either escape from the Mist or die having tried.

In the ending, the final scene shows them running out of gas and David pulls out a gun which, tragically, has only enough bullets to kill everyone in the car but one person. Having lost his blind faith in finding help and escaping the Mist, David takes it upon himself to shoot the survivors, including his own son, before walking out into the Mist to be killed himself. A loud noise enters the scene which we believe to be a monster when, instead, a tank rolls out of the now dissipating Mist. In these few seconds you realize two things: They were driving away from help the entire time, and secondly, you see the survivors of the supermarket as well as the woman from the beginning of the movie driving by in rescue trucks.

This ending cements the antithesis of the entire film. When we look back at the demands of Mrs. Carmody, to simply have David’s son killed, if he had obliged then the rest of the members of David’s group would have lived. If they had listened, blindly, to Mrs. Carmody at all then the subject of sacrificing David’s son (which was done in retaliation to David’s trying to escape) would never have come up and they would have all lived anyways. Even worse, if they had simply kept to the blind faith that rescue would come, even for five minutes longer, no one would have died either. The plot bears out the complete and total punishment of characters that face reality and use reason, and the absolution of those who threw logic to the winds and went with their unsubstantiated faith.

We have an interesting opportunity here because the movie ending was added for the movie, and the book simply ended with them driving off into the Mist (before the group suicide). The opportunity is to see how a singular change in the content will change the entire message drastically, regardless of the message that was intended behind the whole thing. The final argument here is the suggestion that there is, “A rupture between the originary meaning of being and the word, between meaning and the voice,” (Derrida 316). The mere fact that a single additional scene would absolutely warp the thesis of the movie, much less piled on top of all the other evidence, shows a disconnect between our ability to interpret and Hollywood’s ability to provide.

In analyzing any text, not simply this movie or any movie, the audience can always find a contradicting meaning through careful study of the language used to make it up. Scenes, words, clichés, or even images will yield results completely negating what the author says the intention of the work had originally been. This is important because it allows us to subvert the machinations of those who would control us through the media, giving us the principal foundation upon which we can fight off their influence from. If language can never truly support the ideas of those who speak it, then it is up to us as individuals to derive our own message from it.

Works Cited
Adorno, T.W. "Culture Industry Reconsidered." The Audience Studies Reader. Ed. Will Brooker and Deborah Jermyn. London: Routledge, 2003. 55-60.

Berardinelli, James. Mist, The. 2007. Reelviews. 10 May 2009 .

Derrida, Jacques. "Différance." Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Micheal Ryan. Massachusetts : Blackwell Publishing, 1998. 278-299.

Derrida, Jacques. "Of Grammatology." Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Micheal Ryan. Massachusetts : Blackwell Publishing, 1998. 300-331.

Ebert, Rodger. The Mist (R). 21 Nov. 2007. Digital Chicago Inc. 10 May 2009 .

Saussure, Ferdinand de. "Course in General Linguistics." Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Micheal Ryan. Massachusetts : Blackwell Publishing, 1998. 59-71.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Finding the Feminine in the Masculine

Today's analysis is going to feature another video game character, Lara croft. A buxom two pistol toting Archaeologist, she's been the subject of a range of controversies. Some people have hailed her as a decent direction for gender in gaming as a strong female protagonist, while many others have said she's an exploitative character who relies on pure sex appeal to grab audiences. Most importantly, though, she serves simultaneously as a sharp contrast and stunning parody of the normal male video game protagonists.

The character is adventurous, fearless, rich, has two guns, loots artifacts from dangerous ancient crypts, and wears a pair of shades. Likely intentionally, these are the exact same characteristics as any male game protagonist except for the notable gender difference. On this note, French Philosopher Luce Irigaray says that there has always been, "...perhaps only one 'path', the one historically assigned to the feminine: that of mimicry. One must assume the feminine role deliberately" (Irigaray 795). The point being made here is that Lara Croft only exists as a byproduct of the male culture, and thus is unable to serve as a symbol for feminism or women in general. She is exactly as I have said, a female Duke Nukem or Indiana Jones, who still carries all the intrinsic qualities of men with nothing that can be called distinctly "feminine".

She can only serve one of two purposes them; either she remains as a symbol of male dominance and the role of women as their counterpart, or there is yet some redeeming feature of Lara which causes her to stand out amidst the modern culture industry. Irigaray continues, “…if women are such good mimics, it is because they are not simply absorbed in this function. They also remain elsewhere: another case of the persistence of ‘matter’, but also of ‘sexual pleasure’” (Irigaray 795). She means that even if women are being used as tools of affirmation for the male, these is a possible subversion taking place where the female still manages to show off something that is entirely hers. When a woman plays with imitating the values of men, if they are able to avoid being completely consumed by it, she is able to interject some idea that wasn’t originally there.

Does Lara Croft serve this purpose in any way? We know that the values which went into her creation are solely the property of the male culture, but has she escaped with some value which was not originally there? I believe that the backlash against her as a poor role model has generated something of worth for the feminine movement. At best she serves as a symbol to show how ridiculous the testosterone filled muscle men heroes of popular media are, but she also brings up another question of contrast. If Lara is everything that a feminist symbol should not be, then everything that she is not should give a guide for what it means to be an effective feminine character.

From Irigaray again, “In other words, the issue is not one of elaborating a new theory of which woman would be the subject or the object, but of jamming the theoretical machinery itself, of suspending its pretension to the production of a truth and of a meaning that are excessively univocal” (Irigaray 796). In it’s rampant disregard for any truth in femininity, Lara Croft may succeed as a figure who does two things: 1) She models herself after all the male value systems and 2) She is a laughable parody who cannot be taken seriously. Lara’s role in the ridiculous acts as the proverbial “monkey wrench” in the machinery, forcing viewers to question what it means to be truly feminine by mocking everything that it is not. It may not have been intentional, but its effectiveness does not become any less for it.

Works Cited
DragonzFyre, Todd. "Lara Croft". Image from "Digital Danger Girl - Lady Tomb Raider". http://digital_danger.tripod.com/wannabe.html (22 April 2009).

Vince. "Duke Nukem." Image from "Duke Nukem Forever - A History In Trailers". http://www.teamteabag.com/2008/04/21/duke-nukem-forever-a-history-in-trailers/ (22 April 2009).

Rivkin, Julie and Michael Ryan, Eds. Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd ed. Malden: Blackwell, 2004.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

A Closer Look at Deconstruction

While there has been a mixed reaction to the Post-Modern movement, mainly by those who see no meaning behind language and those who think the first people are ninnies who are too attached to their thesaurus, the legacy deconstruction left us is a very important one.

A deconstruction may be arbitrary and seem made up in many cases, but in some it can cause us to question the very ideas presented to us in a text. What do I mean by this? I had a very difficult time (and still am!) trying to get my head around the concept. Here’s my example; let’s say that we’ve read the story of Little Red Riding Hood, so the plot should be simple enough to understand.

I will sum up the Brother’s Grim version shortly; a red hooded girl goes into the forest to deliver a basket to her grandmother, but the forest is dangerous as there lurks a wolf who wants to eat her (but not in public, I suppose he has that much decency). The girl tells him where she’s going, so the wolf beats here there and eats the grandmother; afterwards the red hooded girl shows up and is saved at the last second by a hunter who kills the wolf and cuts out the grandmother intact.

Now, the moral seems clear, don’t trust strangers or they’ll hurt you. That’s what might have been intended, but when you look at the facts of the matter you can come up with all sorts of weird conclusions. Take a moment to pause before I begin with the “deconstruction”:


Why would a girl be sent alone from home into the woods if there are wolves there, doesn’t that simply show the result of bad parenting more than anything? Speaking of bad parenting, is the girl to blame for speaking to the wolf in the first place if forests, presumably, often have wolves? If speaking to strangers is bad, why did a stranger (in the form of a hunter) come in to save her? Doesn’t that balance out good and bad people and tell you, instead, the moral that, “Strangers tend to cancel themselves out”? Where did the hunter come from, do we condemn him for breaking in to help, or does the story actually say that bad strangers approach you directly while good strangers come out of nowhere?

I could go on forever. Am I producing a revolutionary and scathing criticism and analysis of this age old story with my searing wit and brilliant mind? Or am I simply full of hot air and am saying absolutely nothing and thus am very stupid? Who knows.

Deconstructions can also be intentional, as in the next example:

If you don’t know Charlie Brown, he’s essentially the kid who gets kicked around by the entire world all the time. He is never allowed to kick a football, never gets to talk to the girl he likes, is hated by everyone around him, and is a terrible pitcher. Life sucks, and he deals with it.

The deconstruction here is comical; in his own comic Charlie Brown always deals with life passively, though hopefully, always going on and trying again and again. But what would happen to someone who was “pushed too far” in real life? (Virginia Tech, of course!) Or in this case an American action movie? The reaction is very different, and so we take away the original lesson that a person can persevere, and simply ask, “Is it really realistic to take as much abuse as Charlie Brown does?”

There are minor ones; what if Snoopy really had dogfights (plane vs. plane) on his doghouse? What would be –really- be with the red headed girl after all this time and effort?

Now, you may wonder, what’s the point in all of this? Well, the true value is that you shake a genre or text to its foundations when you do a proper deconstruction. If you show that someone who wants to invade Iraq and says it’s –not- for oil actually sent in oil companies their friends owned and made tons of money off it of, well you really take some of the wind out of their sails, so to speak. You can unveil hypocrisy and show that what they’re trying to show doesn’t exist, or they’re doing it completely wrong. If there’s a fat woman telling you to feed the poor and starving, then the cause doesn’t feel very worthy of your effort, once you look at it hard enough (or in this case, not so hard).

Mainly, it can be a powerful tool for testing logic. If it makes sense, stick with it; a holocaust survivor telling people not to commit genocide makes sense. If a mass murderer who sells any food you give them for more weapons asks you for more foreign aid, well, that just makes foreign aid look all the more sillier for giving it to them, doesn’t it?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Marxist Reflections, Andrew Ryan

The preceding video/audio is from a game called Bioshock; the only background needed to understand it is that it revolves around a city made by a man called Andrew Ryan who was an objectivist; someone who believes that human self-interest is the most powerful force in ones life so they should pursue their own happiness above all else.

What is interesting here is the reason for conflict between Ryan and, in particular, the Marxists. If someone believes that a person is, as Ryan says, "entitled to the sweat of his brow" does that not make him a Marxist? Most of the readings have struggled to make us believe that the workers should own the products of their own labor, and that when that does not happen there is injustice, the resulting clash being those class conflicts which Marx says have driven all of civilized history.

Ryan, however, points out one factor which was a contribution towards the failure of the Soviet Union: the difference between different jobs and different people. It is one thing to say that there is a great injustice being dealt by the bourgeois, which was undoubtedly true, but Marx was never able to elaborate what would become of society one we reached the "final revolution". The problem was that in defining history as class struggle, he divided all of humanity into those classes; one must be of the ruling class or the oppressed class, and cannot find a place for himself in between or anywhere else. He believed that the workers would be united in their disgust for the bourgeois, and that that would be enough for a sort of unity.

Marx himself said that, "...each new class which puts itself into the place of one ruling before it, is compelled, merely in order to carry through its aim, to represent its interest as the common interest of all the members of society" (Marx 657). But once we reach the "final revolution", the only thing which united Marx's masses disappears; the class conflict which defined those masses against the ruling few. Marx said that the ideals of the final revolutionaries would be enough to abolish the old class system, but those ideals which united are defined, by necessity, by the class conflict. To state it more simply, he only sees the class conflict as dividing man vs. man, and that without it we would be united and no longer oppressed.

He was right in saying that there is oppression, but his methodology is self-defeating; a divided system cannot produce something that is not like itself. What occurs when the class oppression is supposedly banished is that the differences between people and jobs begins to take precedence. This is Ryan's complaint; if he is able to create so much more than another, does he not deserve it? To leave him with his fortune would be to create a new class oppression; the new 'haves' are the capable, and the new 'have-nots' are the incompetent. And thus, Marx's class struggle begins all over again with no end in sight. To take his fortune away from him, however, is its own unique form of oppression, that being waged against the highly capable. What the Soviet Union chose was the latter.

Work Cited
alciadanet. "Andrew Ryan (Bioshock) speaks out against altruism" Youtube.com. 20 Oct 2007. 17 Mar 2009 .

Bioshock. 21 Aug 2007. 2K Games. 17 Mar 2009.

Rivkin, Julie and Michael Ryan, Eds. Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd ed. Malden: Blackwell, 2004.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Freudian Song Analysis

Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” offers the unique perspective from the very end of a man’s life, as he looks back on everything that has happened to him. More importantly, it allows us a look at how well he feels he’s resolved the greatest conflict in his life, between his expectations, what was expected, and what he actually did. Freud has said that, “We can only see that identification endeavors to mold a person’s own ego after the fashion of the one that has been taken as a model” (Freud 439). The identification he speaks of is with the father, which he says always become the ideal for the young child, and eventually is encompassed by the development of the superego; the perfect ideal as presented by society which encompasses most of our notions of ‘right and wrong’.

“I’ve lived a life that’s full
I’ve traveled each and every highway
But more, much more than this
I did it my way”

The singer feels satisfied with their life because they’ve strived towards the ideal of living life by their own will; interestingly, we are certain that this is the victory of the superego, the part of us that wishes for long term perfection over short term gratification. We know this for certain because, as said, the singer is at the very end of their life; there is no more short term gratification, and any that existed has long since passed its influence over him.

Freud has said that the superego develops in opposition to the id (the id being our seeking of instant pleasure) because, “…it seeks to avoid the unpleasure which would be produced by the liberation of the repressed. Our efforts, on the other hand, are directed towards procuring the toleration of that unpleasure by an appeal to the reality principle” (Freud 434). When Freud speaks about our personal efforts, he is speaking about what would later be referred to as the ego; the force which mediates between our ingrained desire for pleasure and the laws which are set before us. The Superego/law is set, and our need for pleasure is set, and all that is left (the ego) is our own conscious influence in our lives.

“Regrets, I’ve had a few;
But then again, too few to mention
I did what I had to do;
And saw it through without exemption”

Sinatra describes the conflict in these few lines. His regrets are the things he’s denied himself throughout his life, most likely linked to something that brought him pleasure (a lover? The loss of family?) but, as he says, he’s always done “what I had to do”, speaking about his obligation to do things in the proper manner which he has grown to believe in.

“I planned each charted course
Each careful step along the byway
And more, much more than this
I did it my way”

The idea that he’s consciously charted out a path through his life shows a heavy use of reason and a long term goal set for himself. It is more evidence that he has pursued the ideal life of a man over the petty pursuit of short term pleasure. More importantly, however, he continues to visit the idea of “I”, or the self. As said, Freud believes the self is a three-part organism, but Frank Sinatra uses the term to show the part of him which can exert will over where he goes in life. Rather than denying Freud, he has merely prioritized his conscious will, the ego (and the ideal, superego, whose methods he follows), over the other areas of his mind as being the most important to him.

The absolute certainty is interesting, in that he therefore manifests no neurosis or nervous tick. Freud has said that the neuroses people carry represent something we’ve repressed and have never truly gotten over. In other words, “He is obligated to repeat the repressed material as a contemporary experience [neuroses] instead of…remembering it as something belonging to the past” (Freud 434). For the singer, though, he recalls everything as in the past and behind him.

“I’ve loved, I’ve laughed and cried
I’ve had my fill; my share of losing
As now, as tears subside
I find it all so amusing
To think I did all that;
And may I say – not in a shy way
No, oh no not me;
I did it my way”

The singer here has had traumatic experiences which may have plagued him by his wanting to express them (as prompted by his id), but having the rest of society and his ideals pressuring him not to (from his superego). What he has managed, and as we said that the ‘he’ he clearly identifies himself most strongly with his conscious ego, is to come to a compromise between the two competing pressures. By performing his life by his ideals and principals, he knows that he has repressed nothing; he has done everything as greatly as his abilities would allow, and to him, that is enough. He has realized the limitations of a pure id, since he knows he cannot simply laugh and cry for the rest of his life, and has accepted that to do things “his way” is sufficient.

“For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught
To say the things he truly feels;
And not the words of one who kneels
The record shows I took the blows-
And did it my way!”

To say it again one last time, the singer prizes not simply the pleasure of life, but the proper pursuit of it above anything else (the ego in pursuit of the superego, as is the balance within this individual’s desires). To him, a man will not submit and kneel to authority as the id may want (to give up for a short term release from pain), but will not waver from the integrity he believes a man should have. No matter the pain of life, which is now at its end, he knows that he had never compromised the ideal for the pleasure principle.

Work Cited
laseruwe. " Frank Sinatra - My Way - 1974 New York." Youtube.com. 1 Mar 2008. 3 Mar 2009 .

Rivkin, Julie and Michael Ryan, Eds. Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd ed. Malden: Blackwell, 2004.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Symbol as Person.

"Alfred Hitchcock, master of suspense"

This is the silhouette of Alfred Hitchcock, the man born on 1899 as the second youngest of his two siblings. Of course, this isn’t how we know him, these facts which can be searched up in Wikipedia. We know him as this silhouette, no longer as the man. He is simply the creative force behind a series of excruciatingly tense movies which tested our suspense and psychological limits, such as “Psycho” or “The Birds”.

I’m certain that more people recognize this outline more readily than they do the true sound-image of Alfred Hitchcock, and in many ways it supplements his name as the “sign” bridging the gap between his image and what he signifies to us. Outside of his movies, we’ve seen many parodies of characters with unique outlines (fat people, large breasted women, etc) filling out a white chalk outline of their own. He’s become as famous for this simple series of lines as he has for his revolutionary movie techniques.

How did the man become the thing? How did his life history, even his whole movie philosophy, become distilled into a series of curves? It’s much the same as asking how anything becomes a series of curves and lines. Let’s begin with this one:

We use signs, according to our readings, to connect and represent something real with something we internally posses of them. And this connection is completely arbitrary; the letters spelling his name (A, then some lfred Hitchcock) have the same inherit value (outside of describing him) as the silhouette above. What’s important is our response to these images, and what is it exactly which is evoked? Again, for most of us, it’s Alfred Hitchcock as a filmmaker who really knew how to get people on the edge of their seats.

Picture From:
George, The Alfred Hitchcock Page. 18 Feb 2009 .

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Describing a picture, with a "Word Picture"

Click on the image. I posted it, but you need to see it in full size, scrolling down to take in the whole of it. You can just look at it objectively, like a defamiliarization would want you do, but I really recommend clicking on it, then having to scroll down.

The first thing I need to note is that this is a single image, magnified further with each panel downwards, focusing the viewer’s attention on a single aspect of the car. Having understood that, the image seems to be of a red car sitting in the parking lot. It has a liscence plate, “R214 UNO”, and the surrounding buildings look like residential homes, as opposed to industrial buildings. The sky is white, or a light grey, showing what may be an overcast sky. The trees are bare, and the fact that they have no leaves combined with the weather seems to show a winter or autumn atmosphere.

The car itself is shiny, so it must be very well waxed to achieve this effect. It is also very clean, and unblemished. But you can also see that the picture emphasizes the car’s right headlight. To say any further on the subject would infringe upon my responsibility to describe “what is seen not what is intended”.

Now I’m not very knowledgeable about the virtues of defamiliarization, and I could possibly have everything wrong about it, and be proven a major fool, but…what is the source of comedy from this picture, if not from the qualities that the author (the photosmith who magnified the headlight for us) clearly intended us to see?

I have spoken on the subject a small bit on the class discussion board, and to summarize the major point there, I asked; while formalism is excellent for comparing one piece of art to another, what use does it have in creating art? In making art more, greater than the art before it? To cut out the intention of the author, I believe, is to miss the point of much of the art that exists (though not necessarily all of it, there are always exceptions).