Guide to Extract Analysis

By Michael Cunningham
Extract analysis is when you take an extract from a film, book or a play, and you analyse the selected text and put it into context. Extract analyses are a great way to to hone your writing skills and ability to flesh out ideas and themes. The best way to describe the process of extract analysis would be to compare it to the peeling of an onion. At first you describe what you see, which is the outer layer of the onion: this involves examining the language, use of repetition and colors, for example. You then gradually peel off layers of the onion, discussing the symbolism perhaps. Finally you get to the core of the extract, and this is when you start to branch your ideas of the extract into a broader perspective, linking the extract back the entire text and its social connotations are key at this stage. Finally, you wrap it up. A good structure of the stages of extract analysis are as follows:

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I Spit on Your Grave Analysis (1978-2010)

Lisa the Vegetarian

This essay examines the exploitation film I Spit on Your Grave (1978) and its recent remake (2010), and how both these films make strong comments about the culture which they were released in and the context which they were interpreted. The original film was visually enhanced and re-released on Blu-Ray this year, and therefore, along with its remake stands as a contemporary text. The essay focuses on the cultural significance of the previously banned movie being remade for a modern audience, and the voyeuristic aspects of both films. The way the film represents meaning to the audience through sound and image will also be discussed, representation being defined as the ‘process by which meaning is produced and exchanged between members of a culture… [involving] the use of language… signs and images which stand for or represent things’ (1997, p. 15). The aim of this essay is to shed light on the social and cultural significance of horror films, which are braver in their exploration of society’s taboos, and the reasons why society needs these films, as evidenced by the recent trend of their remakes. The essay also aims to explore the feminist qualities I Spit on Your Grave contain, for the purpose of this essay feminism can be defined as ‘the advocacy of equality for the sexes, in opposition to patriarchy and sexism’ (Macionis & Plummer, 2008, p. 883).

 In the last decade swarms of horror films have risen from the ground in the form of remakes, these include:

(2003), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
(2005), The Amityville Horror
(2006), The Hills Have Eyes
(2007), Halloween
(2009),
Friday the 13th
(2009), The Last House on the Left, and most recently
(2010), I Spit on Your Grave

Lizardi (2010, p.114-115) offers two suggestions as to why these films are being remade, one is that remakes are ‘commercial products that repeat successful formulas in order to minimize risk and secure profits in the market place’, while the other reason is that horror remakes have the potential ‘to reveal something to us about our recurrent fears, anxieties and hopes for the future’. Becker (2006, p. 47) contends with this view by suggesting that horror films represent ‘society’s collective nightmare’, which contain repressed issues that must be confronted and resolved.  It is worth noting that the original versions of these horror remakes mostly stem from the period of slasher films made in the 1970s, an era which was known for the carefree hippie generation and the contrasting bloodshed of the Vietnam War. Considering that ‘films are best understood in relation to the periods in which they were produced and consumed’ (Lizardi, 2010, p. 115), it is necessary for me to explore the culture that the original slasher films were unleashed upon, culture being defined simply as ‘the beliefs, values, behaviour and material objects that constitute a people’s way of life’ (Macionis & Plummer 2008, p. 882).

 With the hippie revolution dissipating, and the war in Vietnam alive and well, the American culture was slowly descending towards ‘the sinister, the heavy, and the darkly forbidden’ (Becker, 2006, p. 48). During these times, the catchy pop songs of the early 60s had been cancelled out by the dark sounds of The Doors and Led Zeppelin, while the film industry turned to horror with films like Night of the Living Dead (1968) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). These films revealed ‘a shift in the worldview of the hippie counterculture, which had its considerable hopes in the possibility of significant progressive social change undercut by immense social traumas of the late 1960s and early 1970s’ (Becker, 2006, p. 43). In the opening scene of Wes Craven’s infamous Last House On The Left (1972) one of the two female protagonists – before leaving to a Bloodlust concert – is given a necklace by her father, the camera zooms in as she puts it around her neck, revealing a silver peace symbol, a cultural icon of the hippie movement. The camera holds onto this image before fading into a fixed shot of a forest, showing the two girls frolicking towards the camera, serene music playing softly in the background. This scene is later juxtaposed when the two girls are kidnapped; the terror on the girls’ faces are shown in extreme close ups during the scenes of their rape and torture. The progression of violence is eventually capped off by showing a close up of the intestines of one of the girls being pulled out of her body; throughout all these scenes the camera is static and the music is dark and synthesized. This strong contrasting imagery represented the death of the hippie movement, and is a consistent motif of the horror films of the 70s. It was the filmmakers way of getting to the ‘guts’ of their films message, which was ‘there is a war going on, and blood is being spilled.’ A reality that was swept under the rug in the ignorant bliss of the 60s hippie counterculture.

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Network Noise

noisefilter

Last week’s article on MySpace fans burnt me out a bit, so it was nice to read this week’s article, in comparison it was a lungful of fresh air. The article by Kate Crawford (2010) titled ‘Noise, Now: Listening to Networks’, happens to be one of the shortest readings of the semester, with only 5 or 6 pages it was quite easy to finish it in one quick go without getting distracted. Another reason to appreciate this week’s reading is it is quite relevant, not just to the reader, but to all people across the world. The article uses the analogy of noise pollution to describe the ‘static of constant network connection’ (Crawford, 2010, p. 68), which has become a cloud of media’s constant presence hanging over societies head. 24/7.

 The article begins with a quote which says: ‘In the ruins of ancient Pompeii a graffito was discovered, a plea for silence scrawled across a wall: ‘Enough! Be Quiet!’, considering there are more than 11,000 sprawls of graffiti in Pompeii (wlu 2009), and most of it was dialogue between two or more people, there’s a good chance that this inscription has been taken out of context. The quote also suggests that the quote was ‘discovered’ and therefore was a rare sight with a universal message, but the walls of Pompeii were filled with graffiti ranging from: ‘O walls, you have held up so much tedious graffiti that I am amazed that you have not already collapsed in ruin’ to everyday statements such as ‘I make bread’, ‘I screwed the barmaid’, and ‘Epaphra is not good at ball games’ (Pompeiana 2008). Of course I am getting off track here, and only knew any of this thanks to the internet which has yet again managed to distract me and throw me on tangents unrelated to what I am supposed to be doing, this media distraction forms the core of this week’s reading. Crawford (2010, p. 65) states that with each new technological innovation comes a claim for noise reduction, while modern technology is relatively quiet, Crawford (2010, p. 68) argues that it produces a different type of noise, the silent noise of too much network coverage and data. This noise ‘is not the street noise that floats into open windows’ (Crawford, 2010, p. 65), instead it stalks us in our day to day lives in the form of text messages, emails, the call of Facebook and many other media distractions that we tune into constantly.

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Week 10: Networking

Interview

This week’s (technically last week’s) reading, titled ‘Rereading Fandom: MySpace Character personas and Narrative Identification’ by Paul Booth (2008) reads like an article carefully constructed by an android trying to dissect the nuances of human identity, due to its own lack of and longing for one. The article explores, or rather examines in excruciatingly painful detail, how ‘fans’ of television characters create an online identity which is not their own, but rather an extension of the object of their fandom. My conclusion after reading the article was that if Booth (2008) is not an android, then he would most likely be a closet MySpace fan, creating profiles in secret for numerous TV characters that he adores. This can be witnessed by his extraordinary wealth of knowledge on the subject, such as his suspicious knowledge of MySpace fan abbreviation: ‘”gg” is a common fan abbreviated for Gilmore Girls’ (Booth, 2008, p. 521-522.) Perhaps he is both android and secret MySpace fan… to lend support to this theory I will point towards his contrasting use of language, where he shifts from using robot-esque vocabulary to explain human identity – ‘The space of this post says a lot about one’s identity. For example, posting a comment to a fan’s persona can indicate similarities and differences upon which to build identity. We can observe this in Figure 1, the comments section of a characters persona of Gilmore Girls’ (Booth, 2008, p. 521) – to using MySpace fan lingo – ‘the poster… writes “DUDE I love gg its my fav show ever!!!!!! I love ur space its so kute!!!!’  Booth (2008, p. 521) then reverts back to his mechanical prose to make it known that the above poster in writing that comment ‘establishes her identity as a fan of Gilmore Girls’. Booth (2008, p. 522) even goes the extra step to ensure that the reader understands the hidden content of the message, ‘”it’s so kute”’ expresses her opinion about the site.’ I didn’t pick up on this when I read it, so I was very thankful that it was pointed out to me, in a way that was easy enough for me to understand. Thanx Booth!

While the writer does make an attempt to explain complex ideas in human friendly ways, he also gets a bit carried away and uses words and phrases that left me scratching my head, for example he states that ‘identity is negotiated by examining what one is not’, is this supposed to be a riddle? He then states that identification ‘thus functions “first by inducing the auditor to participate” and “next by trying to include a partisan statement” between interlocutors’ (Booth, 2008, p. 522), don’t worry, I don’t know what an interlocutor is either. One can understand why Booth (2008, p. 515) would want to be a MySpace fan, as he says ‘a MySpace fan can use narrative to help create identity online’, it is this online identity that clearly resonates within the writers circuitry and it shows in his writing, it is apparent that he is enticed by the notion of using ‘digital technology… to become alive with the fan’s community’ (Booth, 2008, p. 516), something which can only be achieved through constructing a ‘simulated reality’. The article’s main contention is that fans of television shows create MySpace personas of their favourite characters, and in doing so ‘insert themselves into, the narrative of that show’, as a result of this the fans create a space ‘where profiles of offline people and profiles of characters mingle’ (Booth, 2008, p. 517). This character mingling is exampled many times throughout the article, as is the ‘fictionalization of an already fictional narrative’ (Booth, 2008, p. 529). This fictionalisation is the process of branching off from the original story arc of a television show by a fan on MySpace. This concept is difficult to explain in simple terms so instead I will include an excerpt of one of Booth’s many examples which explain this phenomenon better than I ever could: ‘The Gilmore Girls fan profile zachandstaceforever (2007) has hypothesized a text in which protagonist Rory did not break up with her lover Dean during her college years, and instead stayed with him throughout the rest of the series. This contradicts the continuity of the series, which saw Rory later falling for different men, including rebel Jessie and heartthrob Logan.’ (Booth, 2008, p. 527)

All kidding aside, this is one those rare articles that penetrate deeply into the soul of the reader, and is one that needs to be read again and again to really absorb the depth of information and insight. I am going to have to end this blog entry here, as I am afraid there is no way to really articulate the essence of Booth’s (2008) article, as no amount of human words could really do it justice. End Transmission.

GTA San Andreas and the Pedagogy of Racism

This week we were given a choice between seven articles centered on the theme of othering, or the process of identifying those that are different from the mainstream. Glancing through the list of articles I noticed one had Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas in the title, and considering I used to play the game (and almost beat it) I didn’t hesitate in choosing it. While the article was printing I couldn’t believe I was actually about to read an academic article on a video game! The first page read ‘the intentions of the game are primarily to offer a fun experience, which it undoubtedly does’ (Barrett, 2006, p. 95), nodding in agreement I ended up on procrastination auto-pilot and found myself blowing the dust off my PS2 and pressing the on button, San Andreas was still in there. A few wanted stars later I was back sitting at my desk ready to read the article, which is titled ‘White Thumbs, Black Bodies: Race, Violence, and Neoliberal Fantasies in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas’ and was written by Paul Barrett. The title White Thumbs, Black Bodies spawns from Barret’s idea that the majority of people who play the game are white, and these white players control a black character… you can see where this article is going already.

 Barrett (2006, p. 95) asserts in his article that Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas glamorises violence and sets up the belief that ‘young black bodies’ are disposable, and in doing so naturalises violence and racial stereotype. Devane & Squire (2008, p. 266) also state that the majority of criticism towards GTA: San Andreas is focused not on its violence but on its recapitulation of media’s depiction of African Americans as hyper violent criminals. Clearly GTA: San Andreas has boiled the water of racial stereotype and has no doubt let off a steam of political criticism. Barret’s (2006) political critique of the game is one of many, but is still eclipsed by the millions of positive reviews which have transformed GTA: San Andreas into an icon of pop culture.  Devane & Squire (2008, p. 264) point towards the immense popularity of the Grand Theft Auto series which has sold more than 40 million games globally, with San Andreas selling 20 million alone, by calling the series ‘one of the most dominant media franchises of the new millennium and a cornerstone media point for millions of today’s youth’. This is the very reason that Barrett (2006, p.115) finds it so important to write his critique of the game, because ‘after all, [San Andreas] is a text which is being ‘read’ by a great number of people… it is a text that generates meaning. It actively constructs a worldview that has implications in the larger, political sphere’. This quote forms the base motive behind the article, which despite its generalisations and tangents, does help the reader to understand where the writer is coming from.

The writer is concerned with the word pedagogy, or the learning environment, and its relation to the themes of GTA: San Andreas. Basically Barrett (2006) is afraid that the game teaches the gamer to view the world through a stereotyped lens of violence and racial inequality. Barrett (2006, p. 96) believes that ‘one of the most concerning pedagogical implications of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is the way that the game represents ‘blackness’ as inextricably reduced to the body’, he supports this statement by finding evidence in the way one can customise the look of the user controlled character CJ, by changing his haircut, buying him different clothes, working out to build muscle, or eating junk food to get fat. Here Barrett (2006, p. 97) assumes that because the character is black, and the game allows the player to alter his appearance and work on improving his body, he is simply a faceless black body marked as ‘subhuman and [stripped] of politcal agency’. This is one of those ‘it’s because he’s black moments’, considering that virtually (pun) every single user controlled character in any game is technically just a body. How can a video game character be any more than a body? By this logic one could write an article on Super Mario, and how the protagonist Mario is stereotyping Italian-American plumbers as faceless bodies who jump around a lot and occasionally throw fireballs. Only a few games exist where the player can actually hear the thoughts of the protagonist, one of them is Heavy Rain (2010) released on the PlayStation 3. Considering in this game you can hear the characters thoughts, one could argue that the character is more than just a body, but a body and a mind, right? But this is a needle in a haystack example as very few games implement the player’s thoughts into the game, so it is impossible to single out San Andreas without attacking the majority of video games in terms of the avatar being simply a body. In Heavy Rain (2010) not only can you hear the character’s thoughts, but you can also control them to do a variety of bodily actions, from getting out of bed, brushing their teeth, shaving, showering, to putting their clothes on. But this is even more extreme than making CJ change clothes or eat food in San Andreas so does that reduce Heavy Rain’s characters to bodies as well? There are no black playable characters in Heavy Rain so I assume Barret’s answer would be ‘no’.

CJ Fat

Barrett (2006, p. 97) further demonstrates his point by describing CJ’s speech as a ‘mechanical, reflexive, bodily action where what the black character actually says is not important’, the writer concludes from this that ‘in this sense, the black male becomes defined primarily as a body’. The previous two GTA avatars were white and had even less emphasis on character development and speech than CJ in San Andreas (the first GTA game even featured a white mute as the protagonist, he didn’t have any dialogue!), but because of their colour Barrett didn’t think to probe those games, but instead jumps on the first GTA game to feature a black main character. The irony in this approach is that it in trying to criticise racial stereotypes, Barrett is being completely racist in the process. CJ, or should I say ‘the black character’ (Barrett’s words, not mine) actually shows very human qualities and has dialogue which is important to the progression of the storyline and the game. This dialogue is presented in cinematic like ‘cut scenes’ spread throughout the story. Miller (2008) agrees that these cut scenes ‘allow for the presentation of extended dialogue, narrative exposition, and character development‘; the words character development being the most important here, as it dismisses Barrett’s (2006) point that what CJ says is unimportant, thus blowing his racial theory out of the water.

 Barrett (2006, p. 97) makes a comment that racism and fascism disconnect actors from their own agency by making them solely physical beings, controlled by an external power. He compares this to San Andreas where ‘the black male is strictly a body who literally is controlled by some external authority’ – this is where the title of the article ‘White Thumbs, Black Bodies’ comes into play. Here Barrett (2006) is suggesting that the majority of people playing San Andreas are white, and are controlling a black character. He is also suggesting at the core of this nonsensical racial onion that this means white people are an external authority, controlling, and even oppressing the black body, which is seen to be something that is useless and disposable. This is another grand generalisation as arguably every single game character in the universe is controlled by another ‘external authority’, but only when the character is black does it have it have to become an issue. My contention here is that Barrett sees racism where it does not exist. It is almost as though he is searching for it far and wide, and in his hunt somehow lands in the world of video games, scanning left and right for a game with a black lead character. It is racist for the writer to assume that the person playing and enjoying the game is strictly white. I’m sure out of the 20 million people who own it, more than a few black people have enjoyed it as well. Barrett (2006, p. 98) states that ‘during much of San Andreas the white player is commanding his black avatar to shoot black characters… creating a strange pedagogy of black-on-black or white-on-black violence’, here is an example of where the writer makes his subtle assumption that not only are the majority of the players of San Andreas white, but also the implication that this creates a learning environment of white on black violence.

 The writer then moves on to the game Manhunt (2004), created by the same company that made San Andreas. He states that ‘while the main character in Manhunt is white, many of the gang members he kills… are not’ (Barrett, 2006, p. 103). Now I can’t exactly prove this to you, but I have a copy of Manhunt, (which I bought in America years and years ago – the game is banned in Australia) and there is not a single black enemy in the entire game, the enemies are all white skin heads. This makes Barrett’s point moot, and further establishes my point that he sees racism where it clearly doesn’t exist. However, I think it’s about time I gave this Barrett fella a break and agreed with him on something. I agree that video games are unnecessarily violent these days, especially Manhunt, and I agree that GTA games such as San Andreas mark the public arena as a threatening space which is full of violence and danger. While the violence portrayed in San Andreas (2004) and Manhunt (2004) are completely different – the violence in San Andreas being stylised and not very graphic – the main concern with the game is its approach to violence in the sense that it is so widespread and easy to commit. In Manhunt, however, the violence is dark and gritty, it is a lot harder to inflict violence as you have to do it stealthily (if you get spotted it’s pretty much game over) while in GTA it is easy to leave the entire police force in the wake of your apocalypse. The executions that can be performed in Manhunt (gacekkd, 2007) paint a pretty grim picture of violence in video games, the YouTube video is linked in my bibliography and in it you can witness not only the violence but also the lack of any ‘black bodies’. Barett (2006, p. 115) mentions that ‘San Andreas acts to naturalise and, thereby make more acceptable, the violence of the real world’, this is the contention that I tend to agree with in the article, as the violent nature in video games has become so normal in today’s society that it desensitises us to real world violence. We live in a society where violence sells as much as sex does, and we as the consumer, have become numb to it through constant repetition in all forms of media. Miller (2008) makes an interesting point that a lot of complex anti-social and violent actions in San Andreas have been reduced to the pressing of a single button, for example if you’re near a car on the street and press the triangle button on the controller, CJ will automatically run up to the car door, force it open, punch the driver in the face (or bash his or her face on the steering wheel) and throw him or her onto the road. CJ will then climb into the car, slam the door shut, and close the door while saying some random one liner such as ‘I know this seems bad but it could be worse’, or ‘I need this more than you… I think’. All this occurs after the pressing of one single button, and after all this goes down, the holding of the x button will allow CJ to burn out of sight with his newly acquired vehicle. They don’t call it Grand Theft Auto for nothing! (Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, 2004)

I will conclude this long and drawn out critique with a quote from our old friend, Barrett (2006, p. 110) who says of video games: ‘clearly these are forms of entertainment, and are intended to be taken as such, [but] they are also pedagogical vehicles that contribute to an ideological environment in which war and neoliberalism become all the more justifiable’. Word?

 

References

Feminism and the ‘Male Gaze’

This week’s reading by Debra Merskin (2006, p. 202), asks the question that is clearly on everyone’s mind: ‘Where Are the Clothes?’ The text explores the sexualisation and pornographication (my spell check agrees that this is a made up word) of modern advertising, and its secret agenda to ‘maintain the sexual subordination of women and keep us men thinking of them as sexual objects. While this short little introduction might paint me as an antifeminist, I assure you I’m just trying to have some fun here. Merskin’s article radiates with the ‘us vs. them’ feminist mentality that is used to make themselves feel victimised. The way I see it, feminism needs a constant stream of proof that women are less important than men, they feed on this stream and draw their power and strength from it. I will make a point here that I agree with Merskin’s (2006, p. 203) contention that ‘female identity in advertising is almost exclusively defined in terms of female sexuality’, this is almost impossible to disagree with as we are constantly bombarded with sexual advertising, after all ‘sex sells’. This reminds me of a scene from the Simpsons where an attractive woman is posing in front of a car that can be won in a competition, after Homer puts his competition slip in the box he asks her ‘Do you come with the car?’, she giggles and the next manin line puts his slip in the box and asks her the same question (Xxoveruledxx, 2010).

 This Simpsons scene, though comical in nature, hints at the not so humorous reality of advertising that Merskin discusses. Is the woman selling the car or is she selling herself? Obviously the car, but it seems that men typically associate the two things as being one in the same, they think that by owning the car, it’ll eventually attach itself to beautiful women. Merskin (2006, p. 203) states that this is due to modern advertising being more involved in selling what the product stands for rather than the product itself. Merskin’s article is centred on the idea of the ‘male gaze’ which is defined as the way men look at women in a voyeuristic fashion. Men have and always will have this gaze when it comes to women; it’s a part of our evolutionary code, after all we are men! Jerry Seinfeld says that ‘Looking at cleavage is like looking at the sun, you don’t stare at it. It’s too risky. You get a sense of it and then you look away’ (Glorby, 2009), advertising has clearly decided to cash in on this risky and frowned upon male gaze by making images of women available everywhere and on everything, for men and women to look at without risk of embarrassment. I’m sure these days even cooking magazines will consist of a few teaspoons of sexually suggested images. The only beef I have with Merskin’s approach is she’s writing about old news, trying to making it seem fresh and new, we don’t need more reminders about what has happened to advertising, as we see enough of it every day, and we certainly don’t need to read 10 pages of advertisements being vividly described. Considering I haven’t seen any of the ads she is describing, it’s difficult to picture what the ad actually looks like, and after the 15th description you just surrender and say ok I get it, I’ll take your word on this ad, it’s about sex. Merskin even dedicates a paragraph to explain the difference between ‘hardcore’ and ‘softcore’ pornography and just for fun throws the word ‘snuff’ into the mix, but what does all this mean? Am I supposed to be reaching for my pen and paper to write an angry letter to Gucci or Calvin Klein? What does snuff have to do with advertising? And where is my sandwich!?

 The Calvin Klein jeans commercial by Brooke Shields in the 1980s (PaceysGirls, 2008) is a perfect example of the duality present in modern advertising. In the commercial Brooke Shields is shown putting on a pair of jeans whilst talking about genes and ‘selective mating’. Even though the ad is about jeans, and the word gets said a lot, it is actually talking about genes, natural selection and sex. This is the typical formula of modern advertising, the duality of selling both a product and sex at the same time. While Merskin’s article does point the flashlight at an issue of concern in today’s advertising, it is one that can’t be solved by complaining about it, and especially not by over exaggerating its danger, which is most evident when Merskin (2006, p. 213) contends that rapists should not be the target of assault prevention, but the media for its portrayal of women as sex objects. Should we point the finger at violent movies instead of murderers as well? Besides, most men aren’t flipping through women’s magazines anyway, these advertisements selling shoes and belts are targeted at women, not men. Therefore I conclude that there is validity in Merskin’s article and her contention that advertising focuses itself on female sexuality to sell its products, but I don’t agree that these advertisements can be considered to be pornography, nor do they exist solely to maintain the subordination of women.

Sex

REFERENCESS:

The Panopticon – Big Brother is Watching, Probably

This Week’s reading is an excerpt from Michel Foucault’s book Discipline and Punish which explores the prison system and how it was born out of the security imposed upon the ‘plague-stricken town’ of the seventeenth century (Foucault, 1997, p.205). Foucault also introduces the reader to Bentham’s design of the Panopticon – a cylindrical wall of prison cells with a large tower at its centre. In this analysis of the week’s reading I will outline the basic points that Foucault has made and make some connections of my own drawing from media and literature sources. I will also add to Foucault’s discussion of the Panopticon by drawing on its symbolic connotations and how they relate to the prison system, the individual and society as a whole. Word?

The reading begins with Foucault describing a typical scene of a seventeenth century town that has been contaminated with the plague. The writer vividly illustrates the process of security that is put in place to avoid further contamination, and in doing so sets up the reader to notice similarities between what is being described, and what we know of the modern day prison system through books, movies, and crazies on the street. Foucault states that every town inhabitant must stay indoors while the front door is locked from the outside; ‘each individual is fixed in his place. And if he moves, he does so at the risk of his life, contagion or punishment… only the intendants, syndics and guards will move about the streets’ (Foucault, 1997, p. 195). This is very similar to what is done in prisons during ‘lights out’, where all the prisoners are made to go back into their cell, which is then locked, leaving only the patrolling guards and officials on the prison grounds. Foucault (1997, p. 196) continues his description of the plague stricken town by mentioning the guards stationed in observation towers at each of the town gates, in the town hall and in every quarter. This is to ensure that the town people are obedient and comply to the rules, and ‘also to observe all disorder, theft and extortion’. It is clearer than sky now that the prison was born out of this seventeenth century scene, which even has townspeople being summoned to their windows for the daily roll call. Prior to reading this weeks reading the word plague had always conjured up funny images of Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) ‘bring out your dead’ scene, but never images of a disciplined society reminiscent of a prison. Thanks a lot Foucault!

 The film Bad Boys (1983), a movie sadly swept under the rug due to Martin Lawrence and Will Smith’s movie of the same title, revolves around the actions of Sean Penn’s character Mick O’Brien, a boy who gets sent to a juvenile detention center for committing a crime (I will use this movie to make some comparisons with Foucault’s text). The movie contains all of the elements that are present in Foucault’s (1997, p. 196) description of the ‘system of permanent registration’ – the juvenile detention center has the lights out, the daily roll calls, the guards on patrol and keeping watch in the observation post, solitary confinement and also as Foucault (1997, p. 197) describes, ‘the process of purifying the houses one by one’ which takes the form of regular room inspections, in which the cells are purified of any contraband such as drugs and weapons. If the plague riddled town is a ‘compact model of the disciplinary system’ (Foucualt, 1997, p. 197), then the juvenile detention center serves as a small scale model. Foucault (1997, p. 198) makes a point that the plague gave rise to this model, while the leper, or plague infected person gave rise to the ‘great confinement’, which in modern times is referred to as solitary confinement. The idea of exiling the leper to solitary confinement stems from the fear that he might infect other townspeople, in the case of modern day prisons solitary confinement has a similar agenda; to make sure that the often violent nature of the individual in question is not at risk of tainting the minds of the other reforming criminals.

An obvious example of such treatment in modern media would be the film Silence of the Lambs (1991), which depicts the dangerous (and thankfully fictional) cannibal Dr Hannibal Lector completely isolated in a glass room, in which he can be observed safely and kept at a considerable distance from other people. Dr Hannibal was ‘cut off from all human contact’ (Foucault, 1997, p. 198) and treated as a plague-victim; a monster consumed by insanity. Due to the severity of his disease his cell was the only one in the prison to be made of glass. This process of ‘individualisation to mark exclusion’, as described by Foucault (1997, p. 198), was used frequently from the beginning of the nineteenth century in prisons and asylums. Binary division was also regularly exercised, which is the branding of a patient or prisoner as either being sane or insane, dangerous or harmless etc. In the film Dr Hannibal lector, an ex-psychiatrist, seems perfectly sane in the way he talks and presents himself when compared to some of the other prisoners; however, he is labelled as insane due to his violent behaviour. It begs the question: is it right to label someone based purely on their behaviour? The character Rachel Solando in Martin Scorcese’s Shutter Island (2010) emphasises the branding predicament when she says ‘Once you’re declared insane, then anything you do is called part of that insanity, reasonable protests are denial. Valid fears, paranoia’.

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The Virtual Sphere: The Internet as a Public Space

This week’s reading titled ‘The virtual sphere’ explores the concept of democracy and whether or not it exists or will exist in the internet equivalent of the offline public sphere. Papacharissi (2002, p. 11) paraphrases Habermas (1962/1989) who romanticises the public sphere in the 17th and 18th century as ‘the domain of our social life in which public opinion could be formed out of rational public debate… [and] could lead to public agreement and decision making, thus representing the best of the democratic tradition’. Habermas believed the public sphere to be something ‘that existed long ago, but became eroded with the advent of modern, industrial society’ (Papacharissi, 2002, p. 11), the writer notes the irony in Habermas’ idealised vision of the ‘pinnacle of democracy [which] was rather undemocratic [due to its exclusion of] woman or people from lower social classes’, this point is humorously portrayed in a BBC video clip on youtube (BBCWorldwide, 2008). The writer also references other critics such as Carey (1995) who argued that the public sphere has been replaced by a ‘mass commercial culture’ by the forces of capitalism, and Fraser (1992) and Schudson (1997) who both believe that an ideal public sphere ‘never existed’, and that ‘public discourse is not the soul of democracy’ (Papacharissi, 2002, p. 11). Papacharissi (2002, p. 12) states that these critiques don’t sum up a complete review of the various viewpoints yet she implies that they make up the bulk of the ‘academic expectations’ on the public sphere, by choosing critiques that are mainly negative in nature, and then dismissing Habermas’ vision of early democracy as ironic, Papacharissi clearly demonstrates a dystopian vision on the status of democracy in the public sphere, despite her efforts to appear neutral.

 Papacharissi (2002, p.12) states that these academic opinions serve the purpose of helping us, the reader, to ‘understand if and how the internet can measure up to these expectations’, but due to her choice of critiques the bar hasn’t been set very high. Papacharissi (2002, p. 13) poses a variety of questions to the reader and then answers them through the words of select ‘scholars’ and professional critics and in doing this creates a sense of the stagnant public  sphere that she is trying to depict. Ironically she brings up Jankowski and Van Selm’s (2000) belief that ‘online discussions, much like real life ones, seemed to be dominated by elites’, this is a very true statement, considering Papacharissi’s discussion on democracy and the public sphere consists of opinions of elites and not of the general public, when did the writer ever say ‘hey Michael, what do you think about this?’. Papacharissi (2002, p. 14) asserts that the ‘internet as a public sphere merely harbors an illusion of openness [as] online technologies are only accessible to, and used by, a small fraction of the population’, she contends that the ‘electronic public sphere… is exclusive, elitist, and far from ideal – not terribly different from the bourgeois public sphere of the 17th and 18th centures’. The writer’s main question she is trying to address is ‘how do we recreate something online, when it never really existed offline?’ (Papacharissi, 2002, p. 20), Papacharissi believes that the internet has provided a public space where people can share their opinions and discuss issues, but not a public sphere which ‘enhances democracy’ (Papacharissi, 2002, p. 11). Despite this dim view of the capacities of the internet to rejuvenate the public sphere, Papacharissi (2002, p. 23) mentions the hope that is present in the future of the internet, due to its ability to connect people ‘from different cultural backgrounds, states, or countries [and] involve themselves in virtual political discussions in a matter of minutes’, however, the writer concludes in his belief that this ‘is a vision, but not yet a reality’.

 REFERENCES:

Hollywood Film Spectacle

This week’s reading by Geoff King, titled ‘“Just Like a Movie”?: 9/11 and Hollywoood Spectacle examines the events of September 11 through a Hollywood perspective by comparing the attack on the World Trade Center to action movies such as Independence Day (1996) and The Matrix (1999). In doing this King (2005, p.47) argues that ‘there are some overlaps between ‘real’ images … and fictional images, specifically those from a kind of Hollywood cinema.’ King goes to great lengths to establish the similarities between the 9/11 attacks and Hollywood action movies, using words such as ‘fireball’, ‘huge dust cloud’, ‘impact’, and ‘collapse’ to colour the falling of the twin towers which he often refers to as ‘scenes’ and ‘images’. By using this language to describe the events of 9/11 King helps to establish his comparison between the reality of the attacks and the unreality of ‘Hollywood fantasy’ (King, 2005, p. 47), but his evidence to support this idea is not very concrete, rather he coaches the reader into assuming his viewpoint by making statements such as ‘It did not take long for a villain, Osama Bin Laden, to be suggested… to create some kind of narrative context for the events’, the writer deliberately phrases Osama Bin Laden as a villain to make the events of reality seem like the construct of fiction, as though the 9/11 attacks were merely a scene from a Hollywood movie script. Just in case the reader hadn’t made this connection King (2005, p. 51) finishes off by saying ‘again, [this is] something that would be expected in a movie’ (King, 2005, p. 51).

 King attempts to explain the differences between the real news footage of the September 11 attacks and Hollywood movies by suggesting that real news footage is usually accompanied by interviews and commentary which help to distinguish it from fiction, he then doubts what he just wrote by saying ‘these are not absolute guarantors of authenticity, given that such devices are sometimes used in fictional works, precisely because of their power to evoke an impression of the real’ (King, 2005, p. 49). King (2005, p. 50) further suggests that ‘shaky camerawork, dodgy focus or awkward zooms… signify that events have not been staged’, however this is also not always the case. The notorious exploitation film Cannibal Holocaust (1980) directed by Ruggero Deodato uses these very camera techniques to tell the story of a missing group of documentary filmmakers who set out the film primitive cannibal tribes of the Amazon. The movie begins with an American anthropologist who finds the footage that the filmmakers had left behind in their trail; the rest of the movie takes place in a screening room where the anthropologist views the footage to discover the fate of the filmmakers. The footage utilises very amateur film techniques and due to this and its graphic content, viewers of the movie had a hard time distinguishing it from reality, shortly after its release the director was charged for making a snuff film and had to prove in court that the film was a work of fiction and not reality. While this example might not be very useful in the context given that it is not a Hollywood movie, it’s popularity did spawn a very famous Hollywood film called The Blair Witch Project (1999) which utilised the same amateur camera technique and narrative structure.

 This brings up an important question which King (2005, p. 47) briefly touches on when he mentions the ‘blurring of boundaries between the world of reality and that of media spectacle’, that is how do we distinguish fiction from reality? When we watch television where do we draw the line and say this is real and this is not? David Cronenberg’s film Videodrome (1983) explores this question and in doing so blurs the line significantly, the film follows Max, the president of a smut television channel who’s in search of something raw and cutting edge which will ‘break through’ and attract a larger audience. He stumbles upon a pirate leak of a snuff television broadcast, but he assumes it’s just ‘incredibly realistic’ and is eager to get it on his show, the rest of the movie shatters the audiences concept of what is real and what isn’t through Max’s obsession with the snuff show which takes his hold on reality. A character in the movie Prof. Brian Oblivion delivers a quote which sums up the movie’s message quite well, ‘the television screen is the retina of the mind’s eye… therefore whatever appears on the television screen emerges as raw experience for those who watch it. Therefore television is reality, and reality is less than television’ (Videodrome, 1983). This suggests that what we view on television may as well be reality, which explains why people are generally fascinated by watching grotesque and fantastical things on the big screen, because these are things that they can enjoy safely without having to actually experience it. Therefore television becomes ‘a harmless outlet for [our] fantasises and frustrations’ (Videodrome, 1983), this directly links up with King’s (2005, p. 48) point that Hollywood films ‘offer enjoyable fantasies of destruction: enjoyable precisely because they can be safely indulged in the arena of fantasy’.

References

Screen Narrative

This week’s reading by Stadler & McWilliam, titled Screen Narratives: Traditions and Trends, dissects the patterns and structures of film, television and game narratives. Stadler & McWilliam take the reader on a journey through the history of screen narrative, from the traditional three-act narrative to the fragmented and multi-strand narratives that have become increasingly popular since Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (1994). Stadler & McWilliam differentiate between the terms plot and story, which are often confused as meaning the same thing, and they also introduce the structuralism technique for analysing narratives, using the movie Natural Born Killers (1994) as an example. The authors then compare film narrative with television narrative and finish off by exploring the narrative found in video games.

 Stadler & McWilliam (2009, p. 156) suggest that movies such as Crash (2004), Babel (2006) and Pulp Fiction (1994) indicate that screen narratives are ‘becoming more complex, adventurous and experimental’, compared to the classical narration style which typically follow a three-act structure (beginning, middle and end), fragmented narratives are often ‘broken up into jumbled segments featuring an array of characters in different places or non-sequential timelines’ (Stadler & McWilliam, 2009, p. 157). I’ll draw from the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) to illustrate this style of narrative structure. The movie begins with Jim Carrey’s character Joel Barish waking up in his bed, he then skips work and catches the train to Montauk. Upon arriving he sits on the beach and opens his diary only to notice pages missing that he doesn’t remember ripping out, ‘it appears this is my first entry in two years’ he thinks to himself. Later he meets a girl with blue hair called Clementine and they appear to hit it off.

 The audience would assume at this stage that the movie is running in a sequential order that is characteristic of the classical narration style, but this idea is shot down fairly suddenly. Joel is seen parked outside his girlfriend’s house when a man walks up to his car and asks him what he’s doing there, the scene then jumps to Joel driving in the night, crying over what we expect to be the eventual breakup of his new relationship. We eventually discover that he was crying because his girlfriend had her memory of their relationship completely erased, out of sadness and rage he goes to the clinic that erased her memory and asks them to do the same for him. Joel is asleep for the rest of the movie while scientists on computers attempt to erase his past relationship, the narrative then shifts from memory to memory of the good and bad times that they had together. Eventually he wakes up and has completely forgotten about Clementine, and the audience soon discovers that the sequence of events that then follow lead to the events of the beginning of the movie.

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Introduction to Textual Analysis

By reading this week’s reading, one can denote that it is a chapter out of a Media Studies book written by a man named Nick Lacey.  You can further denote that it is in fact a chapter out of a textbook, whose audience would mainly consist of Media Studies students at school or university. The chapter extract happens to be the very first chapter in the book and so it is appropriately titled: Introduction to Textual Analysis. The chapter introduces and explains many facets of textual analysis including camera angles, lighting, medium, context and meaning. I am of course beginning my analysis of this week’s reading like this because Lacey (2009, p. 7) suggests that ‘in the initial stages of textual analysis it is helpful simply to describe what we see, using terms as neutral as possible’, if you were to consider the text to be an onion for example, then you would first describe the onion’s appearance before peeling off the layers and looking at its core. Lacey (2009, p. 7) calls this form of basic analysis ‘the level of denotation’. The author asserts his contention that texts, whether they be written, verbal, visual or a combination of the three, are created with the purpose of communicating a message to an audience. He also contends that any text will be interpreted in many different ways, and sometimes the intended message will be lost in translation, which is due to the fact that everyone interprets the world differently based ‘on who we are and our previous experiences in life’(Lacey 2009, p. 8).

Considering that body language is used to convey 60-80% of what we are either consciously or unconsciously trying to communicate it makes sense to learn how to analyse it effectively when interpreting texts. Lacey gives examples of the eight aspects of non-verbal-communication (NVC): facial expression, gaze, gestures, posture and body contact. Interestingly he describes clothes and appearance as a form of non-verbal-communication; seeing as clothing has the ability to make statements about who we are or at least who we want you to think we are, it’s safe to say that the clothes we wear do a lot of the talking for us. And considering ‘we spend every second of our waking lives unconsciously interpreting the information our senses receive from our environment’ (Lacey 2009, p. 10) if we were to hypothetically see two identical people, wearing different clothes, we will interpret them both in a very different way. Directors of films and plays in particular take advantage of this to help the audience correctly interpret their characters, if for example Mel Gibson’s character in Mad Max (1979) wore glasses and a shirt with every button done up, the audience wouldn’t perceive him to be the bad-ass that he was. Or if the Prozorov sisters in Anton Chekov’s play The Three Sisters (1900) wore sexually suggestive or revealing clothes, the audience wouldn’t interpret them to be the alienated and suppressed girls that they were intended to be.

 Lacey also explains how a low angle camera shot (camera looking up at the subject) is used to portray a level of power while a high angle shot (camera looking down at the subject) often suggests the subject is in a position of inferiority. Many examples of these camera techniques being used in film spring to mind, however I recall one scene in particular which uses both angles to great effect. The scene is towards the end of the Matrix (1999), when Agent Smith is interrogating Morpheus, who judging by his non-verbal-language (he doesn’t have any dialogue in the scene), is broken and defeated. The camera reveals that Morpheus is not his usual confident self as it zooms in on his face to reveal droplets of sweat forming at his brow. Agent Smith, however, is looking very confident and the camera angles fortify this superior appearance – when he is shown on screen the camera uses a low angle to make him appear tall and powerful but when the screen cuts to Morpheus the camera shifts to a high angle shot making it look as though Agent Smith is looking down on him in disgust. Lacey also discusses the seven types of moving images: pan, tilt, cant, dolly, crane, handheld and zoom. Martin Scorsese makes excellent use of the dolly shot (camera moves on tracks) in the final scene of Taxi Driver (1976). In this scene the dolly shot is overhead, looking down at and following the trail of carnage that De Niro’s character Travis Bickle left behind, occasionally zooming in to examine the stains of blood and the assortment of guns left on the floor.

Lacey (2009, p 30.) stresses that ‘texts are intended, by the producer, to convey meaning to the audience’ but that the meaning is not always concrete and can be interpreted in many different ways. Steven Skaggs for example does an essay analysis on the aesthetics of the Grateful Dead song ‘Dark Star’, he opens the essay by saying ‘if Jerry Garcia inhabited a grave, he’d be spinning in it. Seeing such a cold analysis of what was for him, no doubt, just plain fun with sound would be torture’ (Skaggs, 2003). Music is a text that is constantly being analysed, much like film and literature, even though the music’s ultimate meaning is often to simply be enjoyed. Skaggs (2003) justifies his ‘cold analysis’ of the song by comparing it to someone admiring a car; some people appreciate the shape and look of the car, while others are more interested in ‘opening the hood to see what’s going on’ inside. The novel Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (Pirsig, 1974) goes into great detail about the differences between people who simply admire form and those that admire function, while directly relating it to the metaphor of motorcycle maintenance. There’s one particular scene in the novel where the protagonist is helping his friend fix his motorcycle’s handlebars and during the process he thinks to himself ‘we were both looking at the same thing, seeing the same thing, talking about the same thing, thinking about the same thing, except he was looking, seeing, talking and thinking from a completely different dimension’ (Pirsig 1974, p. 55), this quote perfectly colours the essence of what Lacey’s article is trying to make known to the reader, or perhaps I just misinterpreted the text.

References

  • Barthes, R., 1977, ‘The Rhetoric of the Image’, Image, Music, Text, transl. Stephen Heath, Fontana Press, London, pp. 32-51.
  • Chekhov, A 1901, Three Sisters, Penguin Classics, England.
  • Lacey, N., 2009, ‘Introduction to textual Analysis’, Image and Representation: key concepts in media studies, 2nd Edition, MacMillan, London, pp. 6-33.
  • McKee, A., 2009, ‘Textual Analysis’ Cunningham, S. & Turner, G. (eds) The Media and Communications in Australia, 3rd Edition, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, pp. 62-71.
  • Miller, G 1979, Mad Max [DVD], Director G Miller, Village Roadshow Pictures, Australia
  • Pirsig, R 1974, ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’, HarperCollins Publishing, New York.
  • Schirato, T. & Yell, S., 2000, ‘Texts and Contexts’ Communication and Cultural Literacy: an introduction, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, pp. 106-112.
  • Scorcese, M 1976, Taxi Driver [DVD], Director M Scorcese, Columbia Pictures Corporation, Unites States
  • Skaggs, S., 2003, ‘Dark Star as an Example of Transcendental Aesthetics’, viewed 11 March 2011, <http://artsites.ucsc.edu/GDead/agdl/ds.html&gt;.
  • Wachowski, L & Wachowski, A 1999, The Matrix [DVD], Director L Wachowski & A Wachowski, Warner Bros. Pictures, United States