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 the selected text and put it into context. Extract analyses are a great way to to hone your writing skills and your 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:

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

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’.

Continue reading

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