Saturday, 16 October 2010

The Frankfurt School Effects and the Hypodermic Syringe Theories

The Frankfurt School as the name suggest was a German company of neo-Marxist theorists who flourished in the first quarter of the 1900s. A time when it was dangerous to be anything related – even remotely to socialism such as Marxism.

The group were mainly focused on studies that relate to the effect of propaganda and politically manipulated media on the general audience. A model which is very similar to the Hypodermic syringe theory which suggests that media can be used in order to “Inject and plant” ideas into the audience via subtext and signifiers. (Refer to Semiotics theories by Barthes and Saussuer)

Conveniently, with the rise of the Nazi movement in Germany, the Frankfurt School suddenly became the modern world’s equivalent of the Dark Ages’ Illuminate Company. They fled to the US and established various studies on Propaganda and the ways in which media can inflict violence, sexuality and several other ‘desires’ and conventionalities on the audience.
Example arguments include Bandura’s Toy, Video Gaming and Violence & Mass Broadcast Sexually explicit material.

George Clooney's Ideology

Clooney’s obtained an ideology that does not differ vastly between his actual personality and his on-scene persona. He’s well known for his charismatic appearance and attitude across Hollywood.

Clooney always appears to be not only a lady’s gentleman but also witty enough to talk his way out of any masculine challenge. He’s always able to maintain a cool head under fire.

My personal favourite George Clooney appearance is Ocean’s Eleven, where he stars as a very clever and charismatic bloke who plots a major robbery in order to avenge an opponent.

“I don't like to share my personal life... it wouldn't be personal if I shared it.”

“Run for office? No. I've slept with too many women, I've done too many drugs, and I've been to too many parties.”

George Clooney’s physical appearance is parallel to his attitude. You’ll find that he wears a tieless suit 90% of the time, with the other 10 being in bed with various damsels. 

Friday, 15 October 2010

To what extent do you think Ridley Scott’s representation of women in Thelma & Louise challenges Mulvey’s ideas?

Subject of Study: Thelma and Louise, film produced by Ridley Scott and written by Callie Khouri.

It’s not even arguable that the 20th century was an era of misery. Producing 2 world wars, famines, a series of presidential assassinations, economic depression… I could go on forever. But one more unforgettable 1900s event was the feminist movement: 50% of the world population raging for equal rights, which were not easily granted. Luckily, it’d seem that we, humans, throughout evolution have gained the aptitude to make something good out of our own tragedy. We always document our worst events and moments through memorable cinema. Ridley Scott’s production of Callie Khouri’s work is an excellent example of this.
Thelma and Louise, is an intense drama narrative starring Susan Sarandon & Geena Davis. A powerful plot in which a female character murders a masculine villain character in order to defend her friend from rape, a concept which is shown to be a very male-centred trait in the film.
I’ve found the narrative to be very symbolic-heavy, which fits in as a perfect example of Saussuer and Barthes’ semiotics theory. This has a great effect on the audience as a whole via neatly delivering subliminal messages in which they can react to. For example, one who watches the media text will be able to identify that the gun is a source and the symbol of power instinctively, without being directly told about it. The same way one lion can identify the Alpha male in the herd, without asking.
Going back to the subject of the essay: One may interpret the media text to be challenging Laura Mulvey’s ideas on Male Gaze, as it’s very clear that Thelma and Louise, the female characters are successfully taking lead in the drama, rather than being lead by a masculine figure, for example, the way Thelma literally tells Darryl to “Go BLEEP” himself, as if she is acknowledging that he has an authority that she no longer submits to. Personally, I believe that this interpretation is false to some extent as I will be explaining:
First of all, I personally believe that Mulvey’s theory is poorly based; this is because it paid no consideration to social advancement. I must bear in mind that Mulvey’s first article was published in 1975 (According to semi-reliable online source), a time in which feminism was a very active movement, as well as being a time when cinema was just about flourishing. It wasn’t until 1991 that Ridley Scott came along with Thelma & Louise, so it’s quite difficult to relate the two of them.  I do not deny that the Thelma and Louise character are shown to challenge Mulvey’s theory; I’m just saying that it wasn’t the intended purpose, despite that they do show patriarchal challenge.
Sociological arguments, like Mulvey’s, in my opinion cannot apply for a long period of time, as a psychological theory such as Freud’s would. This is because societies evolve and change a lot faster than the individual nature.
The male dominance in the narrative is shown throughout. From the very beginning, R. Scott tends to be very careful about the placement of women in the scenes of production. 2 minutes into the film, and we can already see a differential class of women in the setting: All workers in the restaurant are like Louise, working class females, except the managerial post, which is occupied by a man. This delivers a subconscious message that shocks the audience and puts them into the state of mind of being oppressed.
Only 40 seconds afterwards, Louise shows signs of male-resistance as she smokes despite mentioning earlier, “Smoking ruins your sex drive”, only as if she’s physically harming herself for the cause of being independent from male-nature.
I was personally intrigued by the way Thelma paid no attention to the gun in the drawer at 7:14, and even more by the way she held it afterwards. As I’ve included earlier, the media text is very symbolic-heavy, and I may assume as that the gun is a phallic reference; that in a way “Holding the gun” gives a state of empowerment to whoever holds it. This is a slightly crude concept, but it does tie in with latter events, such as the most intense scene in the film, the rape scene.
I believe that the rape scene was used as a trigger for the rampage. 4 minutes earlier of it, at 00:15:00, I quote “By Monday, he’ll be kissing the ground you walk on”, as to show that the two characters (at this point) are still seeking approval from the male kind.
As Puckett crudely approaches Thelma, she articulates “I wanna go back inside”, as if she’s referring to her comfort zone. Although men were shown to be very unaffectionate of women so far, this was the very first time, they were shown to be hostile, and as Thelma (At this point) was the weaker character, she didn’t quite know how to handle the situation, so her conscience spoke on her behalf. Louise later on comes in, and takes control. This is at 00:21:40, a very vulgar phallic reference is made assuming that the gun is a signifier of a phallic ‘thing’. I wish I could put this in a more polite context, but it’d seem that Louise replied to Puckett’s request for her to “Suck his BLEEP” was via shooting him, which suggests that Louise is gaining masculine peculiarity, which she is using to physically build a wall between herself and the male kind. This strongly opposes Laura Mulvey’s hypothesis as the women are not only taking control, but they’re also taking everything else with it. Men become powerless.
The 4th ninth of the film (From 00:39:40 to 1:22:00), is particularly the prime time of Louise and Thelma’s rampage. The highest point of their mountain of power. At first, Brad Pitt is introduced to the plot, bringing with him a new type of men as a category: his politeness showed great submission to Louise’s feminist conceptions, yet he doesn’t take long to acknowledge Thelma’s soft spot, and use it as a weak point of entry. And the other significant point of interest in this section of the text is Jimmy’s proposal to Louise. Even though Louise seemed like a fortress earlier, she quickly softens for Jimmy, who seemed to have a place in her heart. Jimmy proposes using what I thought was an unorthodox choice of words, “Try it on”, suggesting that Louise is inclined to decline his request. This was shortly assured by Ridley’s choice to focus the camera on Louise’s hand, holding Jimmy’s ring, fiddling with it, whilst having about 7 other rings (Lucky number) already settled in her fingers. I think this is quite significant because it reminds the audience how strong Louise is and has become, via re-establishing a point of setback comparison, so they can see what Louise would’ve been like if she was a standard woman of that certain situation, with her soft spot for Jimmy, which is soon diminished with the focus on the rings. I’m not sure however if this message is way too subtle for the ordinary audience to digest.
Before I go on to my next argument, I must note that whilst watching Ridley Scott’s production, I understood how that everything symbolises something else, but I’ve only come to realise that this applies to the human characters as well: just assume Callie Khouri intended for Thelma to stand for the typical woman of that time and location, while Louise stood for what Thelma wanted to be. Louise stood for the feminist conscience living in Thelma’s head. Louise was without a man, she was strong, she was independent; everything Thelma wanted to be. We can also see this in the very beginning of the text, when Thelma does an impression of Louise, smoking like her, and talking like her in the car.
Now what if, Thelma was the woman, and Louise was a signifier of the feminism in the plot, we’d start to notice that there’s a negative correlation between each character’s presence and allocation of power. We’d see that when Thelma’s weak, Louise is there to provide comfort, and vice versa, just like in 00:22:00 & 1:42:00. We, as audience, would come to the conclusion that Louise’s and Thelma’s tragedy (arguably, a tragedy) is a more global and inclusive issue, and then we’d start to understand the great relation between this specific media text and Mulvey’s ideas on Male Gaze.
In conclusion, I suppose I must admit that my ideas on the answer to this essay question are not the same as those I had when I started it. I now see a clear connection between Mulvey’s concept and Riddley’s tragedy. I still wouldn’t say that Riddley quite intended on opposing Mulvey’s ideas personally, but he incidentally did. I would call it an unintended collision of thought.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Lacan & Freud

I'm surprised that Lacan and Freud didn't have clashing theories, as they were both rather revolutionary psychoanalysts. Both Lacan & Freud were known for explicit focus on human sexuality, and they both had a brush with film studies via doing so. 

Sigmund Freud, (pictured to the right) suggested that people find pleasure from watching other people who are not aware of their observance. This concept is commonly known as Voyeurism

"Voyeurism is a perversion in which a person receives sexual gratification from seeing the genitalia of others or witnessing others' sexual behavior". Dictionary reference.

Lacan per the same example suggested the concept of Scopophilia, that humans find pleasure out of "looking". Also that we build our identities and characters based on observation of others. He also theorised the concept of "Mirror stage", that we only understand ourselves as people after we see our own image in the mirror. 

I don't believe I'm qualified enough to criticise Freud and Lacan's theory, but I wouldn't completely agree with it, as I believe that Freud was wrong by generalising Voyeurism as a human habit, rather than an aptitude attained by certain individuals. For example, if someone had already attained every step of Maslow's Hierarchy of needs, I don't personally see why they would find pleasure out of observing others, nor why they would construct themselves from others' identities. However, I do understand that Scopophilia is more like a "stage" that comes prior to self fulfilling.

Vladimir Propp's Narrative theory.

Vladimir Propp was an early 1900s Russian scholar. Having a socialist political system somehow lead Soviet Russia to become very theatre and media centred, and so was Propp.

One of Propp's most widely known conceptions and theories was his Narrative theory (Aka Proppean narrative) which suggests that in every plot, each character is assigned a specific task or function. This is somewhat simplistic compared with Tzvetan Todorov's narrative theory (Theory of equilibrium) which suggests that plots are started where there is a stable equilibrium, which is disturbed and must be returned in the end.

Anyway, Propp's theory can vary between each case, but generally, there is the following:

  1. The hero (Who seeks something, often to destroy the villian).
  2. The villain (Opposes the hero).
  3. The donor (A calm good-doer. Helps the hero by providing a magic object).
  4. The dispatcher (A wise character who sends the hero on his way).
  5. The false hero (Falsely assuming the role of hero).
  6. The helper (Gives support to the hero).
  7. The princess (The reward for the hero but also needs to be protected from the villain.
  8. The princess's father
This is just a general formulae. Nowadays, plots tend to vary via adding/removing characters. E.g. Female hero. No reward. 2 donors. Multiple villains...etc

n.b. Most comic book plots are based on Proppean narratives. Refer to Batman as a simple example.

Ronald Barthes - Semiotics

Barthes is a French philosopher and literary theorist who established the Semiotics theory.

Barthes was fairly over-educated for his time. He wanted to establish a way for other people to deepen their understanding of literature, to get them to seek for subtext...etc 
It'd appear that Barthes didn't intend on composing the theory, but more like stumbled upon it via practice. His "Semiotics" concept was quite revolutionary for its time: he suggested that the linguistic text for a certain tangible thing may not actually point at the object itself, and that it may have different meanings and differential understandings. For example, understanding that red, isn't just a colour, but also that it may signify danger, blood, patriotism...etc
Barthes based his theory on Saussuer's "Theory of sign", which contemplates that "Sign" is composed of a signifier, the signified and the referent.

Signifier: The actual shape or form. For example, the word "Pigeon" is a jumble of the P, I, G, E, O and N letters.

Signified: The meaning of the shape or the form. For example, knowing that a Pigeon is what it is, a bird, more than just a word.

Referent: The individual message of the signifier. For example, knowing that a Pigeon may stand for peace. (Like an Icon)

(Saussure to the left, Barthes to the right)
But how do Semiotics relate with media?
What Barthes and Saussuer are actually suggesting is that verbal communication can be broken down into more meaning. The equivalent of including body language into the interpretation of what someone is telling you. Saying that by mentioning "Red", you're not just talking about a colour, you're talking about blood, and therefore war, or talking about danger, and therefore bad predictions... So on & forth.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Types of Shots

Very Long Shot

The example photo is taken from Fight Club.
The very long shot often aims to not only include the presented object, but also the environment it's in. This is the general category for "Weather shots" which's often used to show a clear image of the surrounding for whatever purpose, similar to the way pathetic fallacy is used in literature. In this scene, the protagnoist (arguably) is shown in a warehouse-like environment, panoramically observing the destruction of the city, which creates a certain frame of thought for the audience - "Why" etc.

Long Shot

The long shot shows a smaller depth of field and often only aims to fully show the object presented, rather than the environment. This shot is considered to be 'intorductory', quite useful for letting the audience have a 'sneak peak' on a newly adjusted object, for example a Superhero's new costume. This sort of shots is quite informatic and slightly dramatic, and would create an atmosphere similar to an exciting documentary with an orgasmic voice over- "THE FIRE OF A THOUSAND SUNS"- sort of thing.
The acompanied shot is taken from The Dark Knight; the very first appearence of the antagonist in the film. The shot clearly shows his physique, and him holding a clown mask-part of his identity. The environment is unpurposely shown.

Medium Shot

Probably the most used shot in non-cinematric media texts. The Medium shot clearly shows the object very directly communicating to the audience (Often above the waist), addressing them almost personally. The Medium shot pays no attention to the surrounding environment or any other objects but the presented one. Very commonly used Newsrooms- Creating this form of "This issue interests you, listen to me" command.
This photograph is of Tim Minchin's photoshoot, showing him addressing the audience with what appears to be quite an unorthodox questioning look.

Medium Close up

Quite awkward to define: The Medium close up shot stands somewhere between Medium shots and Close ups (Blatantly).
Medium Close ups are... often show that shoulder-head range of an object, with ever so little environment poking behind those ears.
Medium Close ups are most common when they develop from a medium shot via a zoom in action in order to highlight a specific matter the presented object is communicating.
E.g. Tim Minchin, again. (Clearly shows eye colour. Significant? Possibly)

Close up

The Close Up shot has quite an impact in audience emotional representation. The Close up is only concerned with showing the central point of interest in an object such as the presenter's facial expressions, with no unneccessary extras that may be distractive such as the shoulders, the body or the environment. This is quite useful since it's difficult to communicate emotions via media. In my example is Jack Black practicing his pulling skills, in which we can very clearly see his facial eagerly expressions, none of his body and a totally faded out background that draws no audience attention.

Extreme Close up

The extreme close up in my consideration is a more blunt tool to show emotions (In comparison with the typical Close up) as the wide variety of [human] emotions can often be mixed up due to lack of composition, for example, the Extreme close up may show an eye+tear composition, but the audience will not be able to differ "Happy tears" from tears product to severe depression/frustration, assuming no other componenets such as audio were present. This may be why extreme closeups are more common for the presenting of non-human objects, for scientific purposes or such. For example, the attached picture.

Over the shoulder

My personal least favourite shot, the OverTheShoulder shot is typically used to indicate a conversation going on between two people or such, with typically an alteration of "Whose shoulder is it over" depending on who's being spoken to. This usually ends up terribly as the audience are too busy staring at that unattractive Ear/hair/neck area that might be so distracting that they'd miss out on some parts of the conversation going on. I personally believe that the OverTheShoulder shot is better in theory than in practice, and that it'd take great production skills for it to be perfected in contrast with the other types of shots. This type of shot is most common in Live News reporting, acompanied by a lot of panning around the scene, implying that "Annoying journalist" feel. Example taken from some adorable cartoon thing.

Point Of View

The point of view shot is a very strong cinematic feature, often useful in thriller production; this shot shows exactly what the featured protagonist would see, including their own frontal elements such as arms and legs, as a First Person Shooter game would. The purpose of this shot really does vary depending on the type of production job, but it often revolves around involving the audience in whatever issue is going on. Examples include, but are not limited to, satire, intros and thriller scenes. My example is taken from a concept art for the rather cool console game Mirror's edge.

Two Shot

The Two Shot is a more simplistic type of shot, often falls into the Medium shot category, only that it would feature two objects rather than one, establishing a very clear relationship between them. Often used in duo-based plots. Example here is The Blues Brothers, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi (Medium shot!)
This just may clash a bit with some audience theories that feature an aspirational element, such as Maslow's Hierarchy of needs, as the shot shows an enclosed circle that the audience may not join for whatever reason they lack.

Low Angle Shot

Is a shot without a specific distance, but an angle. The low angle, unless it's also Point Of View, promotes a great sense of authority for the featured object, and suggests a sense of inferiority for the observing audience. The use of the low angle shot is often used (in almost all genres) in order to help establish a scale in which the audience can get a feel of their stance in contrast with the featured object: In theory, the audience are expected to get a feel of inferiority and therefore promoting a sense of inner insecurity towards the featured object. In my example, I used the spine-chilling 'Swastica imprinting' scene from Inglourious Basterds.

High Angle Shot

The high angle is the exact opposite of the low angle shot: promotes the audience with authority over the featured object(s). This strongly relates to audience aspirational needs. Often used in drama to imply a moral compass, granting the audience a sense of control and reponsibility over the events in the text. My example is, some guy, who shows great fear to how tall and mighty you are.

Why I chose Media Studies

I like films.
Since GCSE, I chose Media Studies because a part of me had always believed that there's an interesting side to it, the way everything is structured to perfection, codes of ethics in the journalism industry, censorship... so on and so forth. And even though I slowly found out that it's not as conspiratorial as I have seemed to imagine it earlier, I still believe in the purpose of Media, as a tool, and I understand how significant it is for humanity as a civilisation, and I personally would like to take part in the process of controlling this 'device' that seems to function as a type of a governing body in a way, via studying it.
At GCSE, I had obtained a great amount of fundamental Media knowledge, but I don't think I've yet had enough.