Monday, December 13, 2010

Final Response Paper

Professor Wexler
English 313 Popular Culture
13 December 2010
Identity Crisis and the eventual merging of the dual identity
What does our identity represent? Barker defines identity as, “”A temporary stabilization of meaning or description of ourselves with which we emotionally identify” (Barker 481). This definition would mean that identity is how we think we represent ourselves to the world. In films like The Truman Show, My Big Fat Greek Wedding and American Psycho, each main character of the film represents themselves differently to the world around them, through a political, psychological or comodification. Furthermore, although these characters experience a crisis of their identity at one point, eventually they are able to merge their dual identities.
In Chris Barker’s, Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice," self-identity is defined as “the verbal conceptions we hold about ourselves and our emotional identification with those self-descriptions” (Barker 215). Thus, Anthony Giddens states that self-identity consist the ability to sustain a narrative about the self (Barker 217). The movie, Truman Show, is about a man named Truman Burbank, played by Jim Carrey, who is the star of a hit show called The Truman Show, however, he doesn’t know he is actually on the show. The shows director, Christof, adopted Truman from birth and unknowingly made him the star of this “reality” television shows. His reason for the show is explained by him: “We've become bored with watching actors give us phony emotions. We are tired of pyrotechnics and special effects. While the world he inhabits is, in some respects, counterfeit, there's nothing fake about Truman himself. No scripts, no cue cards. It isn't always Shakespeare, but it's genuine. It's a life.” (The Truman Show).  Recording twenty-four/seven of Truman’s life, his identity is perceived by others entirely differently than how he sees himself. Truman essentially lives in a fake world, while believing it is real. In one scene of the film, Christof states, “We accept the reality of the world with which we are presented,” placing Truman’s reality, although not true, is real for Truman and thus, in his world and the real world, he is able to exist with two identities (The Truman Show).  In reference to Giddens interpretation of identity, Truman is unable to sustain a narrative about himself as is shown later on in the film.
Within the Marxist subject,  it is argued that what is to be a person cannot be universal (Barker 221). Instead, our identities are a social formation of a definite time and place with specific characteristics. In response, The Truman Show’s basic theme; that all love Truman because they relate to him in some way,  would thus be considered condemned by Marxist notions, and instead, a social representation would be deemed correct. 
Eventually, Truman has an identity crisis after finding out his “father” in actuality is “still alive.” As Truman continues on with his life, he notices small details that suggest something was odd about his life. Then at the climax of the movie,  after his father had supposedly drowned in the ocean, he meets his father. This event could be considered very traumatizing to himself and his identity.  This dramatic event caused him to doubt everything he considered to be true in his life. Thus, he had an identity crisis, that led him to finally discover the truth about his “life.”  When he finally leaves his fake world, he is to realize the difference between reality and fantasy. His two identities formed from broadcasting and from himself are melded into one as he can finally “stabilize” a meaning for himself that he can relate through to real emotions like love.
Romantic movies also have characters where their identities are conflicted. In "Material Girl': The Effacements of Postmodern Culture," Susan Bordo argues that,
"we are surrounded by homogenizing and normalizing images- images whose content is far from arbitrary, but instead suffused with the dominance of gendered, racial, class and other cultural iconography" (1101).
 In My Big Fat Greek Wedding, the main character of the film, Toula Portokalos essentially goes through an identity crisis throughout the film. Form a young age, she watched the world through two sides; the American and the Greek. One scene of the movie that exemplifies Bordo’s argument that these “homogenizing and normalizing images,” essentially create our identity, occurs early on in the film. In this scene, she is shown as a little girl at school during lunchtime, as she sits down to eat her Moussaka, a group of blonde girls “eating their Wonder Bread sandwiches,” make fun of her for not eating the “normative” type of food that children expect their friends to eat in school (My Big Fat Greek Wedding). Through this ridicule, Toula is conflicted between having her cultural identity, and the American commoditized identify.
Through advertisements, our identities have been turned into a commodity. Bordo adds that, "the very advertisements whose copy speaks of choice and self-determination visually legislate the effacement of individual and cultural difference and circumscribe our choices" (1101). Bordo correlates advertisements to effacement, because essentially, they are the same thing. Ads sell an image that they argue, every "body" needs. Makeup, hair color, clothes, and contacts all "cure," our bodily disorder, thus making our sickly bodies healthy.
                Through this effacement, these advertisers are essentially constructing our identity and culture into a distinctive product that can only be achieved through consumption. Our identity is bought by products that will eventually at some point allow us to reach this idealized identity. Humans are no longer individuals, but within a normalized society that accepts a standardized perception of beauty. As it is portrayed through Toula, identity can be bought just through the use of make-up and hair products. After Toula commoditized herself into the American identity that she always wished for, she has essentially ended her “identity crisis,” and has combined her two identities into one.
This duality of his identity is something that Pieterse asserts as hybrid identities. Through culture, the concept of hybridity refers to cultural hybridization which distinguishes as a “cultural response, which range from assimilation, through forms of separation, to hybrids that destabilize and blur cultural boundaries. The involves the opening up of ‘imagined communities’ (Barker 257). Thus, a person from two cultures can also have the duality of identities. This hybridity is demonstrated within the film, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, through the division of her identity of her nationality.
Furthermore, Stuart Hall states that cultural identity is not fixed, but a natural sate of being, or a ‘process of becoming,’ (Barker 229). Therefore, each individual’s identity is constantly being discovered.  Further, identity is a ‘production,’ which is shifting and fragmenting identities (Barker 229). Thus, each person is a different identity in different environments where each place creates a specific identity is made for that situation.
This ‘fragmented,’ identity is especially evident in the thriller movies, American Psycho.  The main characters dilemma of his identity is very clearly recognized through his narration. Patrick Bateman played by Christian Bale, declares while peeling off a face mask,
"There is an idea of Patrick Bateman; some kind of abstraction. But there is no real me: only an entity, something illusory. And though I can hide my cold gaze, and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable... I simply am not there."
This statement of being "simply not there," essentially removes his identity. He is not able to answer the questions presented by Giddens, or at least, truthfully, “What to do? How to act? Who to be?” (Barker 217). How he acts and who he is does not actually represent him. Humans are essentially mimetic, which means that most of us are not able to answer the question, of “Who to be?” Through mimesis, we are not able to adopt our own identity, but of someone else’s, essentially creating a cyclical process that results in the absence of originality.
Bateman’s statement that he is an illusion relates to Freud’s psychoanalytic theory on the self. Because the self is fractured into the ego, superego, and unconscious, the self is then a unified narrative of the self that is acquired over time through the symbolic order of language and culture and (Barker 222). Thus, he concludes that through “the process of identification with others and with social discourse we create an identity that embodies an illusion of wholeness” (Barker 222). This is essentially the identity of Bateman and the persona he creates with the people he socializes with. Through the use of language and culture, Bateman has create an identity that may seem complete and whole externally, he is in actuality a hollow shell that is “simply not there” (American Psycho).
Giddens goes on to say that “identity is not a collection of traits that we posses. Identity is not something we have, nor an entity or a thing to which we can point. Rather, identity is a mode of thinking about ourselves” (Barker 217). Thus, he is an illusion, unable to think for himself. Bateman is essentially all exterior; a composite of many things, where none of them are truly him.
This quote, stated in Barker, wholly defines the climax of Bateman’s identity crisis, "Identity is best understood not as a fixed entity but as an emotionally charged discursive description of ourselves that is subject to change" (Barker 216). After Bateman’s unceasing murderous rampage, he finally reaches the moment of crisis in realizing what he was actually doing. During Bateman’s phone call to his friend, he displays his true identity versus the false one he was portraying throughout the film. Here, he allows himself to merge his two identities as he finally realizes his actions and returns back to his old routine.
It is stated in Barker that in the postmodern sense, "the decentred or postmodern self involves the subject in shifting, fragmented and multiple identities.  Persons are composed not of one but of several, sometimes contradictory, identities" (220).  Thus, depending on where one is  placed, a person usually has two maybe more, identities in this world. If a person is a school, church, shopping or the movies, they are one identity completely different than at home. Who a person is with also adds to the complexity of identities a person can create to assimilate with the environment. The characters of these films all have this duality of identity, that eventually, they realize their “crisis” of identity, and revert back to the normality of life.
Works Cited
American Psycho. Dir. Mary Harron. Perf. Christian Bale. Universal Studios, 2000.
Barker, Chris. Cultural Studies Theory and Practice. 3rd ed. London: Sage
Publications,  2008.Print.
Bordo, Susan. "'Material Girl': The Effacements of Postmodern Culture."

 My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Dir. Joel Zwick. By Nia Vardalos. IFC Films, 2002

The Truman Show. Perf. Jim Carrey. Paramount Pictures, 1998.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Social Media, Myspace and Facebook

What's the difference between Myspace and Facebook? Which one is safer?

Some people see Myspace as the trashier, less sophisticated social network, while Facebook is for intellectuals. When I first made my Facebook page in 2007, this was very true. While in high school, I had a Myspace profile as well as a Facebook page. When I first joined Facebook, most of my friends were not on it, but almost all of my friends had a Myspace profile. When I entered college, this reversed dramatically, Facebook became the "it" page, and everyone deleted their Myspace accounts. What happened? Did everyone just mature suddenly?

What I noticed when it came to the difference between Myspace and Facebook were significant details. For example, Myspace allowed users to create any name they like, while Facebook doesn't allow users to create fake names. So what I want to know is, which is safer, Myspace or Facebook? It may appear that Facebook is safer, but in my opinion, Myspace provided more security and privacy. This is because Myspace allows anyone to be anyone. Though this may be unpopular now, I think that having the option to not give out your name to the world is a much safer route than what Facebook provides.  

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Fiske,Television Culture and Disney

I found John Fiske's, Television Culture very interesting to read. His in depth analysis on the culture of television resonated with me because when I watch television, I like to analyze what I am seeing. Yes, Glee is a show about students signing in Glee club, but in actuality, it is a show about our society and culture. Fiske says that "A code is a rule-governed system of signs, whose rules and conventions are shared amongst members of a culture, and which is used to generate and circulate meanings in for that culture (1088)."

Additionally, Fiske's theory on television can also be applied to film. He mentions that "the middle-class and the white American is correlated with the more attractive, the more moral and the heroic. This displacement of morality onto class is a common feature of our popular culture...Walt Disney cartoons consistently express villany through characteristics..." (1093).

Several Disney movies like Aladdin during the early 90s are considered very controversial due to the plot and background of the stories. In Aladdin, the main characters Aladdin and Jasmine on the surface seem like a typical animated character. Yet, though Aladdin is supposed to be from somewhere in the Middle East, his skin is lighter than the villain Jafar, and the nonessential characters have darker features. Aladdin doesn't have an accent, but an American one, just like Jasmine's father, who could be considered more British than Middle Eastern. Lastly, Jasmine's characteristics are similarly lighter with an American accent. What is Disney saying here? That the dark guy is usually the villain, and the American is the hero? Aren't most Americans non-Caucasian? It is interesting to find how audiences respond to this, and whether they notice these stereotypical features, or set it aside as just a movie.

Fiske, John. "Television Culture." 1087-97. Print.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Seinfeld Group Presentation

For my group presentation on the television show Seinfeld, we focused on four main questions. 1. How did Seinfeld portray "Radical Romance?" 2.What aspects of American culture is Seinfeld presenting? 3.Is Seinfeld "Modern or Post-Modern?" and lastly, Are they the "norm" or the "other?" Of these four questions I chose to discuss for our presentation on the Radical Romantic aspect of the television show.

For my part of the episode of "The Beard," I chose to focus on the homosexuality aspect of these scenes that we presented. I chose to relate Michel Foucault's argument about homosexuals in "The History of Sexuality" of the "specification of individuals," with the scenes that we presented of Jerry and Elaine discussing on the idea of conversion. Through this comparison I argued that Foucault is presenting the idea that homosexuality is biological and in comparison to what happens in the episode, Seinfeld supports to this argument by Elaine's inability to convert. I was happy to have the class respond to my question whether homosexuality is biological or is it possible to convert or condition a person to become heterosexual.

I was very lucky to be in a group that was so dedicated and focused to make this into a perfect presentation that represented what we have learned so far in this class. Everyone had a role and I am very happy to say that we all completed our duties as a group member. I really enjoyed working with my group members and on this fun and unique presentation about Seinfeld.

Foucault, Michel. "The History of Sexuality." Print. 683-91.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Television and Cultural Identity

Last week we read chapter 10, “Television, Texts and Audiences” from the Barker book. In one part of the chapter, it exemplifies the importance of television through the construction of culture identity;

"Television is a resource for the construction of cultural identity just as audiences deploy their cultural identities and cultural competencies to decode programmes in their own specific ways. As television has become globalized, so the place of television in the constitution of ethnic and national identities has taken on a particular significance" (Barker 331).

Essentially, television is a portal for viewers to judge their own culture and the cultures that they are not familiar with. Yet, while American audiences may watch television shows through a critical approach, knowing that it is a constructed reality, other ethnic communities may see it through a referential view, understanding that the show is exhibiting reality (Barker 331). What this means is that other cultures may think that American shows are presenting a reality based view of how we live, think and act. Shows like "Seinfeld," which shows an exaggerated perspective of New Yorkers may translate to other cultures as how all Americans treat each other. I remember watching a show where an New Zealand  teenager thought that all American teens lived like the teens on the show, "The O.C." This kind of one dimensional observation of the diverse American culture is counter-productive to what this may be regarded as globalization. How can cultures be globalized when singular demonstrations like television represent ours and other cultures incorrectly?

This formation of a false display of our cultures is also shown through films. Much more widely viewed, American movies are usually seen by other cultures as the definitive portrayal of the American lifestyle. Still, movies like, Team America, play on a exaggerated global view of Americans and the post 9/11 aim to stop terrorists, understand how movies formulate ideas for other countries around the world.
 Movies are like an advertisement of one's country, only showing the beautiful, powerful, positive side of their society, and while others may have a specific and perhaps incorrect opinion of the American culture, for a country that is very  enclosed on our own culture this can also affects the American society.
 For example, when it comes to British films, it is the best and only way for me to see how the English culture is like. For some like me, the only way to learn about their humor, tastes and perspectives is through films. Although I am aware that this portrayal of the British lifestyle may not entirely be accurate, I am still entrapped within this specific perspective. Although we are aware that television and films are "make-believe," it is still difficult to leave that mindset when our exposure is so limited to the content of other cultures.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Effacement of our Identity

In "Material Girl': The Effacements of Postmodern Culture," Susan Bordo argues that, "we are surrounded by homogenizing and normalizing images- images whose content is far from arbitrary, but instead suffused with the dominance of gendered, racial, class and other cultural iconography" (1101).

I agree with Bordo as this statement is evident throughout our society. Although our country consists of a melting pot of ethnic groups and cultures, through advertisements, our identities have been turned into a commodity. She adds that, "the very advertisements whose copy speaks of choice and self-determination visually legistlate the effacement of individual and cultural difference and circumscribe our choices" (1101). Bordo correlates advertisements to effacement, because essentially, they are the same thing. Ads sell an image that they argue, every "body" needs. Makeup, hair color, clothes, and contacts all "cure," our bodily disorder, thus making our sickly bodies healthy.

Through this effacement, these advertisers are essentially constructing our identity and culture into a distinctive product that can only be achieved through consumption. Our identity is to be bought and the higher the bidder goes, the closer they will reach this idealized identity. We no longer live as a singular individual, but within a normalized society that accepts a standardized perception of beauty.

A work by Barbara Kruger alludes to the argument that shopping creates ones existence

Bordo, Susan. Material Girl: The Effacements of Postmodern Culture. 

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Why Love is Evil

In class last Thursday, we watched part of a documentary of a Marxist philosopher named Slavoj Žižek. In one part of the film, he relates how creation is a cosmic imbalance, where everything exists accidentally, and the only way to counter-act this mistake is through love. He believes that love is evil and perceives it as an extremely violent act.

He argues that we are flawed because of our love of idealizing love. Humans basically glorify and externalize what they see to achieve a form of love that is highly unrealistic. This type of love I perceive as a form of infatuation which can be found within our highly materialized society where people like celebrities or politicians are idolized. This delusional, infatuated love can essentially be evil because it blinds society into exalting a specific physical image and leads into a destructive, imbalanced and irrational society.

Furthermore, I believe he is also arguing that when someone states, "I love you," that person is sharing a sentiment that it is presently happening now but though it is attempted, it is not eternal.
 When viewed within a world perspective, this statement can also be equated to political relations. For example, two countries may announce that they are at the moment in alliance, but it is not always constant for there is always an awareness of impending violence. When one states, "I love you," it is fixed upon the present, bounded within time. However, there it always that impending moment that those sentiments may be reversed, and may enact the opposite that is love, which is evil. Hence our existence is always imbalanced.