Thursday, June 13, 2013

Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes on an Investigation) Part I

In the first part of this essay, Althusser explains how exploitation continues under capitalism as a self-proliferating mechanism that produces its own conditions of reproduction along with its own existence. For this, he divides these conditions of production under two main aspects:
  1. Reproduction of productive forces
  2. Reproduction of relations of production

He says that the reproduction of productive forces basically means reproduction of labor power. This is done by providing them with wages/material means. Interestingly, these wages are not determined by the labor class’s biological needs but by their historical needs that are imposed by proletariat class struggle in each country. He gives the example of beer for Englishmen and wine for Frenchmen (an example Marx cited of historical needs). Also, the conditions of reproduction of labor include their schooling, training and ideological conditioning, which all go into the creation of productive forces that will help propagate capitalism.

In order to approach the reproduction of relations of production, he first states that it is necessary to ask what a society is. This in turn, takes us to the concept of the base and superstructure. Althusser notes that this concept is topographic, it is a spatial metaphor. This implies certain relations between the base (the productive forces) and the superstructure (State and ideological apparatuses). For instance, one is based on the effectivity of the other and their relative autonomy from one another. Althusser cautiously begins, that although he agrees with Marx’s theory he finds its descriptive in nature – that which is metaphorical and can only be seen as a beginning of later development theory.
Repressive State Apparatus vs Ideological State Apparatus:
Marx only charts out the State as a machine of repression that enabled the ruling classes to ensure their domination over the working class. Althusser calls this the repressive State apparatus that includes the police, army, administration etc and differentiates them from ideological State Apparatuses  which consists of schools, cultural institutions, theater, cinema, communication forms etc. The prime difference between RSA and ISA is that the former uses physical coercion and violence as the dominant mode of control while the latter relies on ideological conditioning along with socially validated physical punishment (like in schools) to control productive forces. Now, coming back to the reproduction of the relations of production, it is precisely in the exercise of State power by RSAs and ISAs that this reproduction of relations of production is secured.
In fact Althusser elaborates on the rise of the School as the most powerful ideological state apparatus in capitalist societies and not the Church. He explains how the Church-Family couple got replaced by the School family couple in order to produce labourers who would be ideal citizens and the institution would eject them at different levels depending on their class.

Author: Noopur Raval

Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes Toward an Investigation) Part II

In the second part of his essay “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses”, Louis Althusser talks about the idea of what ‘Ideology’ actually stands for.  Looking at the historical evolution of the term, he narrates how the term ‘Ideology’ first coined by Cabanis, Destutt  de Tracy and their friends who ‘assigned to it as an object the theory of ideas’ was given a completely different meaning by Marx fifty years later. According to Marx, ideology is the system of ideas and representations which dominate the mind of man or a social group.
Althusser, however, formulates different theses on Ideology based on the project of a theory of ideology in general and a theory of particular ideologies. Both these premises involve class positions at some point in time. He also finally explains how the theory of ideologies is not possible as it always depends on history of social formations, whose determination is situated outside ideologies alone. He thus proposes the project of a theory of ideology in general which is based on the idea that “Ideology has no history”.
The thesis that “Ideology has no history” is inspired by Marx’s definition of ideology in The German Ideology as a pure illusion, a pure dream, i.e as nothingness. Here Althusser draws comparison as to how the same terms he adopts from The German Ideology (Ideology has no history) is starkly different in meaning to his definition. He says that even though he theorises that Ideology has no history, he thinks that ideologies have a history of their own which is ascertained in the last instance by the class struggle. On the other hand, he also proposes that ideology in general has a history which is external to it, thus ‘it is endowed with a structure and a functioning such as to make it a non-historical reality i.e. an omni historical reality”. Relating the idea of ideology as an imaginary construct to Freud’s proposition that unconscious is eternal; Althusser surmises that ideology is eternal. He thus justifies in proposing the theory of ideology in general as Freud also presented a theory of the unconscious in general.
In his discourse on the structure and function of ideology, he presents two contradictory theses:
Thesis I: Ideology represents the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence.
According to him, so many of the ‘world outlooks’ are all imaginary and they are only required to be interpreted so that we are able to discover the reality of the world. Among the various interpretations, the most popular one is the mechanistic and the hermeneutic types which is based on the fact that ‘men represent their real conditions of existence to themselves in an imaginary form’. In answering why men needed this imaginary transposition he proposes two solutions. First, priests and despots with their beautiful lies dominated and exploited other people on a falsified representation of the world. Second, the material alienation which reigns in the conditions of existence of men themselves.

Thesis II: Ideology has a material existence.
By this he does not mean to compare the existence of ideology to the existence of a physical object but referring to his discussion of the ideological state apparatuses and their practices, he means to say that an ideology always exists in an apparatus, and its practice or practices. This existence is material. Thus according to him, the ‘ideas’ of a human subject exists in his actions.

Althusser concludes his essay by ‘interpellating individuals as subjects’. In discussing this he says that there is no ideology except by the subject and for the subjects. The category of the subject is a primary obviousness and at work in this reaction is the ideological recognition function. The subjects thus are habituated to constantly practice the rituals of ideological recognition which establishes that we are indeed concrete, individual, distinguishable and irreplaceable subjects. 

Author Sagorika Singha

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Culture Industry Reconsidered

Culture industry as a term was first used by Adorno and Horkheimer in the book Dialectic of Enlightenment in 1947. In their drafts, they talked about mass culture but later replaced that expression with ‘culture industry’. They did this so that they could exclude the interpretation of a set of intellectuals who advocated that mass culture arose spontaneously from the masses and is the contemporary form of popular art. He says that the culture industry instead merges the old and familiar into a new quality and all its products are tailored for consumption by the masses and manufactured according to a plan. Further, it forces together high and low art to the detriment of both. For Adorno, the masses are simply an “object of calculation” and the customer is never the king. The cultural commodities of this industry, as Brecht and Suhrkamp have expressed earlier are guided by their realization as ‘value’ and not by their own individual content, and the profit motive is primary for the entire practice of the culture industry. So, cultural entities in the culture industry are no longer also commodities, but they are commodities. While culture in the ‘true’ sense, not only adjusted itself to human beings but also honoured them by raising a protest against their living conditions. But what comes across in the culture industry as something new and progressive however remains disguised under an “eternal sameness”.

Adorno suggests to not take the word industry “too literally” but understand it with reference to a certain standardization of content and he takes the example of a Western that is familiar to every movie goer. With reference to cinema as a central sector of the culture industry, he says that although its production process may involve division of labour and there may be a conflict between artists and the industry that controls them, there still exists an individual form of production. But for Adorno, this individuality serves to reinforce ideology. Cinema’s ideology makes use of the star system that for him is borrowed from “individualistic art and its commercial exploitation.” The culture industry is industrial in a sociological sense in that it incorporates industrial forms of organization even when nothing is manufactured. For instance in the rationalization of office work rather that anything being really produced. There is no inner logic to the technique of the industry except for that of distribution and mechanical reproduction which always remains external. Walter Benjamin designated the traditional work of art with the concept of the ‘aura’ but for Adorno, the culture industry “conserves the decaying aura as a foggy mist”. Despite this, he feels that the industry is important as a “moment of the sprit that dominates today” and ignoring its influence would be naive. Yet, there is a “deceptive glitter” about the position to take it seriously. He thinks even though something touches a large number of lives, it is no guarantee of its quality and hence it would be required to take it seriously in a critical way. It is common for some intellectuals to simultaneously keep reservations against it and respect its power. For them products like pocket novels, family television shows or even horoscope columns are harmless and even democratic because it responds to a demand, even if it is a stimulated one. But any advice gained from it is empty and the emerging behaviour patterns “shamelessly conformist”.

This “two-faced irony” is not restricted to just the intellectuals but also the consumers. The consumers are split between the fun they get from the culture industry’s products and not a well concealed doubt about its blessings. Adorno thinks that the phrase, “the world wants to be deceived” has become truer than ever and consumers will fall for anything that will provide them a fleeting gratification even though its underlying structure lays transparent to them. The order that arises from the culture industry is never confronted with what it claims or whether it is in any real interest of human beings, and conformity gets replaced for consciousness behind which lie the most powerful interests. Adorno gives an example of how American producers are heard to say their films must appeal to the level of eleven year olds. The entire system of the culture industry surrounding the masses follows the same formulas and hardly deviates and the attitudes and stereotypes that the industry calls for are anything but harmless. Hence it is a “mass deception” that restricts the development of independent individuals.     

Author: Harmanpreet Kaur 

Simulacra and Simulations

In this essay, Baudrillard finds abstraction today to be no longer of the map, the double, the mirror or the concept. For him, simulation is the generation of the real without origin or reality – a hyperreal. The imaginary representation that a cartographer creates between the map and the territory disappears with simulation that does not operate in a discursive way. The age of simulations begins with the “liquidation of all referentials” and then their resurrection in systems of signs. He elaborates that there is no longer any question of imitation or even parody but rather a question of substituting the real itself with signs of the real.

He says, “To simulate is to feign to have what one hasn’t” and gives the example of someone who can simulate an illness by producing in himself some of the symptoms itself. If the simulator produces the symptoms, can he or she be ill at all? If symptoms can be produced, then every illness may be considered simulatable and medicine loses its meaning because it only knows how to treat “true” illnesses. He also gives the example of divine icons. He questions if their supreme divine authority lies in their incarnation in images as a visible theology or due to simulacra which deploys their power of fascination – that of substituting the visible icons for the pure idea of God. This is exactly what drove the iconoclasts to destroy images because they feared the omnipotence of simulacra and instead accorded them their actual worth in the process of despising and destroying them. Baudrillard says, “God himself has only ever been his own simulacrum.” On the other hand iconolaters through the representations of God, enacted his death and disappearance, for example the 
Jesuits who based their politics on the virtual disappearance of God. He suggests four phases of the image: it is a reflection of a basic reality – the image is a good appearance; it masks and perverts a basic reality – it is an evil appearance; it masks the absence of a basic reality – plays at being an appearance like in sorcery; and finally it bears no relation to any reality and it is its own pure simulacrum or simulation. This is a turning point for Baudrillard. He further says that when the real is no longer what it used to be, nostalgia assumes its full meaning.

He then gives the example of Disneyland as a perfect model to illustrate the orders of simulation. It is a play of illusions and phantasms and a social microcosm. Inside it a whole range of gadgets attract the crowds while outside exists solitude in the parking lot. All the values of the United States are recreated and exalted here in miniature and comic strip form. He explains that Disneyland is presented to be the imaginary to make believe that the rest is real, when in fact the rest of America is no longer real – but hyperreal. Disneyland is neither true nor false but a “deterrence machine” set up to reiterate the fiction of the real. He next discusses Watergate. He finds that it was not a scandal but succeeded in perpetuating the idea that it was a scandal by injecting a “large dose of political morality on a global scale”. Since capital is itself immoral, it can only function behind a moral superstructure, that which the Washington Post journalists furthered. It cannot be denounced according to moral or
economic judgements but according to symbolic law.

Baudrillard gives another example of the Moebius strip to illustrate how referentials and their discourses mingle in a circular way – if history took its force from opposing itself to nature and the discourse of desire opposed itself to that of power then today their signifiers and scenarios are exchanged. Further everything proves its existence by its opposite: real by the imaginary, truth by scandal, work by strike, art by anti-art, theatre by anti-theatre etc. Thus every situation and power “speaks of itself by denial”. Power can stage its own murder to regain legitimacy eg. Kennedy murders.

Law and order too might be nothing more than a simulation. It is impossible now to prove the real, to isolate the real, and illusion is no longer possible because the real is not possible anymore. Thus the order, or the weapon of power is to “reinject realness and referentiality” everywhere so that we are convinced of the social reality, the economy and production. It is melancholy for societies without power that gave rise to fascism. And ironically it is through the death of the social that socialism will emerge, as through the death of God that religions emerged. Thus “power is no longer present except to conceal that there is none”. Also, real work and real production has also disappeared. Ideology is a betrayal of reality by signs and simulation corresponds to reduplication by signs. Ideology will always want to restore the objective process but it is impossible to restore the truth beneath the simulacrum.

Author: Harmanpreet Kaur

Symbolic exchange and death

In Symbolic exchange and death, Baudrillard essentially mounts a critique of the capitalist understanding of value itself. In critiquing the law of value, he mainly approaches it from a Marxist economic theory of use and exchange value and from the post War French linguistic scenario including Barthes and Saussure who talk about symbolic value of signs and meaning making.

Symbolic exchange, as Baudrillard explains, is central to all forms of meaning making and helps in the organization of social order and hierarchies. The difference from other forms of exchange is that in symbolic exchange is that the value of an exchanged object does not value the act of exchanging it. The title refers to the perception of time in so- called primitive cultures, which relies on a cyclical model instead of a linear one. Life and death are not separate, but are coextensive forms of presence. In regular, ritual festivities, the living “animate” the deceased, make them part of their present so that both the living and the dead inhabit the same space. This collapses the binary of forms (life/death) and places them as complementary to each other. This time of the ritual is also a period where the regular activities of daily life are suspended and riches are wasted in order to exhibit one’s social standing within the group. This ability to waste, to give all that one has in a symbolic act, marks an individuals social rank and is a source of recognition. Baudrillard finds these forms of negating exchange as destruction or rendering obsolete of the law of value, which then helps mount a critique of capitalism. For him, capitalism also cancels death and thus cancels all alternatives to it, making simulation and hyper reality central to its reproduction.

Apart from the economic critique, he looks at linguistic theory and the conception of signification. Baudrillard rejects semiotics’ obsession with the meaning of signs, and the entire idea of determining meaning formation as if only one meaning is produced in the interaction of free floating signs. Taking on Barthes’ idea of associative meanings and one literal meaning, Baudrillard goes a step further to say that every literal meaning (or the dominant meaning as seen in an act of signification) is nothing but a possible associative meaning. Basically, he is referring to the consciousness of the ambivalence of signs and the impossibility to fix them. Thus the symbolic becomes subversive and simulation gains immense power in the mass media.

To summarize, in Baudrillard’s argument there is a clear urge to shift our understanding of linear models of time and the exchange-use-symbolic value model of thinking. He takes the help of social interactions from pre-modern societies and the metaphor of death to move away from them.

Postmodernism and Consumer Society

In “Post Modernism and Consumer Society”, Frederic Jameson outlines a few of the major traits of postmodernism. He described in his essay that how postmodernism is different to modernism. Jameson believes that postmodernism is a reaction against high modernism, a form of expression which found vulgar and irreverent by the preceding generation. But now these are standard against the current generation. The difference between high culture and mass culture are gone or at least beginning to fade in postmodernism era he said.

Jameson used different terms like pastiche, death of the subject, nostalgia and schizophrenia to understand postmodernism. According to Jameson Pastiche means parodyor mimicry. He explains “Pastiche is like parody, the imitation of a particular or unique style, the wearing of a stylistic mask, speech in a dead language; but it is a neutral practice of such mimicry, without parody’s ulterior motive, without the satirical impulse, without laughter, without that still latent feeling that there exists something normal compared to which what is being imitated is rather comic”.

The idea of pastiche leads to a discussion of the ‘death of the subject’. He explains that the modernists felt like they were doing something new, something individual. But Jameson states that this sense of the individual in the postmodern is gone. He is proposing that there is no longer individualism. He states that “older bourgeois individual subject no longer exists”. It means that we are in the age of corporate capitalism, and homogeneous world, individuality does not exist at all. He further said that the idea of individuality didn’t even exist in the past or in the modern era; it in fact never existed at all. The idea of the individual “is merely a philosophical and cultural mystification which sought to persuade people that they ‘had’ individual subjects and possessed this unique personal identity”. The conclusion Jameson leads to form this discussion is that modern art is dead; there is no originality, only perpetual copies of pre- existing elements and forms, or, pastiche, “to speak through the masks and with the voices of the styles in the imaginary museum”. Jameson described the term schizophrenia as the second marker of postmodernist society. Jameson describes this in discussing the schizophrenic language experience as one where, “isolated, disconnected,
discontinuous material signifiers which fail to link up in a coherent sequence”.

Jameson then describes a number of films that seem to embody pastiche- replicating certain ideas in an undifferentiated and meaningless way. He gives the example of American Graffiti (1973) and Star Wars to Raiders of the Lost Ark and Chinatown (1974), explaining that this is pastiche because the general plot is derived from the plots of older films and TV shows of the 1930’s to 50’s. Jameson points out that nostalgia films or pastiche films are often less about the past and more about a false realism. Jameson says, “If there is any realism left here it is a ‘realism’ which springs from the shock of grasping that confinement and of realizing that, for whatever peculiar reasons, we seem condemned to seek the historical past through our own pop images and stereotypes about the past, which itself remains forever out of reach”.

In conclusion, Jameson discusses the consumer society and the social impact of art in the early 20th century versus the social impact of art today. He says, ““I believe that the emergence of postmodernism is closely related to the emergence of this new moment of late, consumer or multinational capitalism”. Modernism was described as “critical, negative, contestatory, subversive, and oppositional and the like”. He discussed two features of postmodernism--the transformation of reality into images and the fragmentation of time into a series of perpetual presents. In this way, then, postmodernism replicates or reproduces or reinforces the logic of consumer capitalism.

Author: Sattyendra Kumar

The Commodity as Spectacle

With a Marxist approach of ‘commodity fetishism’, Guy Debord in this essay critiques the ‘spectacle’ of the commodity that has overtaken its actual presence and use-value. He says that the society is dominated by things which are at the same time perceptible and imperceptible by the senses. This gives birth to the world of ‘spectacle’ which is constructed of images which seem to be superior to the actual world. Debord asserts that in the world of the spectacle, all that was once lived has become mere representation and commodity rules over all lived experience. The commodity form, instead of being qualitative has become ‘quantitative’ where it is characterized by self-equivalence/currency-value. Although the commodity turns away from its quantitative value, but its development still depends on the qualitative.

Debord further observes that the commodity production has for long retained its ‘artisanal’ value where the quantitative was masked by the qualitative. However, with large-scale trade this production became quantitative. The commodities thus acquired an economic power and transformed human-labour into wage-labour which then gave rise to ‘abundance’. He argues that with such commodity production, societies do solve the problems of basic survival but they themselves get entrapped into its vicious circle. The economy transforms the world but it transforms the world into a world of the economy. This ‘abundance’ of commodities gives rise to what Debord calls ‘augmented survival’.

The ‘spectacle’ allows the commodity to attain a social life. Debord asserts that if the first industrial revolution alienated the worker from the product of their own labour, the second industrial revolution has alienated them from not just production but also consumption. The proletarian who was once a ‘producer’ of commodity has now also become a ‘consumer’ due to the ‘abundance’ of commodities. This is where ‘spectacle’ comes into play. To correspond to the growing pseudo-needs of people, Debord suggests that new opportunities for employment must be created in the service and the tertiary sector. He examines how exchange-value gained an upper hand over use value and the process of exchange became indistinguishable from utility. The undermining of use-value gave birth to a new form of privation. The new privation, in the realm of ‘augmented survival’ does not limit itself to basic survival but goes much ahead of that.
In Debord’s words, “The real consumer thus becomes a consumer of illusion. The commodity is
this illusion, which is in fact real, and the spectacle is its most general form.”

The spectacle, for Debord is the other side of money- the abstract general equivalent of all commodities, for in it (spectacle) a unified image of the commodity world is visible. “The spectacle is not just the servant of pseudo-use – it is, in itself, the pseudo-use of life.” He feels that with an ‘economic abundance’, the social labour has become visible as a result of abstract representation. By replacing the necessity of human needs with the necessity of economic development, the satisfaction of primary human needs is being replaced by the “pseudo-needs”. The society of the spectacle, thus, does not need a developing economy for survival, but one which has to provide for the survival of the economy itself.

Unity and Division within Appearances

In this chapter, Debord discusses the paradoxical characteristic of the ‘spectacle’ where it is “at once united and divided”. The contradiction in the society, which emerges from the spectacle, is itself being contradicted by the society. For example, the class struggle that divides the society is actually aimed at unifying it with the purpose of running the same socio-economic system. The society that constructs the ‘spectacle’ does not dominate underdeveloped regions only through economic hegemony but also through the hegemony of the ‘spectacle’ itself. Just the way, society of spectacle promotes a desire for pseudo-needs and pseudo-goods; Debord believes that “it may also offer false models of revolution to local revolutionaries”. He feels that the roots of spectacle stand firm in the economy and it is economy that dominates the spectacular market.

For Debord, the glitter of the ‘spectacle’ produces a banality where although all commodities are different but all are superficially coated with the ‘spectacle’ tending to look the same. Rebelliousness also arises from the ‘spectacle’ by contradicting it and yet allowing to merge within the unity of the spectacle. The reason for this, Debord figures is “that dissatisfaction itself becomes a commodity as soon as the economics of affluence finds a way of applying its production methods to this particular raw material”.

Debord looks at the phenomenon of stardom and believes that stars are “spectacular representations of living human beings”. Celebrities are also a result of production who embrace an appearance/spectacle hiding behind the real-self. He further claims that an individual, in the course of becoming a star or embracing the ‘spectacle’, becomes an enemy of the individual within him and of many other individuals. In order to become a model that others would identify with, he loses his power to identify himself. Therefore, although the celebrities might portray different personalities on the outside, within they enjoy the same consumption and satisfaction. He goes on to say that the people who we admire are the ones who embrace a level of reality
lower than that of the most insignificant individual life.

Debord feels that the consumption of abundance has established itself in the antagonism between youth and adulthood where an adult is nowhere to be found and youth is not proper to people who are young. This antagonism characterizes the economic system where the things that rule are young. Such spectacular antagonism conceals the unity of poverty. In such cases, the spectacle is in a concentrated or diffused form. While the concentrated form of the spectacle is characterized by bureaucratic capitalism, the diffused form is associated with the abundance of commodities where each commodity’s presence is justified due to the ‘abundance’ factor. Giving the spectacular logic of the automobiles, Debord says that for a perfect traffic flow, the spectacle calls for the destruction of the old city centers whereas the spectacle of the city itself proposes that these sections be turned to museums. So the satisfaction derived from the consumption of the whole is questioned from the outset as the consumer can consume it only in fragments.

In the society of the spectacle, every commodity fights for itself and imposes its presence over the other and in this process actualizes itself in a higher order than its original self. In the word of Debord, “the commodity becoming worldly coincides with the world’s being transformed into commodity”. In this abundance of commodities, they have lost their use-value or intrinsic value but are only bought for their spectacular value. Debord feels that as the “mass of commodities become more and more absurd, absurdity itself becomes a commodity”. For Debord, the pseudo-need imposed by modern consumerism cannot be opposed by any genuine need which is not
itself shaped by society and its history and this eventually leads to the “falsification of life”.

Debord gives example of the falsified nature of advertising and the fake promise of products they offer. With every new product, the consumers are made to believe that this is the ultimate one for them until a new product arrives with a new promise or “disillusionment”. This continual process of product replacement hints at the fake gratification of the product and the illusory nature of the society of the spectacle. Each new lie of the advertising industry acknowledges the one told before. At the end, Debord also claims that the ‘spectacle’ lacks permanence and is an ever-changing phenomenon.

Author: Ritika Pant

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Rethinking Genre

Christine Gledhill in her essay ‘Rethinking Genre’ stresses on genre to be a cyclical concept. For her, it helps to fill the gap that is left open by theory that once promised to grasp films as a part of a totalising ‘social formation’ or ‘historical conjuncture’. For example film noir was always understood in terms of the post-war social malaise in American cities in the 40’s and 50’s. But Steve Neale comments that the mental condition of a nation cannot be read from consumer choice at the box office. Thus in the study of genre for Gledhill, texts and aesthetics intersect with industry and institution, history and society, culture and audiences. Genre is capable of understanding culture in a wider context in relationship to rather than as an originating source of aesthetic mutations and textual complications.

Genre is also increasingly a boundary phenomenon. According to Collins, postmodern culture dissolves the boundaries between high and low, literary and vernacular, artistic and commercial and causes a cultural confusion as all areas of cultural production meet in a mass mediated market place. But genre also gets introduced into film studies as an alternative to auteurism, where it puts art back into popular fiction and simultaneously reclaims the commercial products of Hollywood for critical appraisal. The productivity of genre lies in the fact that boundaries are defined, eroded and redrawn. Genre analysis hence tells us much more about the cultural work of producing and knowing genre films. Gledhill states three important areas that combine within genre analysis - Industrial mechanism, aesthetic practice and cultural-critical discursivity.

Genres are also a system of intersecting fictional worlds. There is usually a presupposition that an ‘original’ underlies the hybridity of genre as not only an industrial but also a cultural process. But take for instance, melodrama as a form has been founded on plagiarism, and the notion of a singular becomes inappropriate here. Further, there is no simple identification to be made between gender, male or female and melodrama at any point in its history. As an industrial process, Alloway, Maltby and Altman favour the concept of ‘cycle’ over genre. Tino Balio speaks of ‘production trends’ and Barbara Klinger of the ‘local genre’. Thus the industry does not work with genres directly but to guide production studios who invariably look to replicate a successful film, exploit an asset like a star, a set or a formula that comes out of a mix of elements from different genres. There is an inevitable mismatch between industrial and critical histories. For example, Maltby points out that the gangster film cycle lasted three years while its cultural life extends to the present day.

Gledhill explains that the life of a genre is cyclical and the cultural historian lacks any fixed point from which to survey its panorama. For example, film noir emerges both as a critical concept and a production category and films that were not promoted as ‘women’s films’ were also reconceived under this genre. Also, Melodrama is not a singular genre but combining two broad based cultural traditions - a mix of folk and new urban entertainment forms and middle-class fiction and theatre of sentimental drama and comedy. The melodramatic machine combines news events, popular paintings, songs, romantic poetry, circus acts etc. and generates a wide diversity of genres and draws from several modes as well.
Gledhill describes ‘modality’ as an aesthetic articulation that adapts itself across genres, decades and
national cultures. Melodrama is doubly a source of fascination and threat as it recognised a range of audiences from different classes and nationalities. Thomas Elsaesser, Peter Brooks and Ben Singer suggest melodrama has a capacity to respond to the questions of modernity. The modality of melodrama encapsulates a secular world driven by capitalism and the clash of moral imperatives. Cinematic technology like melodrama emerges out of the merging of two sets of class and gender traditions - fairground with parlour entertainment and cinema of ‘attractions’ with a cinema of narrative fiction. Melodrama also combines bodily eloquence with spectacle.

Gledhill is critical of the term ‘classic’ which is attached to mainstream film narrative tying it to a novelistic past and neglecting cinema’s melodramatic legacy. She finds melodramatic modality to continue to dominate mainstream cinema under the new names of Hollywood genres to the present day. There is further a polarisation of melodrama and realism as critical values under the middle-class intellectual elite. Realism is associated with restraint and reasoning and valued as masculine while emotion and pathos are read as feminine. But melodrama exploits a realism associated with sexualised images from popular Freudism as well as the violence of the western, thriller, action and horror film. She states that desire is generated at the boundaries. Hence genres construct fictional worlds out of textual encounters between languages, discourses, images and documents according to a particular genre’s codes while social and cultural conflicts provide material for renewed generic enactments in them.
There are encounters at the boundaries—for example, the serial queen or the ‘true’ woman as today’s action heroine. The overlapping images and boundaries mean that they are ripe for reconstruction and re-imagination. The job of the critics whether journalist, academic or counter-cultural is to make these connections across generic boundaries and bring into view new patterns. For example, film noir’s return generating new sub genres of neo-noir, tech noir etc.

For Gledhill then, there is a fluidity between boundaries that divide one genre from another but also between fictional and social imaginaries. Genre system complicates the use of film history for in historical research one cannot find a true identity of genre in some past origin, but an identity that is still in the making. The boundaries of genre don’t stay within the fictional but seep into cultural and critical discourse where they are made and remade by audiences, students, scholars and critics.

Author: Harmanpreet Kaur

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Enlightenment as Mass Deception

In their work Enlightenment as Mass Deception Adorno and Horkheimer claim that since Enlightenment popular culture has degenerated into a mechanical apparatus, a factory that manufactures standardized cultural goods, a factory they call the culture industry. In their work they raise questions about the growing influence of entertainment industries, the increasing commodification of art and a culture that has been infected by sameness and uniformity where repetition is invaluable and individuality redundant.

According to them the entire industry is a thin gossamer of illusion which extends a false sense of pleasure. It spawns a desire which is permanently repeated and suspended but never fulfilled capturing the consumers in an eternal cycle of unfulfilled desires and promises. All the products of this industry are made in a way that makes imagination, creativity and fantasy unnecessary. It lulls the consumers into passive states of consumption turning them into mere statistics on research organization charts. Films are fashioned to be seamless extensions of the real world so that consumers do not feel the need to distinguish between the real and the unreal. Escape, they say is an escape not
from reality but from the last thought of resisting that reality. This prevents the viewers to fashion their own fantasies and imaginations and only identify with the imagination that they’ve been fed with. Adorno and Horkheimer talk about the intractable detail that was an expression of opposition, the enemy of organization and structure and whether it was the harmonic effect in music, a particular detail in art or the psychological penetration in the novel it was an expression of individuality that is no longer found. Since the culture industry thrives on repetition and reproduction it lays special emphasis on totality which has leveled all idiosyncrasies where the whole and the detail look alike.

Everything is already a copy and even beauty is mechanically reproduced so that the film star that one is supposed to fall in love with is already copy of himself and the natural faces of the Texas girls resemble some established model. This mechanical reproduction and increasing sameness of mass culture where originality is impossible is seen by Adorno and Horkheimer as a threat to high art. The culture industry works within the limits of a catalog of schematic formulas which define the boundaries of imagination and creativity beyond which no one ventures. ‘To be entertained is to be in agreement’ with those rules and boundaries and entertainment is a way of escaping mechanized labour so that people can go back to it. Within the confines of the culture industry, whose reach is
infinite, totality has devoured the detail.
The authors state that everything is economically intertwined and there is high level of dependence on capital “the dependence of the most powerful broadcasting company on the electrical industry, or of film on the banks, characterizes the whole sphere, the individual sectors of which are themselves economically intertwined.” Horkheimer and Adorno believe that advertisements, media broadcasting, radio programmes, films and entertainment are essentially propaganda to disguise the domination of capitalism and its control of consumers is mediated by entertainment. The authors believe that the
consumers are aware of the exploitation of the culture industry but remain inactive or passive because of sheer powerlessness. Cultural tyranny like de Tocqueville suggests leaves the body and works directly on the soul. The consumers are so comprehensively surrounded by the pressure of capitalism that they willingly accept what is being offered. 
The industry has made works of art readily available at reduced prices. In the past people paid a price for a work of art, a piece of music or a performance. If nothing else the price made the consumer connect with the work of art and value it. The authors believe that that era has now come to an end. To consumers incessantly battered with crude resemblances and bad copies, even works of art are but more copies and mechanical reproductions. Even more alarming is the trend of pursuing prizes which have reduced art to a matter of chance. The symphony becomes the prize for listening to the radio or the film for watching television. Since culture has become a bonus everybody rushes in willingly or unwillingly to claim it because if they don’t they might miss the opportunity.

The authors do not believe that consumers can escape this cycle because the freedom that the industry allows lasts as long as one operates within the boundaries of the industry. Any deviancy or rebelliousness, any intention to introduce the detail against the totality is met with dire consequences. The consequence of non conformity is bankruptcy or expulsion where one suffers intellectual powerlessness. There is no escape from the all encompassing cycle of the culture industry unless it is the fake catharsis that one opts for.

Author: Vibhushan Subba

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Film Genre theory

Rick Altman proposed a new phenomenon called semantic/syntactic approach to film genre in his book Film/Genre, which was published in 1999. His aim was to problematise the discussion of genre
within film studies. He described how genres changed over time, to ‘genre as (semiotic) theory’; an approach which largely ignored industry practices. Genre is always a vague term with no fixed boundaries. Some films also cross into multiple genres. Most theory on film genre is borrowed from literary genre criticism. ‘Genre’ serves a precise function in the overall economy of cinema. However, the term ‘genre’ is not your average descriptive term but one that encompasses multiple meanings.

Altman argues that the uncertainty to define ‘genre’ is associated with the relative status of theory and history in genre studies. Before semiotics came along, generic titles and definitions were largely borrowed from the industry itself. He described “pessimistic world view” depicted in films such as Kisss Me Deadly (1955) and it’s alive (1974) as film genre.

Altman states that the themes of progressive film dramatize the demolition of values positively propounded in dominant cinema’s characterization of the role and narrative of social institutions. He described ‘narrative form’ as genre; the overall narrative structure is refined toward an exposure rather than suppression, as in the classic text-of ideological contradictions and tensions. Through these distinct mutations’ of classic narrative rules, represented in such films as Imitation of Life (1959 ) and The Locket, (1946) the system is both reflexively exposed and countered. According to Altman, the ‘visual style’ of films also depict genre. These films are basically characterizes by stylistic self-consciousness and formal excess, which are seen in varying degrees of specificity as supporting or implementing a vital part of their subversive commentary.

He pointed out that the identification of the progressive genre films depends heavily on the critical leverage imparted to the intrinsic intentional characteristics, which serve to distinguish these films from the ‘dominant classic cinema’ and often, from within their own generic categories as well. He adds further “difference” in context, which poses both the question of generic/systematic
evolution and of genre’s relation to classical narrative.

This essay connects the roles played by critics and audiences in describing and re-describing genre. Altman points out that, “genres thus are not neutral categories, but rather ideological constructs that provide and enforce a pre-reading. He recognized that the term ‘genre’ has different meaning for different groups.

Author: Satyendra Kumar

Cinema/Ideology/Criticism” Revisited

Barbara Klinger critiques ideological criticism in film theory that distinguishes a category of films as “progressive” or “subversive”. Klinger argues that the progressive text criticism consists of an assessment of textual politics based on a restricted/rigid sense of what “makes” or “breaks” the system.

Klinger traces the origin of critical constitution of the “progressive” text to the work of Louis Althusser where the focus is on art’s relation to ideology. She appropriates his commentary as implying a class of texts with a superior epistemology thereby suggesting the existence of a textual practice that amplifies the “basic” epistemological dynamics ofa text. Such a practice suggests a “break” from the ideological — a critical distance that forces the ideological into conspicuous view. Althusser’s discussion corresponds to a Marxist critical practice where the purpose of criticism is to realize and quantify the internal textual objectification of ideology produced by art’s epistemological character. This, she argues leads to a strong textual focus in the theorization of artistic text and it is the potential of such a perspective that is elaborated within film studies to produce the formal and aesthetic category of “progressive”.

Klinger then elaborates that Althusser’s precepts were mobilized by the Comolli/Narboni editorial through which the film texts were purposefully scrutinized to determine their “textual politics”. She critiques the category classification of film types, developed from the same essay, where the focus was on text’s specific relation to the ideology it produces in form and content. She elucidates that films here are appraised according to how they adhere to or depart from pre-dominant expressions of ideology. Just as “E” films get their preferential “politic” status because of their deconstructive relation to what is recognized as a “classic “ text, Klinger argues that the critical investment in designating “counter cinema” or “progressive” cinema stems through a strong conception of what constitutes “classic” textuality, against which the progressive practice is defined.

Klinger uses Kaplan’s conception of the classic text as that which gives access to the real world, thereby subscribing to an ideology of representation. Klinger argues that the classic text’s unproblematic broadcast of dominant cultural ideas is distinguished from the progressive film’s ‘anti-realist’ tendency as it rattles the perfect illusionism transmitted by classic cinema. Similarly she cites Pam Cook’s appraisal of previously considered “low- life” films like exploitation and B films to present the logic of progressive genre argument as against classic Hollywood cinema. Cook presumes them being less objectionable than mainstream films as they lay bare the “ground rules” from which mainstream films are built.

Klinger maintains that even though all the critics that engage in progressive genres do not draw explicitly from Althusser, the terms in which they identify the characteristics of the progressive genre are strikingly similar. She uses Robin Wood’s study of horror films as using the difference from the environment of conventions within which these films exist. This difference becomes the primary feature of their progressive status and the rationale by which they are accorded a radical valence.

Klinger then engages in a selective exposition of the characteristics that describe the progressive class of films like — a pessimistic world view that constitutes negativity; theme that dramatize the repressive and deforming principles of institutions like law and family; narrative forms leading towards exposure rather than suppression, departing from convention by either minimizing the usual construction devices to a bare minimum or by exaggerating and maximizing its principles to destabilize the logic of the system and the refusal of closure; foregrounding of visual style and calling attention to itself; and excessive sexual stereotyping of characters being the preferred characterization. This, according to Klinger situates the cinema/ideology inquiry within the logic and tenets of progressive-text argument, and even though it is an essential advance from reductive theories, she warns that there is an impulse to overestimate the significance of textual signifiers in determining the text/ideology relation. Klinger, thus critiques the univocal textual centric consideration of the cinema/ideology relation and problematizes the political value attached to those differences within a system of representation.

Klinger posits two theoretical problems arising from such a designation of texts as progressive — the overvaluation of invention underplays the way the works relate to their mother systems thus posing the question of generic/systemic evolution and of genre’s relation to classical narrative.

Klinger then uses the formalists’ approach of using words like “deviation” to denote the normative evaluation of a literary evolution rather than a subversive implication. Thus, a break from tradition or its continuation is seen as firmly entrenched in the system itself. Klinger uses Maria Corti’s work, where Corti sees transformation as an event that constitutes a link in the path of the literary; and argues that inventions can be seen as instances of the system’s requisite operation. Klinger thus categorizes the “rupture criticism” as based on a restricted formulation of a classical narrative. She cites Stephen Neale’s conception of genre as being produced from a volatile combination of disequilibrium and equilibrium. Just as both Neale and Corti recognise disequilibrium/difference as an essential component of the overall system itself, Klinger argues that genre thrives on a play of variation and regulation, providing an economy of variation rather than rupture. The overestimating of radical valence of the inventional signifiers leads to an underestimation of the means through which the regulating system negotiate a normative function for even the most excessive, fore grounded, deformative tendencies.

Author: Ritika Kaushik