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