Saturday, December 15, 2007

Reading Too Much on the Movies, or Am I Onto Something?

Jingle Blogs, Jingle Blogs, Blogging All the Way...

Greetings to all my fellow bloggers and dearest friends around the world. In the words of LL Cool J, "Don't call it a comeback!" The blog was just taking a quick break, but I'm back and fully loaded!

First things first, some acknowledgments: As always, props to the other members to the awesomest broomball team EVER, The Famous St. Funs. I can't wait to play intramural again! I'm so pumped! Finally, to all my students this semester, thanks for making a difference yet again.
And now, yes you know it! It's time for...

The Gratuitous Twin Nieces Update (Because those are my favorite "snowflakes"):
Ok, so they will turn 17 months old next week. They're now almost fully mobile (as in walking!) and still very vivacious. And, get this, they already recognize me IN PICTURES. My mom said she took one picture where I look really nice (by golly, I had no idea there was such a thing as a pic in which I look good... I still think that's an urban legend or my mom's trying to cheer me up some!) and they really know I am their uncle! I'm so looking forward to my summer trip just to see them!

Ok. Now it's time for tonight's blog...

Reading the movies: Is there a hidden message somewhere to which we should pay attention?

Those who know what I do as part of my research (whatever the hell it is that I do) know that I have an interest in media literacy, television/movies, and popular culture. What that means is that while I can still enjoy the movies, I sometimes tend to overanalyze them, not in a Roger Ebert kind of way, but I still do. I went to watch "I am Legend," the latest Will Smith vehicle. Without killing the plot too much, it is about a man who ends up all by himself in New York, after almost everybody got wiped out by some crazy virus. I am not going to discuss the cinematic values of the production or acting (after all, I am not into Cinema Studies). In media literacy, one is more interested in the messages hidden behind the messages, the social constructions being laid out in the media, and what that particular movie, TV show, or song is saying about the world at large.

So, since I decided to give my brain the afternoon off (that means: Not think about my dissertation), a thought came to me this morning after my shower and while I tried to take a nap (you would be surprised what ideas I come up with when I shave!): What are these movies trying to tell us? This very quick-and-dirty analysis will contrast two genres of movies: Sci-fi and the Zombie/End of the World genres:

If you look at some movies from the Science Fiction genre (e.g. Independence Day, Armageddon, Deep Impact, The Core, Alien, Predator, etc.), there is an underlying thread that can be recognized by reading between the lines: There is a threat to humanity, whether foreign/alien (other civilizations, asteroids, comets, etc.) or domestic (earth itself) and humanity needs to pool either all their technological resources together (Armageddon, The Core) or get the best out of human ingenuity (Alien, Predator) to vanquish it. Enemies become friends (Independence Day), Weapons of Mass Destruction become Weapons of Mass "Salvation" (Armageddon, Deep Impact, The Core), and ultimately the best of the human race seems to be highlighted, our core values surface in the face of extreme adversity. In addition, the "threat," when in the form of
alien races or species, is always portrayed as superior to us, both technologically and physically. Think of the "Predator" character: It is physically imposing, a freak of nature if you will. It is the same as the Alien from the namesake franchise. And yet, we seem to find a way to best them with our (to them) archaic technology and underdeveloped skills. Finally, the aftermath seems to be positive: Earth finds a way to recover a better balance, things look positive after things are done.

However, take a look at how we are portrayed in the Zombie/End of the World genre (e.g. I am Legend, Dawn of the Dead, Land of the Dead, 28 Days Later, Resident Evil, etc.): We are portrayed first as a scientific community that seems to defy the rules of ethics and wants to play God for its sake. What happens is what Sting in "If I Ever Lose My Faith In You" can best describe, "Never saw no miracle of science/That didn't go from a blessing to a curse." Oh yes, all these movies somehow imply either that something in science either created a virus (Resident Evil, I Am Legend) or that something happened that made a common cold go haywire (28 Days Later, Dawn Of The Dead). Then, there is the portrayal of the survivors. Unlike the survivors in the Sci-fi genre, here they seem to be first devoid of most resources, especially technological. Second, they seem to be completely outsmarted and outnumbered by what is described as an "inferior" version of themselves (unlike our enemies in Sci-fi as I pointed above). Somehow, somewhere, the zombies always seem to get the best of them, there is no apparent way to defeat them, let alone save them. Furthermore, the depiction of earth is actually scary. The planet is shown as completely devastated (Resident Evil: Extinction, 28 Weeks Later) and people are forced to move to small enclaves to survive (Land of the Dead, I Am Legend, 28 Days Later), without an apparent way to restore order out of the existing chaos.

Now, I am not implying that most directors have actually thought about this, with the exception, of course, of the master of the Zombie genre himself, George A. Romero (just watch the original "Night of the Living Dead," "Dawn of the Dead," and his most recent "Land of the Dead" and the social commentary is pretty evident). But, as I said earlier, this is what us media literacy folks do: Unearth messages where they seemingly are not. A very simple message that comes from cross-checking the genres is: We can defeat pretty much anyone, anytime, anything, anywhere... except ourselves. These movies remind us that, in addition to our endless capacity for creation, we also share the same hunger for destruction. One thing that the zombie genre hardly ever asks (with the exception of I Am Legend and the Resident Evil franchise) is, "How did we get here?" I think as a society, it might be worth thinking about it. After all, there is such a thing as biochemical warfare and folks are getting affected by it. How long might it be until those things come knocking on our door.

Another reading about these movies has to do with what we do and who we are. As "Shaun Of The Dead" so poignantly reminds us in the early sequences, sometimes we seem to act as "zombies" already, moving on to life aimlessly. If I were to come up with an umbrella lesson from this cross-examination, it would be this: There is so much about us that we still need to tap into and we are sometimes wasting it. Is it not time to stop going through the motions and reclaiming our humanity? And, finally, as someone used to say, if we are not part of the solution, we are part of the problem. The larger question is, how are we going to use those resources that, in our imaginations, we use to defeat those imaginaries that put us against the rope to help those who are already facing adversity?

Those are larger questions, whose answers I am still figuring out. After all, there is more to my Ph.D. than writing a dissertation.

Thanks for letting me share, and until the next blog,

The Blogger, the thinker, the provocateur...
Raúl A. (El Patron)

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