Academic Papers

Satire In Film

In the Webster’s New Dictionary and Thesaurus the defining passage of ‘Satire’ reads “n. a literary component holding up to ridicule folly or vice of the times; use of irony, sarcasm, invective or wit.” Satire, by its very definition being a literary concept, strips the tenuous nature of human society to the bone, making both a mockery and profound statement about its shortcomings through the power of the written word. It’s been used in literary works as old of that of Playwrights Aristophanes and William Shakespeare and the more recent works of Charles Dickens, Mark Twain and George Orwell. However with the advent of film in the late nineteenth century a new medium for which to apply these literary conventions was created. Like Punch & Judy and the Shadow plays of China, this new style of visual storytelling made it possible for the dense themes like those found in the works of Shakespeare and Dickens to be accessible and mass produced for a wider audience. One early example of the transition of satire from page to celluloid was the 1924 Soviet Film The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks.
The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks was a Black & white silent comedy written by Nikolai Aseyev and Vsevolod Pudovkin and directed by Lev Kuleshov. Lev Kuleshov is best known for the series of experiments he conducted in the “Kuleshov Workshop” in 1920. In these experiments Kuleshov toyed with different ways in which editing can be used for narrative purposes, drawing influences from D.W Griffith and Mack Sennet, (Particularly their use of cross-cutting) (Debatolo, 2002). His editing experiments (which would come to be called montage theory when expanded on by his student Sergei Eisenstien) (Hayward, 1996) included creating an “invisible city” and a sequence of shots entitled The white House in Washington in which he simulated The U.S White House being geographically present in Russia through editing (‘Keith1942,’ 2009). His most notable experiment, however, was with a sequence of variously arranged shots including a close-up of a man’s face, a bowl of soup, a coffin and a child (again in varying sequential orders) and screening these sequences for an audience to gauge their inferences and reactions to the different sequences (‘Keith1942,’ 2009). This resulted in what now known as the ‘Kuleshov Effect,’ which posits that a narrative can be created not only from writing or Mise-en-scene, but also through the effect of montage, the order in which shots are arranged. The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in Land of the Bolsheviks marked Lev Kuleshov’s first directorial outing since the famed experiments in montage, which reflected in the film with Kuleshov’s use of fades and cross-cuts when cutting from shot to shot. For example, there is the scene where Zhdan receives Mr. West’s bag from the boy who stole it. The action is conveyed through montage, cutting from a close-up shot of the boy’s face, staring off screen with a frightened expression, then to Zhdan’s finger curling inward, and then to Zhdan’s evil smile, thus relying on what would come to be known as the motivated edit to drive the action of the scene.
The satirical nature of ‘Mr. West’ is represented by the films mockery of the way the U.S viewed the Soviet Union, as well as forming its own stereotypical portrayals of Americans. It was made in response to a number of American Made Anti-USSR films like Harley Knoles’ Bolshevism On Trial (1919) and Chester Whitney’s The Burning Question (1919) (Williams, 2012). The U.S is represented by three characters: Mr. West (his name being an obvious reference to the U.S), Jeddie (a gun-toting, easily confused Cowboy and West’s bodyguard while in Russia), and Madge (Mr. West’s wife, who spends most of the film crying and staring off camera forlornly, further demonstrating the inspiration drawn from the works of D.W Griffith, particularly the theatrical melodrama of Griffith’s films like Birth of a Nation and Intolerance). The film tells the story of Mr. West, the president of a YMCA, and his journey to Russia to see if the preconceived notions of what a Bolshevik is are true. These preconceived notions are shown through an American magazine showing pictures of “Bolsheviks,” here shown to have wild facial hair, furry helmets with spikes on the top, ratty furs as clothes and a perpetual scowl on their faces. His fears are initially realized when, five minutes into his arrival in Russia, his bag is stolen and he is separated from Jeddie. The U.S view of what Russia is like is captured in one shot: When the bag is stolen, the camera cuts from Mr. West’s shocked expression to the empty space upon which his bag WAS sitting, with the little American flag Mr. West was carrying around leaning into shot from camera left. This image uses the flag to identify the occurrence of theft as a distinctly Russian act from an American perspective. The American notion of what a Bolshevik is like is illustrated by the gang who come upon the bag after it is stolen. The gang of colorful characters consists of Zhdan (the leader), ‘the Countess,’ ‘the Dandy,’ and ‘One-Eye.’ While rummaging through the bag Zhdan finds Mr. West’s magazine, and plots an elaborate kidnapping where Mr. West is taken by a band of “savage Bolsheviks” (members of another gang paid to dress in fake beards and primitive furs) to terrify him and extort him for ransom. The character of Jeddie the cowboy bodyguard provides additional satire, the subject of ridicule here being Americans themselves. Kuleshov uses the cowboy, a traditionally American archetype, and portrays him as simple, bumbling and easily confused. When he’s separated from Mr. West’s car, he mistakes the license plate number of another (666) for that of his Boss’ (999). To chase after it he starts threatening people on the street with his gun, firing wildly in the air, and steals a horse drawn carriage resulting in a Police chase. After various shenanigans on the streets and roofs of Russia he crashes through a window of a library and gets into a fist fight with two Russian men reading. So the films message is not to throw these misconceptions about culture out in lieu of cultural understanding, but rather it is fighting one bad stereotype with another, the Savage Bolshevik vs. the Stupid American. The film ends with Mr. West being rescued by the Russian Police (‘a real Bolshevik’), and embracing the Soviet lifestyle, solidified by him messaging his wife to place a picture of Lenin on the Wall, thus using the satirical elements to create nationalist propaganda.
Kuleshov was able apply the literary conventions of satire to the still-developing medium of film. Unlike satirical literature, he showed that film can provide a visual foundation on which to illustrate the subject of the satire beyond the use of descriptive language. Even satirical works in theater (like those of William Shakespeare and Aristophanes), which are also visual in nature, are confined to the Proscenium Arch, allowing only one perspective of the action taking place (akin looking through a window), whereas film can provide close-ups and multiple angles to place emphasis on a character or theme. The satire is made manifest, ironically, through techniques and conventions borrowed from American cinema, mostly in the use of slap-stick comedy (like Jeddie’s chase and the Dandy’s fight with One-Eye),drawing influence from American comedies like those of Fatty Arbuckle, Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, and would be followed by a string of satirical films in the years to come. In 1925 the following year, Charlie Charlie Chaplin came out with The Gold Rush, which he wrote, directed and starred in (The Gold Rush was a satire of the Donner Party Disaster during the Klondike Goldrush) (Robinson, 2004). In 1926 Buster Keaton came out with his Civil War Comedy The General, which was a satire of the heroic conventions of a war film by having a bumbling train conductor accidentally fall into the role of hero (Keaton, 1926). In 1940 Charlie Chaplin came out with The Great Dictator in which he played a satirical version of Adolph Hitler. Decades after the release of The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in Land of the Bolsheviks satire became a regular subject of film, extending into the sixties with Stanley Kubric’s Doctor Strangelove: Or How I learned or How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) all the way to nineties with Wes Craven’s Scream (1996).
While most likely not the first instance in which satire a film was used for the purpose of satire, Lev Kuleshov’s ridicule of the United States’ cultural misconception about the Soviet Union marked a distinct point at which satire transcended the conventions of literature/ theatre. Mr. West provided a launching point for a new subgenre of film and further cemented the medium as an artform.

Works cited:
Susan Hayward. 1996. Cinema Studies: The key Concepts, third edition. Routledge.
‘Keith1942’. 2009. Early and Silent Film: Lev Kuleshov and his ‘Effect.’ Word Press
John DeBartolo. 2002. Reviews of Rare & Obscure Films: By The Law.
Tony Williams. 2012. Sense Of Cinema: The Extraordinary adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks.
David Robinson. 2004. Filming The Gold Rush.
Stage Types: The Proscenium Arch. Theatre Design.
Lev Kuleshov, Nikolai Aseyev, Vsevolod Pudovkin. 1924. The Extraordinary adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks.
Roscoe Arbuckle, Buster Keaton, 1926. The General.
Charlie Chaplin. 1925. The Gold Rush
Charlie Chaplin. 1940. The Great Dictator.

Jaws: The Original Blockbuster
In 1975, up-and-comer Steven Spielberg set for himself a permanent foundation among the Hollywood elite at the young age of 27. He did so with a film that many had expected to be some trashy, exploitative B-Movie of the Roger Corman ilk, but what would turn into the future template for the big summer block buster and become a pop-culture horror icon. The motion picture was Jaws. The film terrified audiences with a Hitchcockian mastery of suspense while also a demonstrating a detailed analysis of characters as three men (the protagonists) face a monstrous force of nature which manifests in the form of a Great White Shark terrorizing the fictitious beachside town of Amity.
Before being approached to man the director’s chair, Spielberg had done two feature films: Dual (a 1971 abc made-for-television film about a salesman in his car being chased by faceless trucker in a seemingly supernatural gas tanker) and Sugarland Express (1974). Peter Benchley, the author of the novel on which JAWS was based, had this to say on why Spielberg got the job: “It [the movie rights to the novel] was not sold for a great deal of money. No-one thought that this was going to be Lawrence of Arabia. The intention was to make a B-movie and this was one of the reasons they hired Spielberg. He’d done good work moving a camera around with Duel and Sugarland Express. And they thought it might be another good exercise for him, because they knew he was a genius, but little did they know that he would take over this production and turn it into the phenomenon it was.” (an interview with Gavin Ricketts). If one had read the book, one would understand the b-movie stigma. In the book, Matt Hooper and Sherrif Brody do not get along at all. In fact, Hooper has an affair with Brody’s wife in a rather explicit chapter that was rather uncomfortable to read. With this in mind, many changes were made to the story, Spielberg even asked Richard Dreyfuss (the actor portraying Matt Hooper) NOT to read the book before filming. It would seem that Spielberg carried over a few directing motifs from his experience on Dual, mainly the obscuring of any clear sighting of the antagonists (the trucker and the shark, respectively) displaying a reverence to the Alfred Hitchcock school of thought, relying on the sheer implication of something to establish its presence in a scene. “The bomb is under the table but it does not explode: That is suspense.”(Alfred Hitchcock).
Ironically, however this dependency on off-screen implications was not a deliberate artistic choice from the very beginning, but a desperate improvisation in lieu of on-set complications. The 3 mechanical sharks (all supposedly nicknamed ‘Bruce’, jokingly after Spielberg’s lawyer) all malfunctioned due to hydraulic corrosion (most likely due to salt water exposure). With such malfunctions, frequent revisions were made to the script on set to compensate for the lack of close-ups on the shark. Richard Dreyfuss described the beginning of the production as such: “We started the film without a script, without a cast and without a shark,” and the film had even developed a nickname among the staff on set: FLAWS (Bill Gilmore in an interview with “Premier”). In Neil Harvey’s “30 Years of Jaws,” he described the difficulties as such: “it required 14 operators to function, but functioning wasn’t its strong suit. Often, its fins wouldn’t flap, its jaws wouldn’t close, its eyes crossed. More than one of the shark models simply sank to the bottom of the ocean”. With such complications looming over the production, Spielberg was forced to make stylistic changes: “The film went from a Japanese Saturday matinee horror flick to more of a Hitchcock, the less-you-see-the-more-you-get thriller,”(Spielberg). Specifically, Spielberg began using POV shots for the shark, the sharks dorsal fin penetrating the surface of the water, and showing objects on the water being moved by some underwater force implying the sharks presence (like the destroyed bit of pier during the failed fishing sequence or the yellow barrels during the final hunt for the shark). The only the times the shark is actually seen is when it first pops its head out of the water, terrifying Brody (and prompting the famous line uttered at the realization of the challenge at hand: “we’re gonna need a bigger boat”), the end where the shark kills Quint and sinks the boat, and the shark cage sequence where it attacks Hooper, which utilized both footage of the mechanical shark as well as live shark footage taken by Ron and Valerie Taylor, who were Australian shark and underwater experts who did the filming in Australia, using a dwarf in the cage to make the shark seem bigger. (found in Ron and Valerie’s filmography page on their website).
Naturally, the film was carrying quite a stigma due to its on-set problems. The film went from an originally planned 55 days of shooting to 159, and cost around $12 MIL instead its original budget of $3.5 mil (described in Neil Harvey’s ’30 Years of Jaws’). The film was being released during the Summer, which was considered a dead-zone for movies at the time. The film was constantly expected to fail dramatically, even Richard Dreyfuss thought the film would be the “turkey of year” (Susan King on the ‘Hero Complex blog’ for the LA Times). In order to try and make the money back for its production, the film was marketed heavily on television, a good $700,000 being put towards advertising (Tim Dirks review of the film on But the filmmakers knew they had created something special during one of the test screenings. Peter Bishkind described in his book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: “Spielberg stood in the back of the theater, watching the test audience. During the scene in which the shark graphically attacks a young boy on a raft, Biskind wrote, “A man in the front row got up and broke into a run. Alarmed, Spielberg thought to himself, ‘He must really hate it.’ The man reached the lobby, and threw up all over the carpet, went to the bathroom and returned to his seat. Said the director, ‘That’s when I knew we had a hit.” (30 Years of Jaws).
Spielberg was right. From the minute it hit screen the film was setting precedents. The studio booked it for almost 400 theaters, a record for the time. But the records didn’t stop there. The film was the first in history to ever gross over $100 million. What had begun as a schlocky b-horror flick had taken the summer season, a time dubbed a film “graveyard”, and created a million dollar prize Hollywood stallion. Thus was created the legacy of the summer blockbuster. It was a horror film that transcended genre, (much like Hitchchocks Psycho,) being nominated for four Oscars for Best picture, Best Sound, Best Original Score, and Best Editing in Film. It won for all but best picture. The Score by John Williams further imprinted the movie as a phenomenon in pop culture with possibly one of the most recognizable musical motifs in film since the screeching violins of Psycho. Two notes, that’s all it took was two notes, E and F. Like the waves of the tide, the music would swell up and down, at first slowly, but gradually faster and faster until finally the shark attacked in a terrifying climax. John Williams would go on to further fame with such famous scores as STAR WARS, Superman, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and ET: The Extra Terrestrial (the last two of which were also directed by Spielberg). Clearly, Jaws was proving to be a massive stepping stone for many involved. It became instantly ingrained in pop culture: three sequels, rip-offs like Piranha (1978) and Killer Fish (1979), and parodies like the sketch on Saturday Night Live (where the shark poses as a pizza man so some unsuspecting guy will let him into his house). Sharks became one of the top phobias in the U.S after the release of the film. Peter Benchley has even gone on to say that he regrets having written book because of the bad image it painted for sharks (which are generally shy when it comes to humans).
Even beyond its cinematic value as a horror film, Spielberg’s focus of character made it a near perfect character analysis. One of the unique things about Jaws is the fact that the film doesn’t actually begin until about an hour into the film, when the three protagonists (Sherrif Brody played by Roy Scheider, Matt Hooper played by Richard Dreyfuss and Quint played by Robert Shaw) go out on a boat called the Orca to hunt the shark. When they first set sails, there is a very specific shot of a sharks jaw bone hanging in front of the window viewing the boat as it sets outs to sea. Such a symbolic image, as the three men sail right into the jaws of the beast: A figurative threshold for the three to cross. Once they’re on the boat you see the three classic archetypes each actor represents: The everyman, the philosopher, and the warrior (in the same order as the actors listed) and how these archetypes interact with one another in the face of certain death. You see the means each one takes to kill the shark: the warrior’s way with hooks and harpoons, the philosopher’s the way in the shark cage and a poison dart, and finally the everyman, who kills the beast with a gun a gas tank he finds on the boat, utilizing things from his surroundings to survive. The real depth of character comes to light in an earlier scene in the cabin, the three get drunk and compare scars. It starts off whimsical, Quint shows scars from bar fights and thresher sharks, Hooper recounts the time a moray eel bit through his wet suit and a broken heart by Mary Ellan Moffet, and Brody’s appendicitis scar. Things take a more serious turn as Quint tells the story of the Indianapolis (a WWII warship Quint served on), where after the ship was sunk by the Japanese, he and his crew floated at sea with raft for five days, with the crew being picked off one by one by sharks. A most poignant scene, we see the three characters, after day of tense friction between personalities (especially between Hopper, a rich scientist, and Quint the working class veteran ) finally on equal ground with one another. The scene ends with the three drinking and singing together, only for the boat to be attacked by the shark. But now it’s different. Now they’re fighting the shark instead of each other.
Whichever way you look at it, as a character driven masterpiece, a pop cultural phenomenon, or thrill ride of terrifying scope, Steven Spielberg’s Jaws was truly the first of its kind, but most importantly, it wasn’t the last. It represented a shift in the direction Hollywood was going in. High concept films with big marketing sweeps and bigger revenue returns, the summer Hollywood blockbuster was born, and film would never be the same again. One thing is for sure, Spielberg started an era.

Works Cited:
Horror Film History-
Ron and Valerie Taylors Filmography-
30 Years of Jaws-Neil Harvey-
Review by Tim Dirk-AMC Filmsite-
Susan king- Hero Complex on the LA Times-
Roger Ebert, review of Jaws-

Evolution of the New Woman

In 1949, Chinese Film-Maker Chen Liting directed and co-wrote Liren Xing (in English this translates to Three Women as well as Women Standing Side by Side), a film showing the lives of three women in China during Japanese Occupation in the 1940’s. Through the three female protagonists of the film (the titular “Three Woman,”) Chen Liting was able illustrate the progression and evolution of the ‘New Woman,’ a concept of sociopolitical reform for women first established during the May Forth Movement, but over the years would go on to change in accordance with the social and political values of the times.
The May Forth Movement of 1919 was a protest by 3000 college students, angered by China’s humiliating loss of the Shandong Province to Japan as a result of a treaty made during WWI by the Warlord Governement of Yuan Shi-Ka (Mack, 2012). Their demonstration prompted the resignation of the Chinese Cabinet, leading to a series of Social and Political reforms. These reforms included the introduction of Western Ideologies like “democratic social systems and scientific orientation”, as well the abolition of Filial Piety (Li, 1999). Filial Piety established three relationship dynamics in Chinese society: The young obey the elderly, the citizen obeys the ruler, and the woman obeys the man (Li, 1999). It the abolition of this last relationship dynamic that the concept of the “New Woman” originates from. In 1921, the Women’s Associations of Hunan established the ‘Five Proposal Movement’ in the wake the May Forth Movement. The Five Proposal Movement established five rights for women: Equal rights of property inheritance, right to vote and to be elected to office, equal rights of education, equal rights to work, and the right of self-determination in marriage (Shen, 2000). The New Woman, as envisioned during the May Forth Movement, would be well educated as well as active both politically and socially. She was described as being very “liberal, bourgeois, modernizing, and pro-western” (Shen, 2000). But the concept of the New Woman would evolve over the next few decades. In 1930’s the concept of the New Woman shifted from the Bourgeois image of the late intellectual reformist 1920’s to a proletariat image (Shen, 2000).
This is Bourgeois image of the May Forth New Woman is evidenced in the 1935 silent film Xin Nuxing, which means New Woman. In the film, Wei Ming (portrayed by Ruan Lingyu) is an woman liberated by the May Forth Movement. She if educated, but also portrayed as restricted by her Bourgeois lifestyle (illustrated by her aesthetically pleasing but constrictive gown, or qipao). She is also often the victim of unwanted sexual advances and is constantly victimized by “upper-class, bourgeois men” (Shen 2000). However, during one such instance, Wei Ming is rescued by another female character named Aylin. Aylin is a very “unfeminine” (by traditional standards) factory worker who is always seen wearing either her loose-fitting uniform or a jacket and pants. Another scene in the film depicts a conversation between Wei Ming and Aylin, after which Aylin walks off, resulting in a shot in which Wei Ming is literally cast in Aylin’s shadow. This marks the visual transition of what who truly embodies the concept of the New Woman from the educated Bourgeois woman to the factory worker; the woman defined by what she knows and the woman defined by what she does.
The next stage in the conceptual development of the New Woman would establish itself in the following decade, the 1940’s. In China the 1940’s were a period of military occupation in Shanghai by Japanese Imperialist forces, thus a powerful air of nationalism, unity and anti-imperialist sentiment was very prevalent in works of cinema throughout the decade. The 1949 film Liren Xing (Three Women, Women Standing Side by Side) from director Chen Liting channeled this rallying notion of Nationalism into a new depiction of the New Woman. The film follows the lives of three female protagonists in the forms of Ruoying, Jinmei, and Xinqun. Ruoying and Jinmei represent the 1920’s New Woman and the 1930’s New Woman, respectively. Ruoying was once married to Yuliang, who left their marriage to be a resistance fighter against the Japanese, but remarried a wealthy Banker named Zhongyuan. She is the Bourgeois archetype that was widely represented by the 1920’s vision of the New Woman. Jinmei is a factory worker who is married to Iron Worker Yousheng, she is the proletariat New Woman championed by leftists in the 1930’s. However, both women are victimized by the events of the film. Upon Reuniting with her Ex-husband at a secret Rendez-Vous, Ruoying is mistaken for a resistance fighter and taken to jail with her ex-husband. When she is released she discovers that her Husband Zhongyuan has begun living with another woman thought to be a traitor to China (she’s said to have allegiances with the Japanese Secret Service). Jinmei is raped by Japanese Soldiers at the beginning of the film, loses her job, must care for her blind husband (who lost his sight trying to save her from other Japanese Soldiers) and eventually takes up prostitution to make money, the realization of which drives her husband to throwing her out of the house out of shame, leading Jinmei to attempt to drown herself. She if saved by Ruoying, after which they both seek refuge with their mutual friend Xinqun. Xinqun, the third main female protagonist of the film, works as a journalist while simultaneously operating, alongside her Revolutionary Patriot Husband Meng nan, as an underground resistance fighter, (creating an image of gender equality from that of a husband and wife working side by side). It is in the character of Xinqun that the New Woman of the 1940’s is showcased. She is a freedom fighter wholly invested in the liberation of her nation from the clutches of the Japanese Imperial Forces. She is both educated and a hard worker, marrying the two concepts with her occupation as a journalist. She stands on equal footing with her husband as they both contribute to the resistance against the Japanese. It is Xinqun that Ruoying and Jinmei go to in the end after all the hardships they had experiences over the course of the film. The film ends with the three women finding strength in each other, as a classroom of young girls sing a patriotic song. It is in this final image of unity that Chen Liting shows the progression of the New Woman over three decade. Ruoying, Jinmei and Xinquin are the three Women standing side by side. Ruoying, the Bourgeois, educated woman, Jinmei the factory worker, and Xinqun, the nationalist freedom fighter. Liting illustrated the evolution of the New woman throughout the changing values of the three passing decades. In the 20’s the New Woman reflected a time of intellectual reform in a climate in which the westernized and the educated sought relevance in Chinese Society. The 1930’s showed the realistic implications of such radical change, mainly, in how a liberated woman, no matter how educated, could prosper in the male-dominated workforce. And then in the 1940’s, when frustrations over Imperialist Japan’s Occupation of Shanghai drove the Chinese to form a united front to take back their country.
The concept of the New Woman progressed and evolved over the course of these three decades, and with each passing decade it reflected the sociopolitical climate of Chinese Society at the time. Chen Liting captured this gradual evolution with the three protagonists of his rallying tale of Nationalism unity and sisterhood.

Works Cited:
-Chen Liting, Tian Han, “Three Women”, 1949, Kunlun
-Vivian Shen, “From ‘Xin Nuxing to Liren Xing: Changing Conceptions of the New Woman in Republican Era Chinese Film,” 2000, Asian Cinema
-Cai Chusheng, Luo Mingyou, “New Woman”, 1935, Lianhua Film Company
-Lauren Mack, “May Forth Movement”, 2012,
-Yuhui Li, “Women’s Movement and Change of Women’s Status In China,” 1999, Journal of International Women’s Studies
Chinese Cinema: Censorship in the Nanjing Era.

In 1934 Wu Yonggang, a chinese film maker, wrote and directed Goddess, a black and white silent film about a nameless prostitute in Shanghai working to support her infant son Shuiping. However, despite the torrid nature of the protagonist’s work, the film itself still manages to reflect the virtues of Confucianism, which had been reinstated into societal conventions under the such conservative movements as the Film Censorship Act and The New Life Movement under the Nanjing Regime.
The Nanjing Government was so named for the city, which had been named capital when the Guomindang army seized control in 1928. The following decade would come to known as the Nanjing era. In 1931, in hopes of promoting Nationalism, the Nanjing Government established the “National Film Censorship Committee as well as the Central Film Censorship Committee” to ensure that the Chinese film industry reflected what they felt was in the best interest of the people (Xiao, 1994) and passes the Film Censorship act. Under these Boards and the Film Censorship Act the subject matter of films made in China had to receive the stamp of approval. Restrictions put in place by these Boards included a strict No-dialect policy (all film inter-titles, and dialogue after the advent of sound film, are to written in a simple guoyu, or Mandarin Chinese), a ban on films featuring fantastical or “superstitious” themes, and overly sexual or “racy” subject matter (Xiao, 1994). Specific provisions dictated by the censorship act included “prohibiting such things as propaganda for another country, harming the image of the Chinese people, denigrating the current government of the Republic of China, performing in a way adverse to the customs of Chinese nation or people, ridiculing the commonly admired sages of the past or a currently famous person, showing scenes of opium or morphine use, etc” (The Chinese Mirror).
. The Nanjing decade also featured a revitalization of Confucian Ideologies under the “New Life Movement,” in 1934. the driving force of which was conservative Jiang Jeishi, a prominent figure in the Nanjing government, and a member of the “four ruling families,” (as they were called by Communists) (pg. 230, Republican China, 1911-49). Under the New Life movement the four virtues of Confucianism were encouraged, those four virtues being Propriety, justice, honesty, and self-respect. In his 1934 speech, Essentials Of the New Life Movement, Jiang Jeishi said that “Those
 food , 
clothing ,
 morality […]By 
virtues ,
of art…By 
 eliminated.” (Jeishi, 1934).
With these Political agendas set in motion, it is evident that Chinese Cinema of the time would come to reflect these values, as facilitated by the NFCC, CFCC and the Film Censorship act. These measures also draw an interesting parallel with the Production code under the “Hays Office” in the U.S. After allegations of rape were made against famed comic Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, national attention was drawn to the increasingly illicit reputation forming around Hollywood, resulting in the authorship of the “Production Code” by William Hays, which dictated what was “morally acceptable” to be put in a film (Encyclopedia of world Biography, 2004). For example, “No picture shall be produced that will lower the moral standards of those who see it. Hence the sympathy of the audience should never be thrown to the side of crime, wrongdoing, evil or sin,” and “Correct standards of life, subject only to the requirements of drama and entertainment, shall be presented” (Hays, 1930). The code resulted in the content on films always having to contain the side of the law and morality triumphing over the side of wrong, and was in place until 1968. For example, Arthur Penn’s 1967 crime drama Bonnie & Clyde portrayed the lives of the famed murderers/theives, the titular Bonnie & Clyde. It was a film in which the protagonists were bank robbers and murderers on the run from the police, but under the Production code they could the sympathies of the audience could not “be cast to the side of crime.” So the film ends with its protagonists being gunned down by the police. A more famous, and controversial, example would be Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 thriller Psycho. The film begins with Janet Leigh as the films protagonist, who steals a large sum of money so she could pay off her divorced boyfriend’s alimony. About a half hour into the film, however, she murdered by the serial killer Norman Bates, who then takes over as the protagonist of sorts, but is also caught by the police in the end. The film is a constant cycle of wrongs being righted, thus resulting in a compelling thriller that pushes the restrictions of the Production code without over-reaching them.
So how is that a film in which the audience is supposed to cast its sympathies to a prostitute get produced and distributed under such a “morally” constrictive artistic environment? It could be because the film never explicitly illustrates the details of what the nameless protagonist does for a living. She’s seen walking the streets and subtly propositioning herself to various men, and even getting chased by the police, but that is the extent to what we see of her profession. In fact, the actress (Ruan Lingyu) is painted as a victim of poverty, going to any lengths to provide for her and her son. This maternal aspect is what redeems her in the eyes of the audience. She not fetishized or shown in any overly sexual light throughout the film. William Rothman, in his article Goddess: Reflections on Melodrama East and West, notes this by comparing Goddess with the film Blonde Venus starring Marlene Von Deitrich as a burlesque dancer who also has a child. In Blonde Venus Dietirch, being a burlesque is shown in a variety of erotic contexts, be it a singing and dancing number, or even her characters introductory scene where she is seen bathing in a lake with her fellow dancers and is happened upon by the man who would become her husband. Rothman specifically cites a scene where Dietrich is applying make-up at a mirror and positions the shot so that “the stars reflected image is looking inscrutably yet provocatively right into the camera, at once a ‘fetish’ and a subject mocking our guilty wish to reduce her to a fetish, an object” (Rothman, pg. 66). He compares this to a similar scene in Goddess where Ruan Lingyu is also applying make-up at a mirror, but rather than the camera cutting to a close-up like Blonde Venus’ director Josef Von Sternberg, Yongaang keeps the camera at distance, refusing to entertain the voyeuristic desires of the male audience, and so Propriety is maintained by the director despite the context of WHY she is applying the make-up (she is preparing to go to the streets to solicit men).
Despite the propriety exercised by the director, Ruan Lingyu’s character is still not portrayed as a role model, she is not to admired, for the film ends with her in jail for killing her pimp. The film does not end with her quitting her profession, nor does it end with her marrying, as would be the traditional route. She doesn’t reconcile with her sons father (whose identity is never given) nor does she marry the Headmaster of her sons school who extends a helping hand on multiple occasions. She is arrested and jailed for twelve years, whereupon she makes the decision to leave her identity unknown to her son, who has been adopted by the principle. In a sense, much like the American films under the Production code, equilibrium is re-established with this ending. Her life was not one of propriety or modesty, for she was a prostitute. So the film about a prostitute ends with her, by tradition, exactly she “deserves” to be as a consequence of her “indecent” life style. Granted, the film also damns the society which drove her to such desperate measures with scenes like the Principle pleading with the school board to allow her child a proper education, but never once in these instances are actions said to be justified for the subject of the school board’s (and audience’s) sympathies are drawn to her son, who is portrayed as a victim of the choices his mother has made with such lines (spoken by the principle) as “For the child’s future, she wants him to have an education. We are responsible for education and are even more obliged to save the child of this mother from bad environment.” (Yongaang, 1934).
Thus I conclude that despite it’s content, Goddess still managed to work within the confines set forth by conservative authorities. It did so by establishing an equilibrium within the narrative of the film: that anything that would otherwise conflict with the virtues of Neo-Confucianism and censorship codes is rectified by the end of the film, in this case, the prostitute must sacrifice her own well being for that of her son.

Works Cited:
Wu Yongaang, Goddess, 1934

Republican China, 1911-49

William Rothman, Goddess: Reflections on Melodrama East and West

William Hays, The Motion Picture Production Code of 1930, 1930

Jiang Jeishi, Essentials of The New Life Movement, 1934

Arthur Penn, Bonnie & Clyde, 1967

Alfred Hitchock, Psycho, 1960

Encyclopedia of world Biography, 2004

The Chinese Mirror: A Journal of Chinese Film History, 1930 -1931: The “Film Censorship Act,” and an Expert Interview,

Third World: An Indictment of Post-9/11 American Media

The 9/11 disaster has shaped many, possibly all, socio-political spheres of American Culture, specifically in the ways in which the U.S media interpret that of neighboring nations. We’ve exited the red scare of the cold war and entered a new war on terrorism. It is in this newly placed emphasis that American Media has created a warped representation of the third world, or under developed countries in general. This media perception of the third world cultures is not isolated to American views of Middle Eastern Cultures (despite the focus on the American War on terror) but on third cultures all over the world like in Africa, Mexico and India. I believe that the post-9/11 American Media can be approached by three phases of analysis in relation to third world media interpretation: the hero/ villain complex phase, the savior complex phase, and the current reflective phase.
All three of these phases are anchored by notions of American Nationalism, and the ways in which these ideas of Nationalistic identity interact with those of foreign (in this specific context third-world) Cultures. In line with the writings of Andrew Higson in “The Concept of National Cinema,” I approach the ideas National identity from the paradigm of “Consumption-based” analysis, which focuses on the contextual relevance of a film in relation to who is watching and who is being targeted by it’s content. In this case the targets of consumption are American Audiences, resulting in U.S centric paradigm through the lens of media. In light of the 9/11 disaster, the core of this Nationalistic media identity has changed dramatically.
On the topic of post-9/11 film, John Nelson wrote the article “Four Forms of Terrorism: Horror, Dystopia, Thriller, and Noir.” In it he states that the aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy have shown the “importance of film, television, and other electronic media constructing our political realities.” (Nelson, 181). His writing focuses on the use of aesthetics within media in representing the shifting sociopolitical subtext, particularly the aesthetic forms of ‘genre’: “through the aesthetic packages that we call popular genres, Hollywood cinema has been prefiguring our experiences of the events of September 11” (Nelson, 181). He then goes on to specify the ways in which U.S media has reevaluated the threats to western culture:
“Hollywood has played a leading role in replacing the outdated villains of the evil empire with ruthless terrorists ranging from the Middle East to Middle America. Often, but not always, cinematic terrorists have hated Western ways” (Neslon, 181-182).
Much like Nelson, I feel that this aesthetic recondition of American Media has targeted cultures associated with political terrorism, which, according to said media, would be most third world countries.
It is important to have a firmly established idea what exactly constitutes “third world.” Is it merely lesser developed countries than those associated with Contemporary western civilization? Is it confined to any specific corner of the world? The website NATIONSONLINE.ORG defines the term “third world” as such:
“all the other countries, [differentiating it from more developed first world, which is the capitalist industrial states, and the second world, the socialist industrial states] today often used to roughly describe the developing countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America. The term Third World includes as well capitalist (e.g., Venezuela) and communist (e.g., North Korea) countries, as very rich (e.g., Saudi Arabia) and very poor (e.g., Mali) countries” (
However I feel that this media representation extends beyond simple villainous archetypes, instead evolving over the course of the past decade through a series of three phases. These phases, as stated earlier, are that of the hero/ villain complex (in line with what Nelson was describing), the savior complex, and finally the current phases of self-reflection.
To analyze the first of these phases, that of the the hero/ villain complex, I will look at films like 300, Slumsog Millionaire, Iron Man and Monsters. Zack Snyder’s 300, which retells the battle of Thermopylae and the legion of 300 Spartan warriors who marched into doomed battle with the Persian Empire. It was based on the 1997 graphic novel by writer Frank Miller who retold this story from the perspective of the Spartan fleet through lust, highly stylized illustrations of freely flowing blood and brutal violence. The film replicates this style with continuous, cg ridden sepia-toned shots of slow-motion/ fast-motion brutality as the Spartans clash with the monstrous, hedonistic Persians. While marketed and most likely intentioned as an action vehicle, the film, when viewed on a contextual level, represents much more. Released only six years after the 9/11 disaster, the film depicts the Spartans (all played by Caucasian actors) as oiled-up ubermensches against hordes of deformed, exotic Persians. One side is led by the bearded, muscled Alpha male that is King Leonidas (played by Gerard Butler) while the other is led by the wispy, effeminate Xerxes (played by Rodrigo Santoro).
Another point of interest is the fact that the Spartans are merely 300 against armies of thousands, creating a strong underdog theme throughout the film, as well as the graphic novel. Both the graphic novel (released in the mid 90’s) and the film depicts these themes concurrently with times of tension with Middle East (the film more emphatically than the graphic novel). One must keep in mind that much of what comprised The Persian Empire is now the Middle East, parts of whom the United States has been waging war with since the fallout of the 9/11 disaster. Jeff Welles, on his blog “Rigorous Institutions,” wrote on the film as follows:
“But in wartime, and in a time of re-mythologizing war, America’s mythmaking undergoes a radical makeover to favour Sparta and the 300 of King Leonidas. It’s too tempting a story to resist, because no matter its overwhelming might, it seems that for the good of its soul America must also, at least in its fiction, regard itself as the underdog […] Particularly appropriate, since Persian arms are once again the perceived enemy […] This latest, and most extreme version is based upon the work of graphic novelist Frank Miller […] an unabashed propagandist for the White House shooting script. His next project is Holy Terror, Batman!, in which bin laden targets Gotham City and the Dark Knight “kicks al Qaeda’s ass.”” (Wells, 2006).
The film glorifies the war effort Caucasian Spartans with movie Posters evocative of Propaganda films of the 1930’s (both American and Nazi Germany) and lines “Tonight we dine in HELL!” The Persians, as stated earlier, are portrayed as either effeminate (in the face of King Xerxes) or deformed and monstrous. This creates a stark dichotomy between the two and establishes a jingoistic allegiance between the audience and the subjects of the story that parallels their revenge-driven support for the U.S war campaign against Osama Bin Laden and Al Queda.. The Spartans are clearly the heroes of this story, with the Persians unquestionably assigned the role of the mustache-twirling villain.
This villainous portrayal of Third-world cultures persists throughout numerous other films. Slumdog Millionaire, despite being British-made, garnered critical acclaim in the U.S and attracted a great deal of popularity at the Academy Awards after it’s worldwide release in 2008. The film depicts slum-dwelling children (played by as adults by Dev Patel, Frieda Pinto and Madhur Middhal) as they grow up in a corrupt, poverty-stricken India. After years of being separated by gang violence, they find each other again after the one boy (Dev Patel) attempts to escape that lifestyle by winning the game show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” The hook of the film is that the boy has the answers to all the questions because he retains the necessary information through memories associated with specific events from his horrific past. The film depicts the Indian Slums as a breeding ground for child trafficking, prostitution, and gang activity with a shocking grit and realism.
However the film received a fair bit of criticism in Indian circles, as evidenced by Time Magazine by Madhur Singh, “Slumgod Millionaire, an Oscar Favorite, is No Hit in India.” In it he describes these sentiments as a“sense of injured national pride, especially for a lot of well-heeled metro dwellers, who say the film peddles “poverty porn” and “slum voyeurism.” He goes on to quote:
“O.K., so there’s filth and crime in India, but there’s so much more too,” says Jaspreet Dua, a New Delhi–based business manager with an international luxury brand. “What they’ve shown is not reality. There’s a lot of exaggeration and harping on well-worn clichés about India.” (Singh).
Much like 300, the film depicts an exotic, third world villain in the abstract form of India’s slum culture and the desperation it inspires in it’s citizens. While the film doesn’t depict a white protagonist in the role of hero, it does depict an Indian boy finding salvation in Western Culture in the form of a Game Show.
This abstract villainizing of third-world culture can also be seen in the 2010 science fiction film Monsters. The movie depicts the efforts of a reporter (Scoot McNairy) and his editor’s daughter (Whitney Able) as they try to illegally traverse what is left of Mexico after is has been ravaged by alien monsters (parasites that crash landed with a satellite years earlier) and dubbed “the infected zone,” back into the United States. In the film they attempt to re-enter the U.S through legal means, but find the price tag and crippling bureaucracy to corrupt to circumvent, leaving them no choice but to do so illegally by sneaking through the “infected zone” which contains the monsters with giant walls around the perimeter. Aside from it’s white leads the film features a cast of primarily South American actors and was shot in Texas, Belize, Guatemala, Mexico and Costa Rica. The struggles of the two leads, while sensationalized as literal giant monsters, act as allegory for the hardships of those who live in this region, prompting their illegal immigration into the United States (a sociopolitical issue which still persists in the U.S).
Marvel’s 2008 blockbuster, Iron Man starred Robert Downey Junior as the Weapons profiteer Tony Stark. Stark, after being taken hostage by an Al Queda-esque terrorist cell called The Ten Rings and forced to build weapons, becomes the armored superhero called Iron Man. As Iron Man he does heroic battle with the corrupt business practices between that of his own company (orchestrated by his duplicitous mentor) and the Ten Rings. While not as jingoistic-inspired or propagandist as 300, the film is definitely a product of a post-9/11 Hollywood. The United States military have a very prominent role in the film, made manifest by supporting character James “Rhodey” Rhodes (played by Terrence Howard), Tony Stark’s best Friend and military liaison. Before his revelations about his own company, the primary antagonists are the members or the Ten Rings, led by the villainous Raza and his Henchmen Abu Bakaar. Stark is taken hostage by their forces in Afghanistan while demonstrating a new weapon to be used in the war on terror. Stark escapes their captivity by building a prototype iron man suit, equipped with a flamethrower, and laying waste to their compound in an action-packed escape sequence.
The entire catalyst for the film stems from the struggle between an American Weapons manufacturing, alongside the U.S military, and Third-Worlds Aggressors evocative of that of real life terrorist cells. To emphasize the sociopolitical nature of these creative choices, the comics on which they are based originally took place during the Vietnam War (having been published in the sixties). There Tony Stark was taken hostage under similar circumstances, only by a fictionalized leader of the Vietcong named Wong-Chu. The setting of the story was re-contextualized from that of the Vietnam war to the current war on terror, much like what Nelson described in “Four Forms of Terrorism.” This re-contextualization of pre-existing stories can also be seen in films like the remake of Red Dawn. The original featured the invasion of a small Mid-American town by the Soviet Union. Conversely, the remake replaces the Soviet Union with North Korea to make the film relevant to the current political climate in which the totalitarian North Korea is increasing point of concern in Western circles.
The next phase of third world representation in the American media is that of the savior complex. The films that fall under the umbrella of this term generally depict the struggles of third world civilizations, in both scathing and sympathetic lights, and generally feature a white westerner as the protagonist on a mission of salvation for the poor, underdeveloped countries. The concept of western civilizations having a savior complex in their dealings with lesser developed countries it not a new development by any stretch of imagination. Rudyard Kipling’s 1899 poem “The White Man’s Burden demonstrates this most eloquently:
“Take up the White Man’s burden/Send forth the best ye breed/Go bind your sons to exile, To serve your captives’ need/ To wait in heavy harness, On fluttered folk and wild/ Your new-caught, sullen peoples, Half-devil and half-child.”
He painted the nations like Africa, the more prominently explored nation of the third world at the time, as children in need of guidance from their “wiser, more civilized” western counterparts. Such a mindset to rationalize imperialism in the 19th century, and this mindset can be seen in contemporary American Media, manifesting as a sort cultural imperialism through a white savior archetype, which can be found in films like Blood Diamond, The Last Air bender, and even Iron Man, despite also already demonstrating various traits of the hero/villain complex.
While the first third of the film Iron Man features Tony Stark being attacked by middle eastern terrorists, the second and third acts see him assuming the role of a savior to the middle east as well. In the middle of the film Stark takes his iron man suit to a village called Gulmira to fight off an attacking cell of the Ten Rings. The scene is brilliantly paced from beginning to end, showcasing the might and heroics of Iron Man in the face of bearded evil. It starts off in Gulmira with him absent, having not yet arrived. Members of the ten rings rattle off gunfire and toss around grenades while Jericho missiles explode in the distance. They’re rounding up women and children onto trucks and killing the men. One such child escapes the grasp of his captor and runs to his father, only for both of them to be grabbed by Ten Ring members with guns at the ready. There is yelling on both sides, threats from the Ten Rings members, pleas of mercy from the father and cries of terror from the child. That’s when they hear the roaring of repulsor jets in the distance, and Iron Man slams down from the sky, guns blazing. He takes out the foot soldiers, he destroys the missiles, he even blows up a tank. And before he leaves he leaves the petrified leader of the cell cowering at the feet of the people he was terrorizing, saying “he’s all yours” before launching off into the sky. In this scene we see a helpless Afghanistan village brutalized by the same terrorists who plagued our white protagonist. They are presented as possessing no means of liberating themselves from theses attacks, thus being forced to wait for the arrival of said white protagonists, who literally rockets his way into the scene in a flurry of pyrotechnics and special effects to rescue them.
A similar, albeit less bombastic scenario occurs in the 2006 film Blood Diamond. This grim war thriller is set in a late nineties war-torn Sierra Leone and follows a white Rhodesian smuggler named Danny Archer (Leo DiCaprio) and his attempts to help a Mende fisherman named Solomon Senge (Djimon Honsou) reunite with his family. In exchange for Archer’s help Solomon agrees to give him a valuable conflict diamond Solomon found under forced mining by the Revolutionary United Front. Along the the way they enlist the aid of an American Reporter played by Jennifer Connolly.
The film offers a gritty, up-close look at the horrors of both the Sierra Leone Civil War and the illegal smuggling of conflict diamonds in Africa. The native perspective is shown through the character of Solomon as his family is torn apart by RUF militia and forced into mining, as well as his son who is indoctrinated into said militia as a child solider. Danny Archer acts as the roguish thief with a heart of gold who finds his honor in the quest to save Solomon’s family, ultimately sacrificing himself so that they can get away safely with the American reporter and make their tragic story known to western world. The publication of this story leads to UN regulation of African diamond trade to keep it “conflict-free” and western awareness about the atrocities going on within the borders of Africa.
The third-world element obviously manifests in the form of the war-torn Sierra Leone with white saviors in this scenario being Leo DiCaprio and Jennifer Connolly. While playing an African character, Leo DiCaprio is a well known American Celebrity and his journey acts as the narrative focus. It is through him (and to a lesser extent Jennifer Connolly) and his association with Solomon that we as an audience witness the atrocities in question. In the end it is Leo DiCaprio to safe Solomon and his son from the Militia at the cost of his own life, but the concept of a “white savior” within the narrative does not end with his death. As stated earlier, the film is bookended with the intervention of the Western world into African affairs as a result of the American Reporters investigation. In the end the helpless third world society of South Africa has to be saved by it’s more capable western counterparts like the United States and the United Kingdom.
The film is clearly meant to cater to sensibilities of Western (specifically American) viewers. Sequences of the horrifying indoctrination of child soldiers by URF militias are interrupted by heartwarming one-on-one scenes between honorable thief Danny Archer and the Idealistic American Reporter catering to the apparent American need to Romance in any narrative, no matter how appropriate (or inappropriate) it may seem. Like 300, Blood Diamond takes on the nature of a propagandist narrative, using American-targeted melodrama with white Characters to inspire sympathy and awareness among American Audiences so that they can rise to action in the crusade to “save” Africa from itself.
The concept of the White Savior can even be found in non-political films (meaning films without explicit political agenda/context). The 2010 fantasy action film The Last Air bender is a prime example of this. Set in a fictional fantast world inspired by various Asian cultures (sort of an East Asian Middle Earth), The Last Air bender follows the Messianic Avatar as he brings balance to the four warring nations, each populated by people with ability to manipulate the four elements (the imperialistic fire nation and it’s victims, the water tribes, the earth kingdom and the now extinct Air Nomads-the Avatar, the last living Air bender, can control all four elements). A specific ethnicity is assigned to each nation: all of the members of the Fire Nation are played by Indian Actors; the Earth Nation is predominantly Chinese; and the Water Tribes all appear to be evocative of Inuit culture.
What’s interesting is the fact that the Avatar, the only Air Nomad seen in the movie, is a young white boy. Since he is the only air bender seen in the film it can assumed that all Air nomads are white, but what emphasizes this stark contrast between the hero and those that he saves is the fact his two water bender companions are played by white actors. Despite not taking place in any real-world context, the characters and settings are clearly analogous with those of Asian/Inuit cultures, as demonstrated by the casting of the three nations at war. The instigator of this war is the imperialistic Fire Nation, who as I said earlier are portrayed entirely by Indian actors (perhaps evident of some thematic residue from hero/villain phase like Iron Man). Throughout the narrative of the film the three nations are visited by the Avatar and his companions on their quest to restore balance and end the conflict, which in essence amounts to them traveling around and saving earth and water benders by fighting off fire bender soldiers. There is a scene in the movie where the three happen upon a prison in the mountains where fire nation soldiers are holding earth benders hostage. The avatar inspires them via rousing speech to rise up, having to literally remind them that they are surrounded by the very element which they can bend to their will and fight off the fire benders. In keeping with trend of American Blockbusters of the time, the impoverished psuedo-Asian cultures (third-world within the context of the fictional narrative) are portrayed as incapable of fighting back without the support of their white savior, the Avatar, and thus in need of rescue.
Within the past five years or so the American Media has entered it’s most recent phase: that of self-awareness and an reflexive analysis and criticism, specifically in regards to how the country has changed after the 9/11 disaster. This is most evident in the recent slew of big budget blockbusters like Iron Man Three, Star Trek into Darkness and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which all heavily feature imagery evocative the 9/11 disaster as well as explore themes of sociopolitical unrest within the U.S in the aftermath of said disaster.
Iron Man Three, the 2013 second sequel the Iron Man, pits the armored hero Tony Stark against a the new apparent leader of the Ten Rings, a vaguely Middle Eastern terrorist calling himself The Mandarin. The Mandarin, played by Ben Kingsley, is inspired by the real life leader of Al Queda, Osama Bin Laden, adorned in exotic robes with long, scraggly beard. Also like Bin Laden, The Mandarin threatens the United States in the form of bombing accompanied by videotaped threats, which he distributes by highjacking American television signals. What sets this character apart from Raza in the first film, however, is rather brilliant twist revealed in the second half of the film. The Mandarin, as played by Ben Kingsley, doesn’t really exist. He is a british actor, named Trevor Slattery, playing a role on camera at the orchestration of a psychotic war profiteer named Aldrich Killian played by Guy Pearce. The Mandain is actually a manufactured screen persona devised by Aldrich Killian so that he could cover up a series of explosive misfires caused by a series of experiments caused by his Scientific think tank. He also orchestrates the replacement of the president by the vice president (who is in Killian’s pocket), making it so that he could commodify and “own the war on terror” by controlling the leader of the United States as well as it’s most feared terrorist. The Mandarin turns out to be nothing more than a media boogeyman, created to scare the country into funding a war against him. This has obvious parallels to the ways in which the American News Media sensationalized Bin Laden into this boogeyman/super-villain archetype and incited panic in the country (as well as possibly alluding to false claims of WMD’s in Iraq). A franchise that had started with the villanization of Middle Terrorist stereotypes five years prior now points that penetrative lens inwards, analyzing the very media that warped such perceptions of third-world culture.
Released the Same year as Iron Man Three was the sequel to Star Trek, Star Trek into Darkness. On the surface this movie was nothing more than another bombastic Science Fiction action installment in a franchise that has spanned multiple decades, but the themes and imagery portrayed in the film carry obvious parallels and allusions to the 9/11 disaster. The conflict of the film is incited by a suicide bombing of federation building orchestrated by terrorist named Khan, under the alias of John Harrison, played by Benedict Cumberbatch (the film takes place in a high tech future where the world is protected by an exploration/ peacekeeping force called the Federation). The Federation retaliates by sending the crew of the U.S.S Enterprise into enemy territory (the home of the barbaric Klingons, Kronos) at the order of a Fleet Admiral Marcus by Peter Weller for the expressed purpose of killing Harrison rather than arresting him for his crimes, resulting in questions of morality and justice-versus-revenge among the crew. It is soon discovered the Peter Weller’s character did intend for the crew of the Enterprise to survive their mission with the hopes that their excursion into enemy territory would ignite a war that he’s been anticipating for years. A terrorist bombing results in a blood-lust revenge mission into enemy space on the other side of world (or universe in context of the film). Also, like in Iron Man Three, a boogeyman super-villain is once again used as red herring to incite war (though not for profit in this instance, but more so out of fear of the enemy on Admiral Marcus’ part). The film presents an institution analogous with the United States whose true enemy is not in some distant, exotic land but within it’s own infrastructure.
This is idea is heightened to the extreme the 2014 action/political thriller Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The WWII superhero Captain America finds himself struggling to adjust to modern times after being frozen for 70+ years. Now in the employ of the Spy Organization S.H.I.E.L.D, he finds himself in the middle of a conspiracy involving high ranking members of not only S.H.I.E.L.D but U.S institutions like the Senate and what winds up being a coup by a decade old terrorist organization called Hydra, which has implanted itself in positions of power across the country. The coup is led by Alexander Pierce, played by Robert Redford, who believes that for the Country and the world to be safe, any possible threat must be anticipated, calculated and neutralized before it ever happens through invasive information collecting technology and three flying weapons of mass destruction called Helicarriers in a movement called Project Incite. This is meant to evoke the questions of morality and civil liberties brought on by the Patriot Act in our Country under the Bush Administration, in which wire-tapping and other modes of spying were made legal for the purpose or weeding possible domestic terrorists after the 9/11 attack by Al Queda. This movie, along with the other two mentioned, forgoes the media obsession with the Middle East and other third-world countries and instead analyzes American society and the ways in which the 9/11 attack has impacted it, bringing the evolution of post 9/11 American Media full circle.
In summation, the three stages of this obsession began with a knee-jerk assumption of Nationalistic archetypes like the American Hero in epic combat with an exotic enemy. It eventually evolved into that of the white savior, burdened with the task of liberating the third world from it’s own inadequacies. Finally, the media giants have begun turning the lens of cross-cultural analysis and criticism back on the Unites States itself. With this final stage already five years in progress, one can only wonder how the Media of this country will develop further, and in what direction the critical lens will be pointed next.

Works Cited:
-Andrew Higson. The Concept of National Film. Film and Nationalism. Rutgers University Press.
-Nielson, John. “Four Forms of Terrorism. 2003. Transnational Cinema: The Film Reader. Edited by Elizabeth Ezra and Terry Rowden.
-First, Second and Third World,
-Wells, Jeff. “Necromancy (part one).” Rigorous Institutions V.2 .
-Singh, Madhur. “Slumdog Millionaire, an Oscar Favorite, Is No Hit in India.” Time Magazine. 2009.,8599,1873926,00.html?imw=Y
-Kipling, Rudyard. The White Man’s Burden. 1889. Internet Modern History Sourcebook.


The Politics of Fear

From the early days of Lon Chaney and Boris Karloff to the “torture porn” craze in more recent years (The Saw and Hostel Franchises) the horror film has undergone nearly a century’s worth of evolution as a prominent genre of cinema. Throughout these several decades of development the “scary movie” has established a number of narrative formulas and motifs that have become the “cliches” of the genre. In 2012 Writer/ director Joss Whedon collaborated with television writer Drew Goddard to produce a satirical horror-comedy. With The film, entitled simply The Cabin in the Woods, Whedon and Goddard sought to not only mockingly subvert the cliches of horror films and their varying sub-genres, but also sought to deconstruct and analyze the nature of the audiences who watch these movies as well as the industry that makes them.

The 2012 film was co-written by Joss Whedon (most famous for creating the cult television series’ Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it’s spin-off Angel, Firefly and Doll House as well as writing and directing the hit blockbuster The Avengers) and Drew Goddard (who had worked with Whedon on the show Angel and also wrote the film Cloverfield) who also directed the picture. On the narrative foreground The Cabin in the Woods follows five college students (Dana, Marty, Jules, Kurt and Holden) as they embark in an RV on a weekend roadtrip to the titular cabin in the woods. However their innocent vacation is being orchestrated by what appears to be a corporate level cult represented to the audience by the character Hadley and Sitterson, who are following every move the kids make with thousands of hidden camera and even manipulating their environment through a 1960’s style NASA control room deep below the cabin. As the film progresses it it revealed that what is to occur that night (the grizzly murder of these people) is an elaborate ritual in which this cult must sacrifice five people to prolong the slumber of a race of ancient, Lovecraftian gods who, if awoken, would bring about the end of humanity. So beneath the cabin is an underground facility housing an “army of nightmares,” a collection of horrible monsters ranging from zombies to werewolves to giant cobras, each monster correlating to an item in the basement of the cabin to be unknowingly chosen and summoned by one of the sacrifices. In the film Dana reads a Latin text from the diary of Patience Buchner (the cabin is referred to as the “old Buchner place”) and summons the Buchners, a family of Pain worshiping zombies each equipped with an instrument of torture like a bear-trap or a giant tree-cutting saw.

It’s important to have at least a vague idea of what the film is about because there is rarely a superfluous moment in this film, almost everything is done or said with the very specific purpose illustrating the film makers satirical vision. Even the arrangement of the opening credits in juxtaposition with the opening scene of the film act as a subversion of horror film “norms.” The opening credits consist of standard horror film fare. Illustrations of historical examples of ritual sacrifice and various occult imagery appear in pools of blood spreading over a pitch-black background, a foreboding score in the background. This is evocative of other classic horror credit sequences. The Jack ‘O’ Lantern illuminating the credits at the beginning of Halloween to John Carpenters now famous Halloween theme; the Christopher Young composed Gypsy-inspired string section screeching with the turning of the pages of a cursed Grimoire fortelling the curse of the Lamia in Drag Me to Hell. More famous is Saul Bass’ credit sequence for the Alfred Hitchcock classic Psycho, featuring a dizzying display of sliding lines and shapes forming the names of the cast and crew over the frantic string section composed by Bernard Hermmann. However it is not the initial presentation of the credits that establishes the relationship between Cabin in the Woods and the films mentioned, rather it is the scene’s juxtaposition with the scene that follows that establishes the prominent satirical nature of the film as a whole. Rather than immediately introducing the main protagonists, presenting the pigs for slaughter so to speak, or even opening with a murder like the first shark attack in Jaws or Freddy Versus Jason, the film opens with a casual conversation between two middle-aged guys in white button up shirts and straight black ties talking about the one’s wife’s recent fertility test and how annoying all of the baby-proofed cabinets are to get into. The two men are Hadley and Sitterson, the men working the control panel that will facilitate the deaths of the five protagonists (who have yet to be introduced). The scene continues to follow them as they casually discuss their personal lives, the upcoming day of work, bicker with another worker from the Chem department about a hitch in last years ritual, and even allude to a playful rivalry with the Japanese branch. The scene is inherently funny, (the comedic value mainly being derived from the sharp dialogue and the delivery by Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins as Hadley and Sitterson, respectively) yet it is preceded by a montage of Hellish images of ritualistic mutilation. The scene is capped off with Hadley mentioning getting drunk after work and liberating his cabinets with power tools before the scene cuts abruptly the title in big bloody letters with a shrieking sound effect, bringing the juxtaposition back full circle. Within the first five minutes the narrative formula of horror films is subverted by using montage to juxtapose the standard horror opening with a comedic casual conversation among co-workers whose job, as it will revealed, just so happens to be orchestrating the ritualistic murder of five unsuspecting youths.

The five youths in question, as mentioned earlier, are Dana (Kristen Connolly), Marty (Francis Kranz), Jules (Anna Hutchinson), Kurt (Chris Hemsworth) and Holden (Jesse Williams). These five characters serve the purpose of filling not only the roles established by the ritual within the film, but a ritual within the viewing of the film as well. It is established early on in the film that they are all intelligent college Students. Kurt, while being built like a linebacker, is said to be a Sociology Major on full academic scholarship, while his girlfriend Jules is established as being pre-med. Dana is caught packing textbooks to read on the trip “in case she gets bored”. Holden, who is first seen tossing a football around with Kurt, is revealed to know Latin. Even Marty, the token stoner of the group, shows a propensity for waxing philosophical with diatribes about how society is “binding” with “everything being recorded filed, blogged” and that society very desperately “needs to crumble”. This is a stark difference from the protagonists of films like Cabin Fever, Jeepers Creepers 2, or the Friday the Thirteenth Franchise where the protagonists are generally a group of horny teenagers each occupying some high school level stereotype like jock, slut, prude, stoner or nerd, with the depth of the characterization ending there. While there are inklings of these stereotypes in the characters in Cabin in the Woods, it is carefully established that each character is intelligent and has a distinctive personality independent of whatever stereotype that might be applied to them. While Kurt and Holden are first seen tossing a football around with athletic prowess they are both shown to be very well educated, as well as Jules who is at first viewed as the “perky Blond” type (having just dyed hair blond before trip). Dana, despite coming as shy and bookish, is revealed within minutes of her introduction to have recently gotten out of an affair with one of her professors. Yet as the film goes on the “puppeteers” (as Marty comes to call them) manipulate the situation so as to force each one of the characters into some archetypical role within their sacrificial ritual. In the underground facility it’s said by Lin (the Chem Department worker seen earlier interacting with Hadley and Sitterson) that they treated Jules’ hair-dye with chemicals that will reach her bloodstream through the scalp and increase her hormone and endorphin levels making her more bubbly and prone towards sexual activity, while chemicals in the beer influence Kurt to act more carnal and “jock-ish.” It’s eventually revealed that for the ritual to be performed correctly (and thus prolong the slumber of the ancient, evil gods) the cult must offer the sacrifice of the five archetypes: the whore (Jules), the athlete (Kurt), the scholar (Holden), the fool (Marty), and the virgin (Dana).

These five archetypes, as mentioned earlier, allude to recurring stock characters of horror movies of the past. The whore is said to be the first to die, often during the act of sex. Tina Gray (Manda Wyss) and Tatum Riley (Rose McGowan) fill these roles in the films A Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream, respectively. Tina Gray is first to be haunted in her dreams by the films antagonist Freddy Kreuger and is killed in her sleep immediately after having sex with her boyfriend. Tatum Riley, despite not being the first die and being a brunette, fills the role by mistaking the killer known as “Ghost face” as her boyfriend wearing a costume for a sex game, leading to her murder. One of the earliest examples of this trope would be In Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho in the form of the film’s initial protagonist Marion Crane (played by Janet Leigh). The crux of her character is built around her sexuality (being first introduced after having sex with her boyfriend, being watched as she undresses by Norman bates and then being killed while she’s naked in the shower) as well as being the first to die in the film (originally seen as the protagonist of the film before being unexpectedly murdered thirty minutes in). In Cabin in the Woods, Jules begins to show these overtly sexual traits when she takes a dare to make out with a stuffed wolf head in the cabin (which she does with a surprisingly amount of passion and vigor) and later is the first to be killed by the Buchners (they saw her head off) while having sex with her boyfriend Kurt out in the woods. The athlete refers to the “jock,” (for example: High school football star Barry Cox, Ryan Philippe’s character in I Know What You Did Last Summer), often portrayed as brutish and driven by carnal desires and prone to aggression towards “weaker” men (an example of this would be Ron Grady’s initial antagonism towards Jesse Walsh in A Nightmare on Elm street 2:Freddy’s Revenge). Kurt begins to show these traits after drinking the chemically treated beer he brought to the cabin. The effects begin to manifest with casual asides like referring to Holden as “egghead” for looking through Patience Buchner’s diary and berating Marty to “stop being such a baby” for being frightened of the content of the cellar. Kurt’s role as the athlete even informs the way in which he dies, attempting to jump the chasm on his dirt bike to escape and get help only to ride head first into the invisible barrier surrounding the forest and plummeting into the darkness. The scholar refers to the “nerd” of the film, often portrayed as knowledgeable but awkward and is often undermined by the athlete ( or any alpha-male character) in some way (Holden being called an ‘egghead” by Kurt). An exaggerated example is Rick Moranis as Seymore Krelborn in Little Shop of Horrors who’s constantly overshadowed by the motorcycle driving Sadist/ dentist Orin Scrivello (played by Steve Martin). Marty is meant to represent the fool of the group like Jamie kennedy’s Randy Meeks In Scream or Evil Ed (played by Stephen Geoffreys) in Fright Night. These characters are often used for comic relief and display a certain degree of self-awareness about what’s going on due to pop-cultural knowledge, Marty serves the role in film without the manipulation of the cult, however, due to his “secret secret stash” of marijuana that went unaltered by the Chem department, which allows him to transcend this stereotype by catching on to the ritual and hot-wiring the elevator that delivered the Buchner’s (allowing him to enter the underground facility) and live to the end of the film alongside Dana. Dana is meant to serve as the default virgin/ final girl (I say default because she’s not a virgin, having had an affair with a professor at her college before the events of the film, only received the role because all of the others were occupied). The concept of the final girl refers, obviously, to the final survivor of whatever massacre takes place in a horror film. She is generally portrayed as pure and virginal (a prime example would be Laurie Strode played Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween). Within the context of the ritual she must be last left standing, to live or die “as fate would decide,” thus making her death optional, so long as it’s last. If she dies before any of the others the ritual has failed and the gods will rise. Even outside the context of the ritual there are archetypes from other films being represented. Before reaching the cabin the gang stops at a run-down gas station where meet “the harbinger.” He’s a cantankerous old man with blood shot eyes and a constant wad of tobacco in his mouth who serves the purpose of warning the kids away with tales of how anybody who’s ever owned the old Buchner cabin has never kept it. He then proceeds to call Jules a whore to her face. It’s discovered a few scene’s afterward that his name is Mordecai and that he is associated with the cult, playing the role referred to as “the Harbinger.” It’s his job to warn the sacrifices, thus giving them a choice to leave or continue on. This harkens back to characters like Old man Ralph in Friday the Thirteenth, warning Annie away from Camp Crystal Lake, after which she continues to hitchhike there, and is promptly murdered. The entire ritual within the film acts a satire of the derivative formula employed throughout numerous horror films as displayed by the 5 archetypes, almost as if the repetitive narratives of these films are part of some rigidly structured ritual that the writers must adhere to and not deviate from.

Another target of satire in the film is a specific sub-genre of horror cinema: the Zombie movie. It is no accident that zombies of all monsters were chosen out an entire “army of nightmares” including a Hellraiser homage in the form of Fornicus, a giant cobra, a carnivorous merman and a slew of other hellish creatures (the cabin cellar containing hundreds of items, each one correlating to one of the monsters that will unleashed should the item be disturbed). It would appear that the film maker’s decision to use zombies as the instruments of murder could have been a means of reflecting the resurgence of zombies in film and television of the past decade. Various examples in the recent year include films like 28 Days later, its sequel 28 Weeks later, the 2004 Dawn of the Dead Remake, the hit television series The Walking Dead as well as the “Zom-Com’s” (zombie-comedies) Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland, Zombie Strippers and the upcoming Warm Bodies. A target of satire could also be the notion of varying “zombie sub-cultures” in these films with differing depictions of Zombies in films like George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and the more recent 28 Days Later from Danny Boyle. In Night of the Living Dead zombies are slow moving and decaying whereas in 28 Days Later the zombies are not actually undead but infected with a brain altering virus (the Rage Virus) and still capable of running after their victims at great speeds. This prompts an “walkers versus runners” argument among fans of the sub-genre. Zack Snyder’s 2004 remake of George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead also features runners, while Shaun of the Dead and the TV show The Walking Dead feature walkers (the zombies are even called Walkers instead of Zombies by characters in the show). In Cabin in the Woods this is illustrated in a scene after the Zombified Buchner’s are chosen in the Cellar and unleashed upon the cabin. The staff of the underground facility had held a betting pool to see which monster would be chosen, each monsters name written in boxes on a white board with different departments written next to varying monsters (signifying who had placed a bet on what). A woman who lost complains to Sitterson (who was running the pool) saying the she put her money on Zombies, yet the maintenance department (and an intern who bet on the same monster and had to split the winnings) won. Sitterson says that the reason she still lost is that she did in fact place a bet on zombies and shows that there are two separate boxes: one for zombies and one for zombie redneck torture family, explaining that there is a huge difference and equating it to the difference between “an elephant and an elephant seal.” This establishes a comedic notion of different zombie sub-cultures within the film which could be a wink and nod to the arguments held by fans Zombie cinephiles.

This awareness of the horror film fans manifests in other forms throughout the film. While Cabin in the Woods initially appears to be a satire of horror films, as the story unfolds the film develops into an analysis of the nature of the audiences who watch horror movies as well as the the industry that produces them. The production aspect of horror films is initially referenced by Hadley when mentions an implied rivalry between the American branch and the Japanese branch. This alludes to a rivalry between American horror films and Japanese horror film. Hadley states that “Japan has a perfect record” and that “We’re [the U.S] number two but we try harder.” This refers to fact that a number American Horror movies are actually remakes of Japanese Horror Movies like Ringu (The Ring), Ju-On (The Grudge), One Missed Call and Dark Waters to name a few. This string of American Remakes of Japanese films denotes sort of race to catch up in regards to Japanese Film Makers. The differences between the 2 different cultural approaches is also shown. In general Japanese Horror films generally revolve around ghosts and are more psychological in nature as opposed to the gorier, more visually bombastic horror films of the U.S (Connolly, 2011). Throughout Cabin in the Woods the ritual is seen being performed in Japan through Monitors in the Control Room. The Japanese Ritual, in contrast with the Zombie Slash-fest in America, features a ghost terrorizing a room of Japanese schoolgirls. The ghost evokes the common appearance of the ghosts in Ringu and the Grudge with her matted black hair hanging over her face, pale skin, sunken black eye with a soaking wet white gown as she levitates over around the classroom.

Further reflections of the viewing audience (as well as the people who produce horror films) are later presented in comedic fashions. For example, during the sex scene between Jules and Kurt. While the two make out in the woods, the scene cuts back to the control room, now full of male workers with huge grins on their faces and wonder in their eyes as they watch the monitors with anticipation of what is to come. Hadley and Sitterson further manipulate the scene to ensure that two do in fact have sex by pumping pheromone mist through the mossy ground, raising the temperature when Jules complains about being chilly and even adjusting the amount of moonlight breaking through the trees to create a romantic atmosphere (this is all possible because Jules and Kurt aren’t actually seeing the night sky, just a simulation of it, the whole forest being in some kind of huge, high tech terrarium). One of the guards, who seems awkward about watching two people have sex, asks “Do we really need to see this?” To which Hadley responds “We’re not the only ones watching,” (referring to the gods being placated by the ritual) with Sitterson adding that “we have to keep the customer satisfied.” This represents the voices of the men who wrote the film, Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard. Hadley and Sitterson are the writers. They are literally setting the scene (as they have been throughout the entire film) that plays out for both the audience outside the film as well as an audience within the film (the gods for whom this ritual is being played out). Hadley and Sitterson must create a sex scene to placate the viewer, just how screenwriters and directors are expected to add a sex scene to a horror film to entertain the hormone addled whimsies of teenaged to twenty-something males who are thought to occupy the bulk of the targeted demographic (this being shown by the room full men ogling the scene playing out in front of them) (Crowther, 2006). This parallel also manifests during the scene in which the workers of the underground facility hold a celebration when it appears that “the virgin” Dana is the last person standing thus completing the ritual (unaware that Marty is still alive rendering it incomplete). The celebration seems reminiscent of a “wrap-party,” a celebration held after a film has finished shooting and even includes workers from other departments telling Hadley and Sitterson what their “favorite parts” were. (the RV crashing into the lake, for example) like they were fans of a movie praising the directors/writers. Even in the end, as Marty and Dana wait for the world to end as the ancients rise, the two characters reflect the sentiments of the audience when Dana says “I wish I could have seen them” ( referring to the giant evil gods) and Marty responds “I know, now that would’ve been a fun weekend.” This recognizes the fact that the presence of these giant lovecraftian gods has been build up throughout the entire movie yet they are never seen, save for a giant demonic looking hand shooting up out of the ground and slamming down on the camera right before the credits roll. Also addressed is the possibly sadistic nature of the audiences who watch these movies. Dana brings this up in the film when Marty says “A ritual sacrifice? Great! You tie someone to a stone, get a fancy dagger and a bunch of robes…it’s not that complicated!” To which Dana responds: “No, it’s simple. They don’t want to see us killed. They want to see us punished.” This calls attention to the gratuitously violent nature of the ritual in the film as well as horror movies (on a sub-textual level), thus implying a certain level of sadism in the fact that there is a demographic for films about people getting butchered (especially in the past decade with “torture porn” films like Saw, Hostel, their sequels, The Collector ect.).

In summation, through the narrative of Cabin in the Woods Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard were able to make a number of statements regarding horror films and their varying sub-genres. These statements ranged from the derivative “ritual” film makers seem to be performing over and over again, to the recurring trend of zombie films and American made remakes of Japanese films, the production process performed by the industry that produces horror films and recognitions of the targeted demographics therein, and even the philosophical implications of audiences paying to see these movies.

Works cited:-The Cabin in the Woods, Drew Goddard, Joss Whedon, 2012, Lions Gate-R.J Crowther Jr. Horror Demograhpic 101: Meat, Metal & Mayhen. 2006. Horror Movies Versus American Horror Movies, 2011, Whsfreepress. Used For reference: Halloween (1978), Drag Me to Hell (2009), Psycho (1960), Jaws (1975), Cabin Fever (2002), Jeepers Creepers 2 (2003), A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985), Scream (1996), I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997), Little Shop of Horrors (1986), Fright Night (1985), 28 Days Later (2002), 28 Weeks Later (2007), Dawn of the Dead (2004), Night of the Living Dead (1968), The Walking Dead (2010-present) Shaun of the Dead (2004), Zombieland (2009), Zombie Strippers (2008), Warm Bodies (2013), Ringu/ The Ring (1998/ 2002), One Misses Call (2004/2008), Dark Water (2002/2005), Ju-On/ The Grudge (2002/2004).$Win32 OpenOffice.org_project/341m1$Build-9593

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