Monday, 16 March 2009

All kinds of iniquities.

After posting the previous entry (see below) I got a reply which amongst other things stated:

I don’t think there is anything particularly insidious about the narrative, or its structure, and think it is there to be taken for what it is: Two or so hours of entertainment, escapism from the harsh reality of the world

Sure, narratives are an extremely valuable part of any culture – I’m not disputing this. However, what shocked me about Slumdog Millionaire was the fact that I came out of the cinema with two completely antithetical and irreconcilable responses: one emotional and the other intellectual. I had enjoyed the film, I felt emotionally uplifted yet I was acutely aware of a serious ideological problem. Sure, we could simply say that this is a well-made but highly problematic and exploitative film and leave it at that. In fact a simple search on Google for the words “Slumdog Millionaire” and “exploitation” will soon convince anybody of the outrageous cynicism with which the young actors have been treated.

But, as I was trying to explain in my post, I don’t think it ends there.

Narrative film, photography, language or any other medium or process which sets itself up as a “transparent” representation of the world has to be scrutinised incredibly carefully. Narrative itself is not a natural phenomenon – it’s a construct, a product of culture and we “take it for what it is” (or rather for what it seems to be ie “Two or so hours of entertainment, escapism from the harsh reality of the world”) at our peril.

Most of the time it’s all well and good simply to immerse ourselves in the diverse pleasures of narrative. We can even become highly engaged and critically aware of the complex encounters and ideas contained in narratives, but as makers, consumers and teachers of narrative we often have to look beyond these internal processes and examine the bigger picture. This is often fairly straightforward, in fact it’s often initiated for us by the work itself. But sometimes, and this was my experience with Slumdog Millionaire, the story is so gripping and so well told that you get caught up in the flow of it. This is one of the great strengths of narrative expression but I would argue that it’s also be one of it’s most insidious qualities because it can mask all kinds of iniquities.


Anonymous said...

Are you not assuming that art has an intrinsic moral dimension within it... why should it? Carravagio was a brutal murderer, who was also (by the standards of the day) sexually deviant too- morally an awful person, and probably exploited plenty people around him.. ...great painter though.

Is the life and death of a person not a natural phenomonon, a succession of causal events as Hume would say, and a kind of narrative...
interesting how novelists have more or less abandoned the extremities of form in the modernist novel (Finigans Wake,etc) and gone back to 'storytelling'.

Vivian Oblivion said...

Your claim that JH is "assuming that art has an intrinsic moral dimension..." is supported by a biographically-based example of Caravaggio's life and (its lack of detrimental impact on his) works. Your comment assumes a relation between ideology and morality. Ideology and morals might be related, but your post fails to clarify that (assumed) relationship. The connection between a biographical approach to Caravaggio (his life as "bad" vs. his works as "good") and the ideology of filmic narratives is left undeveloped in your comment, leaving the reader confused about the implied relation between morality and ideology, as well as between the sexuality and brutality of a "great painter" and his 17th-century works and ideology in contemporary film.

JH addresses the ideological implications of filmic content conveyed in pleasant, entertaining, viewer-pacifying form. If JH assumes anything, it is that films convey ideological messages/content. That has been an accepted tenet of film theory and criticism since the 1920s, as displayed in the texts of post-colonial, feminist, New Historicist, cultural, and Marxist theorists. Although formalists and others have focused on specific filmic devices, they consistently avoid engaging in matters of content (i.e. ideology) thereby leaving the work of other schools of film theory intact.

There seems to be no relation between the topic of the comment and that of the original post.

Vivian Oblivion said...

I'd also like to add that numerous experiments are undertaken in contemporary literature (e.g. Apocalypse Near, Jitterbug Perfume, Norman Mailer's "historical fiction," texts of Kim Addonizio, Cynthia Hendershot's City of Mazes, and numerous others).

Sorry for the double post.

J. Hamlyn said...

Interestingly, six months after I wrote the above post Tyler Cowen presented the following on TEDx:

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