Thursday, 27 December 2007
Tuesday, 25 December 2007
Saturday, 22 December 2007
"Is Bourne the New Bond?" An interesting article which examines the contrasting ideologies of the two JBs
[Opinion] Cinematically and politically, Bourne blows Bond out of the water
Nicolas van der Leek (Nick)
Published 2007-08-16 15:57 (KST)
Jason Bourne is hard as nails, and he is back in another gritty installment that does not disappoint. In fact, you may find yourself gritting your own teeth and balling your fists as Bourne fights tooth and fingernails, again and again, for his own survival.
Matt Damon instills Robert Ludlum's character with a familiar but indefatigable hardness that is not only believable, but practical and insightful. Bourne, after all, is a sign of our times. Bourne epitomizes the essence of our time: innovation, flexibility and sheer speed. By comparison, James Bond is a clumsy 20th century objet d'art.
After the "Bourne Ultimatum," an excellent fast paced action flick directed by Paul Greengrass, many movie audiences will be disappointed if the franchise is put to bed. So soon? Is a "Bourne Resurrection" likely? Given the epilogue to the third episode, it's unlikely. But stranger things have happened on the big screen, and the consensus must be that audiences worldwide want more of Bourne, and less of Bond.
Although Bond was impressive in "Casino Royale," most intuitively felt the 007 franchise is trying very hard to remain relevant. Bond is reinventing himself, in much the same way as Batman and Superman have. Do audiences have the stomach for a reinvented Bond? It's possible, of course, to refresh Bond. The problem though is that Bond belongs to a Cold War era. The world has simply become too much, too complicated for the likes of James Bond.
Perhaps with a new Q, this flaw could be addressed, except, isn't it odd that Bond always needs a paternal scientist to set him up. Bourne is entirely self sufficient, entirely independent. Worse, Bond's approach to the world no longer works. The Us Vs Them mindset is no longer a functional paradigm. It's too simplistic.
In the modern era, there just aren't overt Cold War foes like there used to be. In the globalised Flat World, many systems are integrated, and so even identifying your adversary becomes problematic, and a foe -- who is usually also covert -- can under certain circumstances become a friend and ally.
It is clear that in our era, the enemy lives and moves among us. It may even come to be a group within our own government or community. Because of competition for jobs, success etc, the "enemy" can be someone who we need to outwit or outplay in the daily scheme of things. This may be someone of our own tribe, who lives next door, and drives the same car. This is a remarkable departure from the exotic bad guys who pursue grand world domination scenarios and speak with strong accents in Bond.
In a very real sense, Bourne demonstrates to what extent the enemy can lie within -- including those who may purport to be friends and allies.
Good news, perhaps, for Bond, but bad news for us, is that if Peak Oil alarmists are right, the world will contract, which means countries will diminish backwards, behind their borders, the walls will go up again and the mid 20th century paranoias will likely return (think of popular panic along the lines of nuclear annihilation, world war, the threatened rise of communism and other ideologies). The consensus is that this austere period is either imminent or already happening. The laziest predictions put these nasty catastrophes no further away than the year 2015.
Unfortunately, this time round, all these threats are a lot more credible. In the 21st century the stakes are so much higher. The world's population is much larger, the resources the world consumes on a daily basis is staggering. There are more major powers (Russia is resurging, along with China, India and all of Europe), more nuclear armed countries than there ever were, aggressive and tech savvy terrorists around the world, and add to that world weather that is out of whack, increasingly wobbly financial systems and a world that has invested itself on energy (and resource) systems with no future.
I'm not sure about you, but for me, Bond just doesn't cut it any more. For one, patriotic loyalty is becoming a questionable stigmata. Although patriotism always seems a good idea at first, it is a hollow roar in the patriot's head when the fiercest find themselves in trenches -- whether real or metaphorical -- defending their "idea.:
What, after all, is a patriot? A flag waver? A jingoist? It must be possible to love one's country without having to demonstrate that love by fighting against another country. Is it not possible to love one's country by investing oneself in that country; by farming it, by finding, building and developing sustainable systems, by protecting the organic systems already there, and moving towards a new urbanism that binds communities together?
But it seems even in 21st century, patriotism continues to be defined as the willingness to go to war without question. If that is true then patriotism is synonymous with being a moron. And Bond, patriot that he is, echoes this sense of duty to her majesty without any critical reflection of what that duty serves.
Bourne is a sign of our times because who he is has been erased from his memory; but, all credit to him, he still cares about finding out who he really is, and changing himself for the better. There is that integrity, in the cinematic sense, which also prevents him from making random friendships -- including with the opposite sex -- because these actions (he must know) puts their lives at risk.
Bond's mission prerogative is first and foremost to charm and entertain, and second, to get the job done (because he must). Bourne’s priorities are far more austere: he is trying to survive, and while he can, pursue the problems that are at the root of his present difficulties.
Bourne's is a real world connectedness that movie audiences would do well to emulate, and this consciousness needs to be integrated into the popular mindset beyond the present day. As the resources in the world wither away, we will be called upon to be resourceful as human beings have never had to be before. We can do it, but it will require a mindset like Bourne's, and all the integrity we can muster.
by reporter Nicolas van der Leek
Tuesday, 18 December 2007
It doesn't quite begin from the start! It's signficant for character - narrative - pace and tempo - the texture and sounds of the city - the camerawork - sound - editing and its stunts and action.
Monday, 3 December 2007
Marxist critics view society as a complex network of groups who are divided by the struggle for hegemony. Such divisions are fostered by economic factors, gender, race, ethnic or national origin, and political ideals.
Social experience is one of struggle, as each groups tries to achieve dominance through control of cultural systems, including communication media. The Marxist ideological model views mass media as the most important subject for critical analysis, because mass media is the principal means of social control in contemporary society.
Marxist criticism has as its goal the identification of those rhetorical acts that legitimize the hegemonic views of the dominant social groups. Marxist critics employ critical questions that examine the hegemonic orientation of a rhetorical act:
- In what social, political, or economic context does a rhetorical act exist?
- How does a given rhetorical act articulate, reflect, or legitimize the ideology of the dominant social group?
- How do the visual and verbal symbols provide evidence of the subjugation or exploitation of subordinate groups?
- How does a given rhetorical act attempt to incorporate subordinate classes or groups in the hegemonic ideology of the dominant social group?
- How does the rhetorical act perpetuate the hegemonic ideology of the dominant group?
Madonna, "Material Girl"
Madonna's rise from merely being a popular act in dance clubs to super-star female power in the recording industry is a case study of sexual hegemony in American society.
Madonna's attempted metamorphosis into the embodiment of female power and the message that attempt sends to her fans can be best understood through a Marxist interpretation of "Material Girl." The video offers a narrative with several intertextual levels.
First, there is Madonna's creation of herself in the image of A Star is Born. "Material Girl" is a story about star-making in Hollywood, and Goodwin (1992) interprets the video as a "star-text" for her."The Material Girl in the visual narrative (and additional dialogue) is the character played by the character whom Madonna portrays. The persona taken on by Madonna in this clip is that of an actress who sings the song "Material Girl,:" but who is, in fact, not one herself . . . It is Madonna's star identity that has been constructed as that of Material Girl, and this clip was precisely designed to help establish it . . . it served the function of shifting Madonna's image from that of disco-bimbo to "authentic" star." (p. 100)
Second, there is the intertextuality of "Material Girl" as a parody of Marilyn Monroe's performance of the song "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" in the movie Gentlemen Prefer Blonds. The intertextual image is not necessarily of Monroe, but of the Hollywood archetype of the sexy blonde who uses her looks to get what she wants. As John Fisk (1987) notes:
"The meanings of Material Girl depend upon its allusion to Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and upon its intertextuality with all texts that contribute to and draw upon the meaning of "the blonde" in our culture. Intertextual knowledge preorients the reader to exploit television's polysemy by activating the text in certain ways, that is, by making some meanings rather than others." (p. 108)
Finally, there is the intertextuality of Madonna's works taken as a whole. "Madonna's popular history as an assertive, talented woman in the male-dominated music industry contributes to how we watch and experience her music videos. She is exercising her control over the image she projects musically and visually" (Schwichtenberg, 1992 p. 125). Madonna has created a female persona that dominates rather than is dominated by the male hierarchy. The sexuality of the blond icon is her capital for purchasing dominance over the male hierarchy. "Sex sells in the mainstream and Madonna's sexual self-presentation may be a constant feature particularly amenable to dominant patriarchal discourses" (Schwichtenberg, 1992 p. 129).
Do these three elements add up to an image of Madonna triumphant over the hegemony of male-sexual-dominance that seems to permeate American culture and its popular culture productions? A Marxist reading of "Material Girl" reveals that Madonna may not be the triumphant sexual capitalist she portrays herself to be, but she is at least the equal of any man.
"Material Girl" has separate messages in its visual and verbal symbology that exist in tension with each other. At first the verbal and visual align as the video's narrative structure unfolds. We see the Hollywood scene of the mogul who wants the girl. A Hollywood toady and the mogul have this exchange:
Mogul: She's fantastic, I think she could be a star.
Toady: She could be, she could be great, she could be a major star.
Mogul: She is a star.
Toady: The biggest star in the universe right now as we speak. Those were the sets, the director's got all kinds of thing, director's hot, he's hip, he's here,he's going to be doing all kinds of things. He's going to change the color of her set, got a great idea for a blue one.
Mogul: Don't touch anything.
Toady: He touches one things he's gone, I swear, he's history.
Mogul: I want to meet her.
Toady: You got it, any time, name the place, name any where in any state you got it.
This is followed by a scene in which the "actress" is talking on the phone:
Madonna: Yeah, he's still after me. Just gave me a necklace. I don't know, I think it's real diamonds. Yeah, he thinks he can impress me by giving me expensive gifts. It's nice though, you want it?
We see the mogul lurking outside her door with another lavishly wrapped, small package in his hand. As the actress rejects the idea that diamonds will impress her, he throws the package in a waste can.
The video then shifts to a sound stage where a musical number is being filmed in which Madonna protrays a "material girl." She is given diamonds, furs, reaches into men's pockets for their cash. The lyrics reflect the theme that she is more concerned with a man's bottom line than his bottom.
"Some boys kiss me, some boys hug me, I think they're OK.
"If they don't give me proper credit I just walk away.
"They can beg and they can plead, but they can't see the light, that's right.
"Cause the boy with the cold hard cash is always Mr. Right.
"Cause we are living in a material world, and I am a material girl.
"You know that we are living in a material world, and I am a material girl.
"Some boys roam and some boys slow dance that's allright with me. If they can't raise my interest then I have to let them be.
" Some boys die and some boys lie but I don't let them play, no way. Only boys that save their pennies make my rainy day. "
As the narrative shifts from the song-and-dance number to the boy-seeks-girl love story, the mogul offers the actress a ragged bunch of daisies--the gift of the proletarian man to his sweetheart, the most common flower than can be picked in any field rather than an expensive spray of hothouse roses. The actress acknowledges his gift with a smile and mogul-gets-girl. Cut to the song-and-dance number, and as it concludes we see the mogul proffering a wad of bills to a farmer for his old, beat-up truck. The sale is concluded before the actress appears on the scene. As the love story concludes, the mogul, posing as a man of modest means, and the actress embrace.
What is the dialectic tension of the visual and verbal elements in terms of the Madonna-as-sexual-capitalist image? If Madonna's goal is to reverse male-dominated hegemony in the entertainment industry, this video may be sending a mixed message. Since the actress in "Material Girl" is secure enough about her own prospects and personal capital to love the man she chooses rather than the one she needs to advance, she does not use her sexuality to dominate the moguls of Hollywood and she is deceived by the false front her mogul-suitor presents. At the same time, it could be argued that because she is such an exciting woman the mogul changes his typical courtship ritual.
In many ways he is like her, secure enough financially to be able to buy the trappings of poverty, while a man of truely modest means could not afford to buy the trappings of wealth or even rent them. If either of them thought they were not part of the power elite, they would not have made the choices they made. Thus, the video reinforces the notion that those that have, get. In this case they get each other, sending the message that consciously or unconsciously, almost as if it were instinct or a law of nature, people pair up with those of their own social class. Madonna is not the champion of the feminine underclass in the entertainment world or the world of sexual politics at large that she would like us to believe. She is however a pretty strong advocate for Madonna.
The visual elements of "Material Girl" provide her with star-text framing, but the tension between the visual and verbal elements negates Madonna's image as a sexual capitalist who triumphs over the male-dominated Hollywood hierarchy to the benefit of all women. The visual narrative reveals that she is seduced by the very ability to purchase affection and sex that she attempts to turn to her advantage. She is no more savvy about the male-dominated culture than any other woman, but she is personally powerful enough that her ignorance of men matters no more to her than most men's ignorance of women matters to them. She may not be one of the boys, but she is no second-class citizen.
Karyn Charles Rybacki and Donald Jay Rybacki Northern Michigan University
Transcultural Music Review#4 (1999) ISSN:1697-0101
Adapted for the criticism of film (Davies, Farrell, & Matthews, 1982), Jungian analysis can be used to examine the way a succession of images involve an audience and draw perceptual, affective and cognitive responses from them.
Jung's work in psycho-analysis viewed the human psyche as a self-regulating system that tries to achieve balance between the conscious and the unconscious, resolving the struggle between the psyche's public persona and private shadow. The images of the dream world depict the struggle each person experiences between the persona and shadow sides of self (Rushing & Frentz, 1980).
Davies et al (1982) use Jung's series of dream images, or archetypes, as an analytical method for studying the verbal and visual whole of a film. In their method, each element of the film is analyzed to discover the archetypes found in story, characters, progression of scenes, special effects, cinematography, sound, and editing. The goal of criticism using the Jungian psychological model is to provide an understanding of the archetypal themes the viewing audience experiences and to discover the psychic role such an experience might play for them.
Jung's list of the most frequently recurring symbols from the shadow side of self is used to analyze message content (Davies, et al, 1982):
Mother or origin symbols that represent the female, animals, darkness, and the primeval. Spirit symbols represent sources or places that provide renewal, energy, and guidance. Transcendence symbols represent heroes, rebirth, initiation rituals, and images of light. Wholeness symbols are displayed as circle configurations, a mandala, stones, or treasure. Jung's theory of dreams finds these symbols commonly occurring as paired opposites.
Critical analysis of rhetorical acts applies the same approach--determine how juxtapositions of opposing symbols are indicative of the search for balance between the rational outer world and the irrational inner world. Rhetorical acts, such as music video, offer the audience a means of coping with exigencies in their world through the video's ability to strike a balance between the persona and shadow.
The Jungian psychological model may have particular applicability for understanding narrative and conceptual videos as a source of cultural identity for the MTV generation.
Music video and dreams have much in common. The narrative, dream-like structures of video contribute to the viewer's personal stock of cultural imagery and also create a culture-wide "dreampool" (Kinder, 1984). From dreams individuals experience a selection of images that become a kind of cultural imprinting. Like dreams, music videos can stimulate viewers to retrieve specific images every time the song is heard.
"If music video reflects recent currents in popular culture and if we acknowledge the possibility that mass media are significant contributors to our cultural dream or image pool, the similarities between dreams and videos may surely be culturally significant." (Abt, 1987 p. 99)
What that cultural significance is may be found in the similarity between music videos and dreams in terms of their structure and significant symbols. "One of music video's distinctive features as a social expression is its open-ended quality, aiming to engulf the viewer in its communication with itself, its fashioning of an alternative world where image is reality" (Aufderheide, 1986 pp. 57-58). Likewise, dreams engulf the individual in a world with flexible patterns and fleeting images of reality.
A strong connection between the aural-visual world of music video and the dream world may exist because both perform similar functions for the psyche. Like a dream, the text of a music video has the ability to expel one's congested and repressed emotions and desires. There is also "the immense potential of both dreams and video for triggering physiological reactions to symbolic stimuli. In this sense, both music video and dreams dwell in the dicey cease-fire zone between the demands of society and the desires of the individual" (Harvey, 1990 p. 52).
Further, the shifting symbols of the dream world exist in the seemingly random flow of symbols in some music videos. Most other genre of visual narratives--film and episodic television, for example, typically have some thematic or structural closure that marks the narrative boundaries (Harvey, 1990). Narrative and especially conceptual music videos are not bound by this convention.
"Symbolic systems are established--then, abandoned. Fragments of myth are introduced, then invalidated by subsequent and seemingly random symbolic contradictions. The rules change constantly; one minute a man is a man, the next minute he is a guitar, the next minute he is a fish." (Harvey, 1990, p. 50)
The fluid, non-linear quality of symbols in music-video-as-dream-state has some particular implications for how the viewer uses the verbal and visual levels of message in decoding a video as a source of cultural identity or community. A rhetorical act in the medium that functions to solve some problem for the viewer may do so only after the viewer has decoded a very mixed message. As Lisa St. Clair Harvey indicates:
"Anarchy often triumphs in the text of music video. Social reversals remain reversed; excessive behavior is followed by yet more excessive behavior rather than by the re-imposition of cultural taboo; temporary insanity hardens into a state of semi-permanent lunacy, as inanimate objects take on life, people turn into guitars and clocks and robots, and definitions of "living" and "dead" of "male" and "female," "here" and "now" become up for grabs and open to interpretation." (p. 50)
The impact on the problem-solving abilities of the MTV generation is that living in the world of music video, like living in a perpetual dream state, becomes an alternative to active participation in the extant culture.
The MTV generation creates not the counter-culture of the sixties, but a counterfeit culture that neither conflicts nor intersects with the mainstream culture. Aufderheide (1986) characterizes this culture."Music videos offer a ready-made alternative to social life. With no beginnings or endings--no history--there may be nightmarish instability, even horror. But there can be no tragedy, which is rooted in the tension between an individual and society. Likewise, there is no comedy, which provokes laughter with sharp, unexpected shifts of context, making solemnity slip on a banana peel . . . identity can change with a switch of scene, a change in the beat. The good news is: you can be anything, anywhere. That is also the bad news--which whets the appetite for more "news," more dreams." (p.66)
Eurhythmics, "Sweet Dreams"
There is a certain intertextuality between Annie Lennox's hair style and mannish dress with that of fitness guru Susan Powter that may have Jungian implications for the female symbol. Lennox's image and musical style, along with the myriad of shifting symbols in "Sweet Dreams," make the video an interesting collection of Jungian archetypes.
Lennox, who claims her music is influenced by sixties soul music, and her partner Dave Stewart have in fact updated the Motown sound. "Sweet Dreams," according to Szatmary (1991), "featured the sultry, Motown-influenced vocals of Lennox over the insistent beat of a drum machine" (p. 262). Although it does not feature inspired lyrics, 60 words repeated enough times to fill 3:10 in the video version, the lyrical element of "Sweet Dreams" also offers some interesting symbology when viewed from the Jungian perspective.
With such a sparse narrative, and instruments used so blatantly as props that even the worst air band would blush, the video presentation of "Sweet Dreams" is purely conceptual and highly Jungian. The tension depicted exists between the Mother of origin (Annie's persona) and wholeness (her shadow). Lennox, despite her buzz haircut, black suit and tie, and black riding crop or baton, is overtly feminine with her heavily made-up eyes and bright red lipstick, and in the way she carries herself.
We first see her in what looks like a conference room. The walls are lined with gold records (circles) and Dave sits at the conference table working what appears to be a primitive computer (technological treasure). As pictures of the earth seen from space (a circle partially obscured by clouds) and crowded streets are projected on a video screen (more technological treasure), Annie eyes a globe on the conference table and sings:
"Sweet dreams are made of this.
Who am I to disagree.
I travel the world and the seven seas.
Everybody's looking for something. "
These lyrics repeat five more times before the song is over. On the first, one the symbols of wholeness, a circular red spot on Annie's forehead (her third eye), enables both of them to move outside the conference room and encounter additional elements of the Mother of origin.
Through Annie's third eye we see the pair floating down a fog-shrouded river (the primeval) in a skiff and eventually encountering a herd of cows (animals), some of which appear when the video returns to the wholeness of the conference room. While they are outside the the conference room, Lennox's costume changes briefly to a floor length red evening gown as she and her partner mimic playing cellos. Only for this fleeting moment and at the video's end, as she prepares to go to sleep clad in a night gown, a copy of a book entitled "Sweet Dreams" on her night stand, do we see her wearing what we think of as a woman's garb.
Jungian symbolism is found primarily in the visual images of "Sweet Dreams." However, one aspect of the lyrics offers us an impression of the struggle between shadow and persona with some feminist implications. The business world has historically undervalued women and the rock music scene has welcomed women with less than open arms. A Jungian critic would suggest that Lennox's female persona has had to make a pact with the devil of her shadow's desire for success:
"Some of them want to use you.
Some of them want to get used by you.
Some of them want to abuse you.
Some of them want to be abused. "
In her case, the pact requires her to suppress rather than exploit her sexuality in her dress, at least while she is within the confines of the business world. The visual symbols of conference room and the outside world of nature underscore this pact. Outside that world she is free to be herself from time to time.
"Hold your head up. Movin' on.
Keep your head up. Movin' on."
A stronger Jungian interpretation of physical features can be made about Lennox's eyes, something that was also an important element in her latest video, "Diva." The fact that they are heavily, almost cartoonishly, made-up has already been mentioned, but this, combined with her pale skin tone, means that the viewer's eyes are drawn to them. Corporate (shadow) Annie's eyes don't blink, a remarkable performance. They are piercing blue orbs, simultaneously commanding and disturbing. But there are brief glimpses, especially at bedtime, of the other (persona) Annie's eyes. Devoid of make-up, their lids flutter and there no doubt they belong to someone at peace with her identity.
"Sweet Dreams" may be regarded as an archetypal conceptual video. Its visual symbols and enigmatic lyrics typify the fluid, non-linear progression of images in the dream state. Decoding these symbols may produce different identities, depending on the varying textual experiences the viewer brings to bear on "Sweet Dreams." A viewer, cognizant of the inner workings of the music business, may see Lennox and Stewart as caught in the struggle between the shadow's desire for creativity as an artist and the persona's suppression by the rock industry's commercialism. Another viewer, seeing the video for the first time years after its release and familiar with Susan Powter's numerous talk-show appearances and infomercials, may interpret Lennox's persona in terms of Powter's. This might produce a powerful female symbol.
Some of our students interpret "Sweet Dreams" in the context of a larger business-world versus personal-needs struggle. They read the video's meaning as the board room represents a job, the social and parental imperative to find employment upon graduation. The personal needs and desires represented by playing the cello, being outside, and even having time to have a "sweet dream" are secondary to the need to get a job. Students frequently see themselves as the cattle, animals herded into the business world. Our students usually interpret "Sweet Dreams" as a bad dream about their fear of not finding jobs in a shaky economic environment.
Ultimately we will advocate using cultural models for the rhetorical analysis of music video. To fully understand how a cultural model facilitates rhetorical criticism of music video, it is first necessary to explore the unique features of the genre. Music, particularly rock, has always had a visual element. The album cover, the "look" a band strived for in performance, concert staging, and promotional publicity have all helped create a visual imagery for rock (Goodwin, 1992). The use of video to stimulate album sales and the birth of MTV as a continuous outlet for viewing simply served to enhance the visual potential present in rock.
Viewers typically do not regard the music video as a commercial for an album or act. Aufderheide (1986) describes the connection of viewer to video."With nary a reference to cash or commodities, music videos cross the consumer's gaze as a series of mood states. They trigger nostalgia, regret, anxiety, confusion, dread, envy, admiration, pity, titillation--attitudes at one remove from the primal expression such as passion, ecstasy, and rage. The moods often express a lack, an incompletion, an instability, a searching for location. In music videos, those feelings are carried on flights of whimsy, extended journeys into the arbitrary." (p. 63)
That music videos present compelling mood states that may claim the attention of the viewer is not a matter of happenstance.
Abt (1987) states that "directors of videos strive to make their products as exciting as the music. In the struggle to establish and maintain a following, artists utilize any number of techniques in order to appear exotic, powerful, tough, sexy, cool, unique" (p. 103). Further, Abt indicates a video must compete with other videos.
"They must gain and hold the viewer's attention amidst other videos; help establish, visualize, or maintain the artist's image; sell that image and the products associated with it; and perhaps, carry one or several direct or indirect messages . . ." (p. 97).
Music videos may be further characterized by three broad typologies: performance, narrative, and conceptual (Firth, 1988).
These types describe the form and content selected by the director or artist to attract viewers and to convey a direct or indirect message.
Performance videos, the most common type (Firth 1988) feature the star or group singing in concert to wildly enthusiastic fans. The goal is to convey a sense of the in-concert experience. Gow (1992) suggests "the predominance of performance as a formal system in the popular clips indicates that music video defines itself chiefly by communicating images of artists singing and playing songs" (pp. 48-49). Performance videos, especially those that display the star or group in the studio, remind the viewer that the soundtrack is still important. "Performance oriented visuals cue viewers that, indeed, the recording of the music is the most significant element" (Gow, 1992, p. 45).
A narrative video presents a sequence of events. A video may tell any kind of story in linear, cause-effect sequencing. Love stories, however, are the most common narrative mode in music video. The narrative pattern is one of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back. Action in the story is dominated by males who do things and females who passively react or wait for something to happen (Schwichtenberg, 1992).Conceptual videos rely on poetic form, primarily metaphor (Firth, 1988). The conceptual video can be metaphysical poetry articulated through visual and verbal elements. "These videos make significant use of the visual element, presenting to the eye as well as the ear, and in doing so, conveying truths inexpressible discursively" (Lorch, 1988, p. 143). Conceptual videos do not tell a story in linear fashion, but rather create a mood, a feeling to be evoked in the experience of viewing (Firth, 1988).
Conceptual videos contain the possibility for multiple meanings as the metaphor or metaphoric sequence is interpreted by the viewer.
"Thus the metaphorical relations between images structured according to musical and visual rhymes and rhythms play a suggestive role in soliciting multiple meanings from us, the viewers/listeners, that resonate with our experience--something we can feel and describe" (Schwichtenberg, 1992 p. 124).
A given music video may actually have elements of more than one category. Goodwin (1992), in describing Madonna's videos, suggests that the essential narrative component of a music video is found in its ability to frame the star, "star-in-text," as all Madonna's videos seem to do. A story exists solely for its ability to create, or in Madonna's case recreate, the star's persona. This blending of elements can also enable a type of music such as rap to have cross-over appeal to a wider audience.Although we may profitably interpret the message potential of music video using these three categories as a basis for content analysis, certain limitations exist if we remain on that path. "Analysts of music video narrative have been all too eager to freeze the moment and study videos shot by shot, but here the problem is that this generates not too much but too little knowledge, because the individual narrative is highly intertextual" (Goodwin, 1992 p. 90).
As a blend of video technique and imagery from film and television, music video offers us a new perceptual agenda by providing allusions to and incorporations of old iconic imagery from film, allowing us to reconstitute the pieces of the 20th century information explosion (Turner, 1986). The brevity of the music video has created a new grammar of video technique particular to this miniscule video form.
"Visual techniques commonly employed in music videos exaggerate . . . Interest and excitement is stimulated by rapid cutting, intercutting, dissolves, superimpositions, and other special effects, that taken together with different scenes and characters, make music videos visually and thematically dynamic." (Abt, 1987 pp. 97-98)
Born of an amalgam of commercialism, television, and film, for the purpose of selling rock albums, music videos frequently employ well-established verbal and visual symbols in telling a story or making a point. If no such symbols exist, music videos coin their own which, given the ubiquity of the medium, quickly find their way into the vernacular.How then to best understand the rhetorical properties that such a media form has for the audience? Schwichtenberg (1992) suggests that what critics should consider "is how music videos are woven into a complex cultural context that includes performers, industries, and diverse audiences who attribute a wide variety of meanings to the music and visuals" (p. 117).
These characteristics suggest that the most methodologically appropriate approach to understanding how music videos might function as rhetoric is to view them as cultural acts, intertextually located in the viewer's own experience. We define culture, with a little help from Bruce Gronbeck (1983), as a complex of collectively determined sets of rules, values, ideologies, and habits that constrain rhetors and their acts. This complex leads a society to generate meaning through various message forms to establish a series of societal truths. The extent to which any form of communication such as a music video plays a part in the process of truth-making is what the rhetorical critic attempts to discover through criticism.
Karyn Charles Rybacki and Donald Jay Rybacki Northern Michigan University
The rhetorical acts of a society, particularly those conveyed by popular or mass media, are the social record of its culture. Music has long been recognized as a form of popular culture with a certain potency for communicating rhetorically (Denisoff, 1971; 1972 and Rybacki & Rybacki, 1991). The two authors of this essay are of a generation described as "raised on the radio." Our sense of message in music takes us in an aural more often than a visual direction. Eleven years ago, the manner in which popular music was experienced changed as video became a staple for the "MTV-generation."
At first a not-so-subtle way of stimulating record sales, music videos are now a communication genre in their own right and a potent source of ideas for a new generation. Beyond its genesis as a promotional tool, music video has become more than an adjunct of marketing for the music industry. Pat Aufderheide (1986) recommends that despite its commercialism, music video merits serious consideration:
"it is particularly important because it is in the vanguard of reshaping the language of advertising--the dominant vocabulary of commercial culture--in a society that depends on an open flow of information to determine the quality of its political and public life. Consideration of music video's form also implies questions about the emerging shape of the democratic and capitalist society that creates and receives it."(p. 59)
Important to the dissemination of music video has been the rise of MTV, a narrow-cast cable channel aimed at the 18-34 year old demographic segment of music consumers. MTV redesigned and delivered rock to a TV generation that replaced the use of the radio as the medium for rock. As David Szatmary (1991) suggests, the MTV generation has no personal recollection of Elvis, the Beatles, Vietnam and seeks its own musical identity apart from us baby boomers. "In the 1980s, MTV designed and delivered rock to the TV generation" (p. 250). MTV plays a central role in the shaping of culture as D.S. Miller (cited in Abt, 1987) indicates:
"While the MTV format performs a "bardic" function of converging before its audience an array of possible (competing) youth subcultures and lifestyle options, at the same time it negotiates these subcultures and channels any reflective or participatory energy on the part of the audience into the act of consumerism. In this sense MTV functions as a negotiator in the hegemonic process by amplifying and absorbing elements of oppositional culture, while ultimately legitimizing and naturalizing their relationship to the dominant institutions of a consumer society." (p. 103)
MTV's "bardic function" as such a negotiator produces what Aufderheide views as a response to the generational search for identity of those "raised on the video."
"Music videos are authentic expressions of a populist industrial society. For young people struggling to find a place in communities dotted with shopping malls but with few community centers, in an economy whose major product is information, music videos play to the search for identity and an improvised community." (p. 63)
Music video has gone from being a means of selling more records to a rhetorical form worthy of study in its own right. Videos typically take one of three forms: performance, narrative, and conceptual. While these forms could provide the basis for a content analytic analysis of music videos, the authors of this paper argue that one of a number of cultural approaches to criticism may offer greater insight. It does so by providing brief analyses of six music video using a variety of cultural approaches.
The Social Values Model examines the ways in which society resolves conflicts between basic values through rhetorical activity, either synthesizing or transforming incompatible values. In Bon Jovi's video for "Wanted: Dead or Alive" the band uses the mythos of the Old West to symbolize the tension between individuality and community that exists between artists and their fans. Public Enemy's rap, "By the Time I Get to Arizona" concerns the group's outrage at that state's unwillingness to make Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday a state holiday. Narratives of violence and non-violence are juxtaposed visually in a way that suggests that the white violence against blacks that occurred during the days of the Civil Rights Movement may be replaced with black violence against whites unless things change.
The Jungian Psychological Model is based on examining dream images and archetypes as they reflect the struggle between one's public and private selves. The Eurhythmics video for "Sweet Dreams" is replete with symbols of the conflict between what women must project as part of their public persona as opposed to what their private, shadow self really is. Guns N' Roses video for "November Rain" is staged as an extended dream which turns into a nightmare, the joyous celebration of a wedding that turns into a somber funeral marking the bride's death. Both of these videos speak to the fears that young people have about living up to expectations and confronting failure, rejection, and even abandonment when they do not.
Ideological Models of criticism use a particular world view such as feminism or Marxism as a lens through which rhetorical activity is examined. The Feminist Ideological Model of criticism examines issues of gender equality or inequality, while Marxist critics are concerned with issues of class struggle, dominance, and hegemony. The Divynls video for the song "I Touch Myself" is replete with images that devalue women. Madonna's video for "Material Girl" read from a Marxist perspective suggests she is at least the equal of any man.
This research was originally presented at the 1993 Speech Communication Association national convention in Miami, Florida as part of an all-day seminar on music video.
Transcultural Music Review#4 (1999) ISSN:1697-0101 Cultural approaches to the rhetorical analysis of selected music videos. Karyn Charles Rybacki and Donald Jay Rybacki Northern Michigan University
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