Genre Films and the Status Quo By Judith Hess Wright Presentation by Chris Bannerman
Purpose of Presentation • To define genre films • To analyze there nature in society • To go into into their various characteristics • To understand their affects on the viewing public
Outline • Purpose of presentation (30 seconds) • Outline (30 seconds) • Define genre films and list their shared characteristics (4 minutes) • Analysis of westerns (4 minutes) • Analysis of horror films (4 minutes) • Analysis of science fiction films (4 minutes) • Analysis of gangster films (4 minutes) • Summary (2 minute) • Review questions and comments (2 minutes)
What Are Genre Films • “Genre films have been defined as pure myth, as well-made plays, and as psychodramas bearing within themselves the working out of unconscious anxieties inherent in the psychological makeup of us all.” -Wright
What These Films Do to Viewers • They ease our fears caused by the social and political conflicts. • They attempt to install a mentality in which the viewer is less likely to act in opposition to those conflicts. • “They serve the interests of the ruling class by assisting in the maintenance of the status quo.”
The Four Categories of Genre Films • Westerns • Horror • Science fiction • Gangster films
The 3 Major Characteristics of Genre Films • They never deal directly with present social and political problems. • They are either set in the non-present or in a completely different social structure from our own. • The society in the film serves mostly as a backdrop. It is simple and it doesn’t act as a dramatic force.
Westerns and “The Code” • Westerns attempt to show when and how violent acts become morally right. • The solution to this conflict is found in “the code”, a set of moral and social guidelines that, when completely followed, allows a person to “live and die redeemed.” • The code is constant throughout the diegesis of the western.
Examples of the Code • Final shootout’s between opposing characters are justified when they are guided by the code. So are revenge killings and executions. • Such actions are sanctioned, or at least understood, by the community. • Both the hero and villain embody the code and they allow it to guide their every action.
What Does This Do to the Audience? • Viewers are impressed by the notion of a constant moral and social code. It advocates that there is a way to live a “guiltless existence” where all your actions are justified. • However, viewers are not sure how a code adapted for their own time would be characterized. • Unlike the characters in the western, in our lives the code would not be the same on both a personal and a social level.
Overall Message of the Western • Since we can not conceive of a personal code that would adhere to our social (legal) code, it is best to just adopt the social code. • Wright believes that “the western preaches integration and assimilation and absolute obedience to the laws of the land.”
The Horror Film: Science Vs. Tradition • “The horror film deals with the conflict between rational or scientific and traditional ways of problem solving.” • The monsters within the film represent the evil in humanity.
Attempts to Destroy the Monster • The lower class fails simply because they always have. They lack the strength to defeat the monster. • An enlightened member of the upper class fails because of his/her total disregard for tradition. • The monster is eventually defeated by a member of the upper class who has adopted traditional methods.
The Message Here Is… • We should never let go of our traditional beliefs. • Only the upper class can stop the evils of man. • Considering the time in which most of these films were released, they encourage a return to “older methods of coping.”
Science Fiction and Isolationism • The science fiction film tends to reflect America’s cold war paranoia. • The alien invaders represent the Communist members or sympathizers in the United States. • The aliens are powerful but they lack emotions. • The only response to these invaders is that of the use of scientific means to annihilate them.
“’The Other’” Is Evil • The aliens, or “the other”, want to do nothing but destroy us and our way of life. • Only the scientists, often connected with the military, can recognize the extent of the danger posed by aliens and only they can discover means to destroy them.
Effects on the Audience • “The other” will only do evil so we should destroy them. • “These films build on fears of the intrusive and the overpowering and thereby promote isolationism.” • Science should only preserve our current way of life. • We should place our faith in our military and intellectual superiors to protect us from the the dangers presented by “the other.”
Gangster Films: Don’t Climb the Ladder • “The world of the gangster is made up of a pyramidal hierarchy.” • Unlike in science fiction films, the characters in the gangster film are not attempting to create a new social structure. They are trying to rise within their own. • Many of these films contain characters that attempt to climb that pyramid and, in the end, fail to do so. • Essentially, their ambition leads to their downfall.
Gangsters and You • The fact that the gangster attempts to use illegal means to advance in his world is irrelevant. • “…all means are unlawful, every attempt at success is an act of aggression.” - Warshow • These films try to equate our own desires for success with those of the gangsters.
Effects on the Audience • These films show the dangers associated with success. If we succeed in our social structure and advance in our own hierarchy, we are vulnerable to any one who may desire our post. • Since success is dangerous and hard to maintain, it is easier to simply live your life as a failure on the lower levels of the pyramid.
So the next time you go to a genre film, ask yourself… • Is this film intended to only serve as escapism from the problems of my life, or is there a deeper message? • What is this film telling me about how I should live my life in society? • Am I being encouraged to not rebel against the status quo?
My Really Fun Review Questions • What are the three qualities that all genre films share? (I told you it was important.) • “The code” in western films is the same both _______ and _______. Ours are contradictory. • Only a member of the upper class who has accepted ______ ______ can defeat the monster? • Alien invaders represented what in the late 40’s and 50’s? • Does the gangster film advocate that success is a good thing?