Thursday, 17 February 2011

Media Arts: Structure and Meaning

'Listen to Britain'
and 'Kids' both create a sense of character and place in a documentary style. How is their structure and form both contrasting and congruent?

"The music of Britain at war" - "the first sure notes of the march of Victory" - Leonard Brockington (introduction to 'Listen to Britain')

'Listen to Britain' was made in 1942, directed and edited by Humphrey Jennings and Stewart McAllister. It is a documentary which captures the character of a nation at war, a nation whose identity was perceived to be under threat. The film combines the landscape of Britain; the sky, fields of corn, with the people who work on it, who in this context become the people, partly on whom Britain's survival depends. 'Kids' also attempts to create a sense of character, for both the individual children and children in general.

The use of music is prominent in both films as a structuring device, however there are clear differences in terms of the creation of mood and pace. In 'Listen to Britain', music is used as an anchoring device, rooting a sense of national pride and identity, which it does in a straightforward manner; e.g., the use of the piece 'Rule Britannia' is played over a juxtaposition of four shots, in order; industrial chimneys, the stalks of corn, different chimneys and a panoramic shot of the countryside. By a synthesis of these filmic elements, there is a creation of currency between them. The landscape, agriculture and industry are seen as intrinsically British, consequently the physical manifestation of these concepts can be seen to represent an aspect of Britishness. So the music is the structuring device both in terms of montage and creation of meaning.

There is also a reliance on live music as a structuring device in 'Listen to Britain'. This seems to root sequences to a particular place, evoking a certain atmosphere; the dance hall, the pub, the concert hall. The first of these sections, the dance hall features a combination of short, intimate shots of individual people, many of whom are soldiers, with wider shots encompassing the entire hall with a wave of dancers undulating in time with the song 'Roll Out The Barrel'. This sequence juxtaposed at either end with medium shots of two soldiers who appear to be keeping watch over the sea. The presence of these two shots implies that the soldiers, representatives of H.M. Armed Forces, are protecting ordinary citizens whilst they enjoy themselves. This filmic movement can be seen to be employing a rhythmic mode of editing, whereby cuts occur in time with the rhythm of the song. There is a congruence of rhythm in the individual shots also, but it is not established visually that the music and the dancers were filmed in the same location.

The third example of 'live' music in 'Listen to Britain', but the second cited, is a performance by pianist Myra Hess. This movement has much in common with our piece 'Kids' in terms of its musical structure and the manner in which it moves to a sense of climax. As the pace and intensity of the performed music increases, so the intensity of the individual shots and the pace of the cuts increases. Thematically, the change in intensity allows for a juxtaposition between the concert goers, one of whom is the (then) Queen of England and workers in a machine shop, which are tonally much darker and rhythmically more hectic. The presence of the Queen juxtaposed with other members of the audience, relates her to those people, creating a sense that she is 'one of us', another important aspect in terms of the structure of 'Listen to Britain' as a whole, that of creating a sense of coherent national identity.

The use of children in 'Listen to Britain' not so much as a structuring device but in terms of intellectual montage and their subsequent contribution to the theme of the piece was interesting in comparison to 'Kids'. The most notable difference was the creation of a sense of childhood innocence, firstly by the long shots of the children dancing in the school playground, the act of dance being ritualised and devoid of any sense of childish play, the sequence of long to medium shots drawing the spectator into the playground. Secondly, the juxtaposition of these shots of children playing with the shots of the woman looking out of the window, the picture of a soldier and the tank rumbling through the street. This juxtaposition does two things; it creates a connection between the woman at the window and the man in the photograph, he becomes her husband and the spectator is invited to speculate on whether she is an anxious wife or a widow. The juxtaposition also ironicises the shots of the children, they become symbols of defiance (as well as the future), as depicted in the single lingering close-up shot of a girl smiling, featured between shots of a tank moving through what appears to be a small town street.

Music is the dominant structuring device throughout 'Kids'. Although sharing this approach to rhythmic and metric montage with 'Listen to Britain', it is in tone and theme that the two differ most. 'Kids' attempts to play on the use of 'O Fortuna' in the 1976 film The Omen, in this context creating a sense of humour from the juxtaposition of the music, already imbued with a sinister, satanic meaning, and the rhythmically and tonally matched visuals, which thematically are comparatively mundane. 'Listen to Britain', on the other hand, uses music with established associations in order to re-assert these meanings, so whilst the means is ultimately the same, the effect is the opposite.

The use of the first two pieces from Carl Orff's 'Carmina Burana' in reverse order was a trade between the narrative structure of the original arrangement, and the rhythmic and tonal structure of the new arrangement. In terms of the raw footage, as with the music, it was decided to move away from a narrative approach to structuring in favour of creating a sense of general 'childishness' and secondary to this, a sense of individual character. The opening sequence of shots, which features the diegetic soundtrack of one child singing 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star', intercut with abstract shots of children's feet walking, attempts to draw the spectator into the experience of the children and also to serve as a build up of expectation. So whilst there are narrativistic structuring devices within the first movement, the second and third attempt, through a more rhythmic and tonal approach to montage, attempt to convey a sense of place, time and character. The sense of frustration from a lack of narrative structure, despite the presence of characters, can be summed up in the final shot of the small boy running towards the lake. The length of this shot differs greatly from the sequence that it follows, resulting in a physical reaction; a sense of uneasy relief followed by the frustration due to lack of closure in terms of theme.


Corner, John (1996) The Art Of Record. Manchester University Press, Manchester/New York
Eisenstein, Sergei (Trans. Leyda, J) (Not Given) The Film Sense. Faber & Faber, London
Renov, Michael (ed) (1993) Theorising Documentary. Routledge, London/New York
Sonnenschein, David (2001) Sound Design. Michael Wiese Productions, Not given

Listen To Britain (1942) Jennings, Humphrey & McAllister, Stewart
Kids (2003) Doig, Steph; Hughes, Laura and Turrell, Brian

Semiotic Analysis of "Sheba" advertisement on page 86 of the Mail On Sunday's "You" magazine, dated 21.9.03.

This full page advertisement is for Sheba, a brand of cat food. It features a photographic image of a young woman reclining on carpeted section of floor, observing a cat eating what is assumed to be the advertised brand from a white dish. The page is vertically divided into three areas, the central one, occupying roughly 60% of the page contains the main image of the woman and the cat and is predominantly brown in colour. The remaining two 20% sections are rendered in a greenish hue, separated from the main section by two vertical white lines. The anchor text situated at the bottom centre of the page reads "Sheba. In a World of Its Own" and the company logo, with more text describing a new recipe is situated in the top left corner of the page.

The first striking element of this advertisement is the visual representation of luxury, as opposed to austerity and utility. This is the first of a number of oppositions which underpin the reading of this advertisement. First of all the carpet, as opposed to the bare wood floor depicted in the right and left sections, signifies a sense of comfort, as the young woman reclines on the floor, her facial expression and pose is one of calmness and stillness. The brown and gold hue of the central section signifies two things; firstly a sense of autumn, which is also signified by the trees outside the window, and secondly a sense of warmth which again contributes to the luxuriousness of the image. The use of colours associated with warmth and autumn could be seen as a cleverly economic use of colour to signify the warmth of the interior as opposed to what is signified as an autumnal exterior which is, by nature of the implied season, cold. An opposition of temperatures is also alluded to by the green colouring of the side sections, green in this case working with the austerity signified by the wooden floor and bare walls to convey a sense of coldness.

The relationship between humans and their pets is being idealized here in the form of the woman and the cat, this relationship is seen as a symbiotic one, as the cat depends on the woman for food, she depends on the cat for an inner warmth and well-being signified by the "world of [Shebas] own" of the central section. The representation of the cat in this image is that of a therapeutic tool, the upper left corner text connotes a high quality restaurant with the ingredients presented in such a way as to resemble a menu, with a reference to the season suggesting a fashionableness to this particular recipe. All of this embellishment is for the benefit of the human consumer, the Sheba brand is identified as a higher class competitor to others such as Kit-E-Kat and Felix. Such is the reward for the potential consumer of this cat food, not only does the cat become, through the healthiness such a meal provides, as signified by the cats thick, shiny coat, a a symbol of well-being for it's owner to enjoy by proxy (as the woman's contented gaze is directed at the cat to the exclusion of all else), Sheba also rewards the consumer with an increase or a confirmation of social standing.

The situation of this advertisement in the magazine, just after the food section and in the middle of a short story about a waitress, seems to suggest a female audience, predominantly white middle class, young to middle aged, politically conservative, semi professional or professional, the ideal target to this advertisement would be interested in reading (books), society life and all its accompanying issues such as fashion and good food. The ideal consumer for the product would be similar to the above description but would also view her pet as a companion or extension of herself, the closeness of this relationship could infer that she is single or lives alone.

(Image is a screengrab from the television advert "In a World of Its Own" viewable at Tragopan Pheasantry)

Media, Consumption and Everyday Life: A Case Study

The Domestification of Technologies

Mrs A is a 46 year old single mother. She works part-time at a local laundry and owns a 2 bedroom house. In August 2000 she decided to purchase a Sony SLV-SE200 video cassette recorder in order to replace her old faulty one. Mrs A was advised against purchasing the shops (Currys) own brand VCRs due to unreliability, so for that reason she felt it was worth spending a little extra for better quality. It should be noted that her previous VCR, a Toshiba, had lasted 13 years and it was for this reason that she intended to stick to the same brand. However, due to her own lack of transport and the shops not having a wide range to chose from, she felt the Sony was the next best thing.

Mrs A's philosophy of value for money before other more superfluous attributes have led, as she admits, to a discordance of styles. However, the silver VCR now nestles inside a pine tv/video unit, beneath her black 14 inch television, so it does not cause a noticable clash of styles.

Mrs A's decision to buy what she claims to be "the simplest model they had" relates to her theory that the less "bells and whistles" it has, the less there is to go wrong. This also gives her more confidence to use the VCR. Mrs A discovered certain features which further eased her use of the VCR, such as auto-tuning and a record-stop timer.

Such are the power relations between Mrs A and her 15-year-old son, Mrs A only feels she can really exert any power or control over the VCR when she is home on her own, recording films and pieces of her favourite soap opera to watch "when there is nothing else to do". She feels that she has to give in to her son when he wants to use the VCR in order to keep the peace. Mrs A's use of the VCR is more ordered and habitual, in contrast to the more random use by her son. Mrs A will "stand [her] ground" if his intents conflict with her viewing or recording patterns, only to feel guilt and a loss of pleasure in watching the intended programme later.

The only negative feelings she has towards the VCR are those relating to the domination of its use by others, and that it once chewed up a tape containing one of her favourite programmes, she claims this is "sods law". However, she feels that these negative feelings are outweighed by the flexibility it allows her and the convenience of being able to record one channel, whilst watching another, should favoured programmes coincide. To conclude, she views the VCR as a means to freedom and control over when she can watch her favourite programmes and films, but also as something she can really only enjoy on her own.

Media, Consumption and Everyday Life

What kinds of understandings and knowledges about identity and gender have been generated from the study of consumption in everyday life?

The problem with theories on consumption in everyday life is that no matter how many specialised niche groups consumers are reduced to, there will always be a certain amount of generalisation. This becomes even more problematic when one considers the rise of what could be described as a postmodern condition, where individualism is exaggerated and accentuated. However, despite individual choices, theories on consumption often apply to patterns of behaviour which can be generalised because they are non-specific.

The process of brand association is a pattern of consumptive behaviour whereby a consumer will, through the purchase of a commodity, attempt to communicate an aspect of themselves which is in agreement with the culturally accepted meanings of that brand. Of course the understanding of meaning of a particular brand depends heavily on cultural capital, so such a non-verbal communication of the self will only have meaning to those who understand the language of brands. In terms of fashion and clothing, there is a strong link between what consumers choose to wear and the identity they are attempting to communicate, as Anne Cronin points out: "The body can be made, through dress, to play any part it desires, as gender coding is displaced from the body onto the dress." Related to this kind of marketing of the self is the notion of oppositional consumption or brand disassociation. Consumers may make statements, either through what they wear or what they say, for example a teenager in a black hooded top and baggy combat trousers could imply that he is inviting assumptions regarding his attitude to sportswear. Equally, by making the statement verbally "I would never buy GAP or Nike", brands are clearly being interacted with, even though this interaction is oppositional.

Baudrillard's concept of consumption based on the sign value of a commodity rather than its inherent use value applies to all sign related consumption decisions. In terms of domestic technology such as television sets, washing machines and microwave ovens, sign values become less prominent, when compared to fashion. Their role in shaping the identity of a consumer is carried out on a sub-conscious level in a more gradual way. If, for example, a television set is bought, several decisions will be made relating to the environment in which it will be situated. As Richard Ling suggests, consumers develop an aesthetic system which determines the "pride ofplace" that an item of domestic technology will be situated in. He goes on to suggest that consumption of technology also has a role in determining the presentation of the self, stating that specific purchases can be an indication of consumer taste.

The consumption and use of portable technology is a more pronounced and meaningful use of the sign systems of technology. The proliferation of mobile phones and laptop computers is also creating the strange phenomenon of mobile privatisation, of a creation of private spaces in public and a blurring of both the private and the public. Technology is traditionally associated with ideas of youth and the sophistication of humanity, and thus any consumer of an item of technology which could be considered up to date, associates themselves with these concepts. Technology is also traditionally a male domain, computers, hi-fis, computer games are mostly marketed to a male demographic. The mobile phone is universal in its appeal, both as an item of technology, perhaps even as a toy and as a means of communication. Recent trends relating to the changeable appearance of phones could be seen as a metaphor for how consumers perhaps have multiple identities depending on the circumstances. Fascias, ringtones and on-screen logos are used to represent aspects of the owners personality, in much the same way as clothing is. In addition to the visual aspect of mobile phones is the development, through use, of a specialised, language of the text message. This abbreviated language, which does away with certain vowels, creates a sense of rapidity and economy, both of time and of action, the informal nature of this language has youthful connotations.

Most theories concerning the construction of identity centre on the external as a means of presentation of the self, but it is the internal processes which determine these externalisations of the self which are just as important. Media effects theory deals with the role that the media has in shaping the inner self, and Stuart Hall has categorized three distinct phases in the development of the theoretical self. The Enlightenment era theory rested upon the idea of a fixed, constant identity, linked to the concept of the soul or spirit. Theories of the modernist period, particularly sociology, maintain that identity can change over time, depending on interaction with others and experiences, that it can evolve and progress. Postmodern thought claims that there is no fixed, singular identity, rather a multitude of interchangeable ones, created by the consumers themselves to suit different circumstances in their lives. The continuing debate over the nature of identity is difficult to resolve, due to the high degree of individualism and the fact that the identity is an abstract concept, something which cannot be seen or analysed definitively. The negotiation of meaning which occurs with a consumer's exposure to a media text happens in much the same way as a consumer reads the meanings in certain commodities. If a text propagates an ideology which is at odds with the consumer's, then they are likely to maintain their oppositional stance, possibly even strengthening their objections, in much the same way as a consumer with a developed global conscience may reject GAP for ideological reasons.

With regard to theories which empower the consumer over the media or corporations, the implication is that the identity is something strong, with consumptive choices reflecting and perhaps influencing aspects of the identity, but not defining it. It is the theories which believe that consumers are weak minded, propagated by the Frankfurt School among others, maintaining that the identity is therefore easily manipulated to serve the needs of industry. Whatever the internal processes of individuals, consumption choices both reflect aspects of a consumer's identity and determine, to some extent, the perception of that consumer's identity by others depending on their own values, beliefs and cultural capital.


Du Gay, Hall, Janes, Mackay & Negus; Doing Cultural Studies - The Story of the Sony Walkman (Sage, 1996)

Barker, C; Cultural Studies Theory and Practice (Sage, 2000)

Gauntlett, D & Hill, A; TV Living - Television, Culture and Everyday Life (Routledge, 1999)

Skirvin, F; 'Leper cult disciples of a stillborn Christ': Richard Edwards as meaningful in his fans' construction of their identities. (, 2000)

A Short Piece on Antonin Artaud

In many ways the life of Antonin Artaud could be seen as a modernist work of art, full of contradictions. Whilst he was plagued throughout his life by headaches, madness and a laudanum addiction, he produced eloquent and clear writings; whilst he was a prolific writer, he recognised the inherent impotence of words, in theatre at least. Artaud was also alienated for much of his life, both personally due to his illnesses and professionally due to his radical ideas. Any relationships he had were intense and brief.

His idea of theatre was essentially an exploration of the most basic human drives and the sub-conscious mind. Influenced by Dada and Surrealism, he sought to destroy the established structures of both theatre and society in light of what he saw as a failure to cure the plague of humanity, or possibly to cause it. The idea of the plague as Artaud referred to it is a plague of the mind. He felt that theatre had a tremendous power that was wasted in traditional naturalistic theatre and the Comedie Francaise, a power to release the repressed subconscious in both the actor and spectator thorugh a breakdown of the super-ego. He wanted to absolutely destroy the repressive structures of bourgeouis theatre, to resolve everything to it's purest form in order to purify it and create new meanings.

The relationship between actor and spectator also took a new slant in Artaud's theories; no longer would there be a fourth wall for the audience to peer through as if voyeurs, instead the audience would be at the very centre of the action, immersed in the show. The role of the actor in this show was to be non-representative, in other words they should embody concepts of humanity and elements of dreams and myths rather than an individual character. They would be more akin to dancers in this respect, human heiroglyphs communicating with an esoteric signs system, with absolute discipline and clarity of movement similar to the Balinese dancers and Japanese Noh theatre. There would be no dependence on script in Artaud's theatre, instead every theatrical device available would be utilised; lighting, live and recorded sound, props, puppets, setting and a language of symbols, all a part of what he called the "concrete language of the stage".

Artaud thought that spaces such as disused aircraft hangars, churches or empty barns would be more appropriate spaces for the staging of his shows, places where the sheer scale could be utilised to force the spectator and presumably the actor into a numinous experience. Performances were to be largely unrehearsed, as excessive rehearsal would diminish the sense of immediacy which makes theatre what it is. Artaud's ideas were ahead of his time and are ahead of this time, in the sense that his ideas are not fully executable. The technologies needed to replicate the theatrical devices explained in his texts are still in their infancy. This is why film, although more than adequately equipped to portray Artaud's ideas, is an unsuitable medium due to it's lack of transience and feeling of being "in the moment" that only true theatre possesses. Like the Dadaists, he wanted to destroy the existing order of the mind, not preserve it.

Modernism and Film: The Dilemma Corporation and "Hidden Faces"

Film, it could be argued, is the definitive Modernist medium. It dislocates the original moment of performance from its target audience and generates an entirely new moment every time it is exhibited. It is also an exponent, like the printing press, of the infinite reproducibility of art, a process which depends upon a certain amount of alienation, of performer and spectator, as well as raising the question; since a film can be considered the immortalising of actual moments in reality, moments which are transitory, does this make film more valid than reality itself? In our group response we saw the medium of film as an opportunity to explore the themes of dislocation and alienation and were influenced in this respect by the Charlie Chaplin film "Modern Times" as well as surrealist film in general.

The relationship between the subconscious and the conscious mind, as defined by Sigmund Freud, influenced our response. As one of the figures liberates herself from the dehumanised, Fordist factory process, she is allowing her subconscious mind to dictate her actions, superceding any ego imperative to conform to her environment. In a sense, our film is a representation of the battle between the id and the ego, that as a result of her id breaking through, she is alienated both literally and metaphorically because she becomes an individual at this point, however when her ego restates its control, the routines of conventional life can proceed as normal, so the battle is repeated endlessly. This representation of the conflict between id and ego is also suggestive of the work of Jackson Pollock and the role of the artistic muse.

In order to prevent our film becoming too narrativistic, we decided to utilise the editing technology to create disjointed fragments of film and also to distort sounds and images. We used Samuel Beckett's poem "Something There" and filmed two conversations using lines from the text. This was intended to heighten the meaninglessness of the piece by removing it from its original poetic context and turning it into dialogue. As well as Beckett's poem, we used readings of our own automatic writing, which were filmed, separated from their accompanying images and subsequently sped up and slowed down at random. The decision was made to focus on particular parts of the face to further contribute to the sense of dislocation and to suggest a heightened individuality, the parts of the faces similar yet unique.

The location in which we chose to film, a disused art building we felt was extremely modernist, it had a cold, bleak atmosphere which reminded us of Beckett and its previous use as a place of creation made this bleakness a kind of anti-memorial to the creativity which had occurred there before. We decided to record a live piece of music, Edgar Varese's "Density 21.5", in this space to capture its acoustic as well as visual and sensual properties. The piece itself is an example of free chromaticism, written to bring out the qualities of the flute rather than appeal to a melodic sensibility. The visual recording of this piece was again dislocated from its soundtrack. The decision to destroy the video at the conclusion of our presentation was an expression of the conflict between the desire to immortalise a performance and the impact of the one-off act, which is related to the work of the Dadaists and Antonin Artaud.


Artaud, Antonin The Theatre and It's Double (1993 Calder)

Benjamin, Walter Illuminations (1970 Collins/Fontana Books)

Richter, Hans Dada, Art and Anti-Art (1997 Thames and Hudson)

Performance and Confession: Speak Bitterness and The Holy Bible

"For us Performance and Confession have always gone hand in hand..." (Tim Etchells). Analyse the ways in which confession is made to perform through the use of many art forms, making particular reference to Forced Entertainment's Speak Bitterness. Use your knowledge of Forced Entertainment's 'Total Theatre' as well as the 'language of theatre' to support your answer.

The idea of performance and confession as being fundamentally linked, one dependent on the other, raises questions as to the nature of both performance and confession. Can the most basic act of performance, that of exposing the body and the voice to an audience be seen as a confession, perhaps provoking judgement, comparison or pity? The theatrical space is an intensified reality, every word, gesture or movement has a heightened significance, for example; the simple act of a performer lowering their eyes or head could be interpreted by an audience as a confession of weakness or defeat.

It is the apparently random, fragmented and semi-improvised performance of Forced Entertainment's Speak Bitterness that confesses the human condition of the late twentieth and early twenty first centuries. A kind of postmodern mindset is emerging where the only absolute truths are negatives, namely; death, weakness and failure. It is this lack of positive truths that Speak Bitterness deals with when attempting to invoke feelings of fear and pity in the audience; fear of the terrifying picture of society that is being constructed through some of the confessions, as well as identification and concurrence with those confessions; pity for the degradation of society that has resulted in the actions being confessed to, as well as feelings of powerlessness, frustration and despair

Any act of confession relies on establishing an intimate relationship with an audience, otherwise anything that happens in the theatre space will be as effective and as potent as screaming in a vacuum. Speak Bitterness bears this in mind as each of its confessions follows the basic formula "we did this". The "we" has the power of ambiguity to either encompass every person in the theatre space, or just the performers. The former makes each confession both universal, as a shared statement, and sometimes intensely personal. The confessions are drawn from a multitude of cross cultural experiences, from those of the performers themselves, to ones imagined, to those of journalists and soldiers who have witnessed and carried out unspeakable horrors in Vietnam. Such diverse cultural sources could serve to alienate an audience, but again the "we" draws everything back to the shared experience. In the programme for Speak Bitterness, Tim Etchells claims "we are as responsible for everything that we see as we are for the things we do." and this could be seen as another reason why confessions provoke a reaction with audiences, they feel guilt and pity both for the atrocities confessed and themselves for their powerlessness to do anything about them.

The use of the theatrical space is also a vital tool for establishing a relationship with the audience. In Speak Bitterness, the stage and audience are distinctly separate, which seems to suggest a confrontational approach to the sharing of confessions. However, as well as this separation, there is a wholeness of space brought about by the use of several hanging light bulbs, ensuring that the audience is lit throughout. Such lighting, combined with the bleak, almost monochrome setting of both performers and backdrop, a blue hung tarpaulin with the text "SPEAK BITTERNESS" printed on it in white, creates a temporary, transitory feel. It also creates a feeling of poverty, both relating to the company themselves perhaps, but also the impoverished state of morality from which a lot of the confessions are borne. The soundscape works with the setting in contributing to this impoverished and awkward feeling, an ethereal, ambient recorded soundtrack combined with the footsteps and voices of the actors. Speak Bitterness is, in terms of audience address through space, a mixture of Artaudian and Brechtian theory on how the space should be used. Artaud wanted the audience to be a part of the theatrical experience, immersed in it: "A direct communication will be re-established between spectator and the spectacle, between the actor and spectator.". Speak Bitterness' audience involvement works, perhaps ironically, mostly through the text, Brecht on the other hand wanted the audience to remain outside the action, in order to view it objectively. Another Brechtian influence in Speak Bitterness is the method of directly addressing the audience, this has the interesting effect of both establishing a boundary, as in "we are the performers, you are the audience" but simultaneously destroying that boundary by allowing the audience to connect with the performers through eye contact.

The fragmented, disconnected nature of the script of confessions does two things in terms of linear storytelling. It destroys any sense of narrative, except perhaps in the most basic sense that a performer begins confessing and sooner or later that list will be exhausted, although one could argue that given the unstructured approach to performance, an almost infinite number of combinations and arrangements could be possible, resulting in an open ended performance. The nature of the 'script' also denies the formation of characters in the dramatic sense. However in one performance, a combination of confessions features the isolation of one performer, down stage, whilst other performers are up stage, a kind of micro-narrative emerges, where the embryo of a character is beginning to be formed. Through the confessions spoken by the up stage performers, which are repeated by the downstage performer, a kind of character history is being created. This idea is reinforced by the performers’ facial expression and posture which convey a sense of reminiscing, of looking back on the past. Hesitation and facial expression are used to signify a reluctance to reveal aspects of the characters past, due to embarrassment, shame and fear of judgement. Such performance details invite judgement from the audience whilst maintaining the shared nature of the confessions. An audience’s perception of what being confessed to does depend on who is doing the confessing, for example: “We’re guilty of homemade bombs and homemade wine. We’re guilty of coldness and spite. We never laughed and we never found the time....” potentially carries different meanings depending on whether it was spoken by a man or a woman. Due to the informal approach to performance, and the non-gender specific confessions, either a female or a male could read them. The setting invites comparison with the conventions of news broadcasting or the press conference, with the long table running left to right down stage and the chairs positioned behind it. This arrangement again highlights the contrasting methods of audience address in this performance. The austerity of the costume, almost entirely black and white, also creates a sense of mourning, as well as reinforcing the idea of a news broadcast, perhaps mourning of morality and of joie-de-vivre.

Confession in the public arena, as seen in higher art forms such as visual art and theatre, as well as lower art forms such as popular music, television and film, works mainly on two levels. Firstly, it addresses the need for absolution, catharsis or simply expression of the artists self. Secondly, it serves to place an idea in the public consciousness about what is acceptable behaviour and to provoke discussion about how people should live their lives. The artist Sarah Lucas' highly personal, confrontational art could be seen as her confession of humanity, of her weaknesses and of her strengths. Her 1994 piece "Where Does It All End?", a blood-red wax moulding of a sneering lower half of a face, with a cigarette held between clenched teeth could be seen as a confession of mortality, a knowingness of the inevitability of death, exaggerated by the cigarette. But at odds with this is a confession of defiance in the face of this fact, shown by the sneering expression and clenched teeth. In addition to this, the cigarette could also signify a confession of ambivalence to the world and even to herself.

In popular music, confession is most often made to speak in terms of relationships, as a confession of love or of a loss of love. However there are exceptions, the album The Holy Bible by Manic Street Preachers is an example of confession serving both the needs of the creator for expression and also for placing, or in this case forcing ideas onto the audience's consciousness. Its confessions range from the personal; "I am idiot drug hive, the virgin, the tattered and the torn" to the global and historical; "Hartheim Castle breathes us in, in block 5 we worship malaria".

Confessions of these kinds could be seen as self indulgence, serving the needs of the artist whilst the audience is emotionally affected by the confessions, yet ultimately powerless to do anything about them. This is perhaps why theatre or film are more effective and constructive media for the transmission of confessions. They are both, mostly, durational pieces of work where the audience has a chance to interact emotionally and intellectually, although internally, and perhaps go through the process of catharsis. Whereas visual art, and to some extent a piece of music exists primarily in a moment, when that moment has passed, the audience is left alone to process the confession they have witnessed or heard, the transmission of ideas is only one way, from performer to audience, the detachment negating any real sense of audience involvement.

Forced Entertainment; Speak Bitterness (1994)

Aristotle; The Poetics (Everyman, 1941)

Manic Street Preachers; The Holy Bible (Epic, 1994)

Sarah Lucas; “Where Does It All End?” (1994)

Berthold Brecht (trans. John Willet); Brecht on Theatre (Meuthen, 1978)

Antonin Artaud; The Theatre and Its Double (Calder, 1993)

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Kurt Schwitters - Artist, Anti-Artist or Anti-Anti-Artist?

Part One - The Question of Kurt

Critics and artists have hailed Kurt Schwitters as a "Master of collage", yet the concept of a master in the Dadaist period would have been laughable, especially when the term is attached to an arguably Dadaist artist.

Dada dictated a form of equality in art. The new wave of modern art inspired by Marcel Duchamp's "readymades" suggested the idea that anyone could be an artist, a move away from a dominant personality "controlling" the work of art and onto a more democratic, random-chance art whereby objects, often mundane everyday items, were elevated to artistic status.

So Schwitters' collages pay tribute to this concept; tram tickets, pieces of scrap paper, pieces of wood and even used candles attained a second, "more honourable" life in Schwitters work, giving these works an almost accidental, nailed together yet dreamlike and powerful feel.

Perhaps collage is a misappropriate term for Schwitters' work, as much of it could indeed be considered assemblage and some of the more three dimensional examples could be termed as constructivist. But it is a certainty that Schwitters moved collage on, incorporating aspects of Duchamp's readymades and also the photomontages of Raoul Hausmann and Hannah Hoch, although with much less of a theme of social commentary or critique.

Schwitters' relationship with the Dada movement is clouded in much confusion. On the one hand he was, by default, Dadaist due to his artistic ideology, challenging accepted traditions and methods, but on the other hand, the most fundamental concept of Dadaist activity; anti-art, is opposed to Schwitters' attitude:

"Schwitters was absolutely, unreservedly, 24 hours-a-day PRO-Art. His genius had no time for transforming the world... There was no talk of the "death of art" or "non-art" or "anti-art" with him. On the contrary, every tram ticket, every envelope, cheese wrapper or cigar band, together with old shoes or laces, wire, feathers, dishcloths - everything that had been thrown away - all this he loved and restored to an honoured place in life through his art."
-Hans Richter

Part Two - The Early Life of Kurt

One very obvious bone of contention with the Dadaists, particularly with Berlin Dadaist Richard Huelsenbeck, was Schwitters' unashamedly bourgeoise background. Kurt Schwitters' father was s successful boutique owner in Hanover, but despite this financial affluence, Kurt's father was extremely conservative with his wealth, something reflected perhaps in Schwitters' pride in never spending a pfennig on new clothes for his wife. His home life, from the eyes of Huelsenbeck, demonstrates the chasm that separated their ideologies on artistic life:

"When I came to Hanover ... I visited the Schwitters in his house in the Waldhauserstrasse. It was shortly before Christmas, and the tree was already standing decorated in the living room. Frau Schwitters was bathing her son in a huge old-fashioned bathtub. We, who believed the military barracks or the empty room to be the most suitable place of residence, could not stop laughing at Schwitters." - Huelsenbeck.

At the age of twenty-two, Schwitters enrolled as a student at the Dresden Academy of Art. During this period of academic work, the general picture which has been painted of Schwitters is of an uninspiring, unadventurous yet dedicated Naturalist painter, demonstrating a considerable work ethic, a consistent element of his artistic life. Schwitters' first brush with avant-garde art came with a dissertation on abstract art which is now lost, but it would not be until 1917, three years after the completion of his time at Dresden, that he would begin working with abstract art.

Schwitters, after completion of his time at Dresden, began working with Impressionism, then most notably working with Expressionists in Hanover. This gradual shift in his artistic work towards a more avant-garde approach seems to have been borne from a growing confidence
in the development of his style.

Part Three - Kurt, Dada and the Commerzbank

The traditional story about Kurt Schwitters' first encounter with the Berlin Dadaists is that Richard Huelsenbeck rejected his application to join them because he objected to his lifestyle and in particular "his bourgeoise face". Following this rejection, Schwitters quickly established his own version of Dada, which he called "Merz", a name taken at random from the word "Commerzbank". In truth, the birth of Merz came about with the first collage/assemblage works he created under the guidance of Hans Arp. Schwitters' own work "Hansi" bears a resemblance to Arp's wood constructs. Schwitters began work on Merz collages around 2 to 3 years prior to any meaningful contact with Berlin Dada.

"Even as an anti-artist, Arp remained Apollonian. In Schwitters, Apollo and Dionysus always went hand in hand - and occasionally stood on their heads." - Hans Richter.

Dada and Merz shared some elements in the work and ideas behind that work, for example the challenging and anarchic style and the desire to push back and explore artistic boundaries. However, Dada and Merz differed on one fundamental, critical issue; the Dadaists, in particular Tristan Tzara, were vociferously anti-art and pro-death, whereas Schwitters was most adamantly pro-art and his aforementioned work ethic conveys an inherent optimism and pro-life approach to Art.

Another stylistic similarity between Merz and Dada art is the borrowing of a dramatic and bold typography from the Futurists in the manifestos and periodicals they published. A further difference, more personally between Huelsenbeck and Schwitters was that Huelsenbeck saw Dada as a political tool, even a weapon, whereas Schwitters had little time or interest for politics.

Despite the rejection by Huelsenbeck which must have disappointed Schwitters, and his dedication to Merz, he remained an active campaigner for the Dadaist cause. In 1923, Schwitters embarked on the Dada Holland campaign with Theo and Nelly van Doesburg, and it is well documented that wherever he went, he would leave stickers proclaiming "Join DADA!". So it seems that even though Dada's basic philosophy was at odds with his own, he believed in Dada's ability to evolve and change art for the better, plus many of the Dadaists were good friends of Schwitters.

Part Four - Kurt and Collage

Collage has its roots in the folk art of 12th Century China and African tribal emblems. But it is not until the Picasso and Braque Cubist experiments with pasted paper and assemblage that there is strong evidence of collage's emergence as a potent fine art form in its own right. However it must be stressed that this use of pasted paper is only a part of a multi-media approach to Cubism and not technically collage art in its entirety.

Collage effectively became a catalyst for the discovery of a totally new approach to Cubist art, a more abstract form of Cubism, simplifying the process to create shapes which hinted at the real life object it was representing, for example, a piece of brown paper or area of brown paint can become a violin if one of its edges are suitably contoured, or even if the outline of a violin is drawn over it. The process of representation to abstraction had been reversed so that the artists were working from the abstract to the representative, ie; the shift from analytical cubism to the synthetic phase of cubism.

It is from the cubist experimentation with collage, that theories can be developed as to the nature of collage, and its role as a fine art form. The most prominent of these theories is the relationship between collage and representation of reality. At the beginning of the twentieth century, three main concepts of reality were addressed by scientists and theoreticians such as Bergson, Freud and Einstein, generating new ways of thinking about the human condition, the nature of existence, space, time and the sub-conscious mind, on the whole a new perception of reality developed.

The main themes of this new world view were disintegration, fragmentation an dislocation, collage was clearly the perfect medium with which to express elements of the new "modern" mindset, with its nature as a unification of many elements, all reacting with each other to create a "whole" that is never fully realised, that is to say dislocated and fragmented, yet unified. So it follows that the idea of a fully resolved reality is as possible as a fully resolved collage.

"Reality cannot be truthfully represented as it is already a kind
of representation"
"Illusion is no longer possible, because the real is no longer possible."
- Jean Baudrillard, 1984

Pleasantville and the Ideology of Repression

Pleasantville (1998), Written, Produced and Directed by Gary Ross, Music by Randy Newman, Cinematography by John Lindley, Art Direction by Dianne Wager, Editing by William Goldberg. Starring Tobey Maguire, William H. Macy, Joan Allen, Reese Witherspoon.

The film Pleasantville could be said to be a commentary on how some people use television programmes to escape the negative aspects of their reality. In this case, the character David, a teenage male, uses the highly idealised representation of 1950's white America of the 'Pleasantville' television show as escapism from his troubled domestic life and social failings. In a scene which features early in the film, the family which form the nucleus of 'Pleasantville's storylines are seen brightly lit on the television screen, whilst David's mother is seen, framed by a doorway in relative darkness, shouting to David's father on the telephone about his breaking of a custodial agreement.

As the film itself starts, it instantly sets up a contrast between the nostalgic representation of 1950's white America that is the tv show 'Pleasantville', and a representation of modern America. The atter is portrayed confrontationally; a dour, grungy soundtrack features beneath images of high school girls with short skirts, a close up of a girl playing with her tongue stud. There follows a transitional forward tracking shot through three locations; a lecture hall and two classrooms, where the lecturers are heard speaking of diminishing job prospects, increased chance of catching HIV, dying in an "automobile accident" and environmental worries. An ambivalence to global ills is shown by a low angle shot of a teacher cheerfully asking her class "Who can tell me what famine is?". These three opening scenes go some way to explaining why David prefers the nostalgic, problem free world of 'Pleasantville'; "Nobody's homeless in Pleasantville...'cause that's just not what it's like!"; to the real world, where his family is fractured, he is relatively unpopular at school and his own sister, Jennifer, is a self confessed slut.

The premise of the film is that David and Jennifer are transported, by means of a 'magic' remote control to the town of Pleasantville as featured in the show of the same name. They adopt the personae of Bud and Mary Sue, two of the main characters of the show. It is through the character of Jennifer, as Mary Sue, that the sexual awakening of Pleasantville begins. This awakening is seen as dangerous and threatening through the eyes of David, who fears the consequences of this loss of innocence, "you're messing with their whole goddamn universe!". The loss of sexual innocence is ultimately viewed in two ways, firstly after Jennifer seduces Chip, Mary Sue's prospective boyfriend in the show, he sees a red rose as he is driving home, red as opposed to a shade of grey. The red rose signifies the awakening of passion and romance but hints at the danger which David suggested. Secondly, as Betty, Mary Sue's mother, apparently masturbates in the bath, her bathroom begins to colourise and outside her house, a tree explodes into flames, signifying the dangers of a sexual awakening or the destructive potential of narcissistic love. The fact that these actions result in only small scale colouration of Pleasantville, along with David's comment to Jennifer that "maybe it's not just the sex", indicate that a sexual awakening is just the beginning of enlightenment, not the end.

The idea of obsessive fandom and dependence on television is treated relatively positively at the start of Pleasantville. David's sister Jennifer uses words such as geek, nerd and dork, derogatory terms, to describe her brother and the television programme he idolises, but her character is shown at first to be a predatory, dangerous threat to the status quo. David's obsession with 'Pleasantville' is shown to be a positive part of his life; he revels in displaying his knowledge of programme related trivia to people and it is seen as a tool that allows him to interact with others. By the time the film reaches its conclusion, this ideology of television being an effective substitute for things that David's life is lacking is turned on its head. Through the transformation of the characters in the town of Pleasantville, David's included, the idea of wallowing in a false idealism is shown to be undesirable when compared to the joy that can be attained by experience in 'reality'.

One of the key character transformations, that of Bill, proprietor of the town diner, is based on the ideology that creativity and high culture such as art and music, are positive and healthy aspects of humanity. Bill starts out by being dominated by routine; "I always wipe down the counter, you set out the napkins and glasses, then I make the French fries. But you didn't come so I just kept on wiping."; but as he is encouraged by David to be more independent, a concept also represented positively, he admits, albeit guiltily that he enjoyed the feeling it gave him; "I really liked it". Through this new found independence, his creative talents emerge, inspired by a book of modern art, which again is provided by David, Bill goes through a creative awakening. The idea that high culture is indicative of intellectual and creative advancement is shown by a scene, also in the diner, where previously blank books begin to fill themselves as David and Jennifer recount their knowledge of the contents. Counter to this is the fear in the more conservative contingent of Pleasantville, as represented by the town mayor and several other townspeople. One gentleman remarks "Going to the lake all the time is one thing, now they're going to the library? What's next!?", in another scene, this fear of progress is shown by a bonfire onto which books are being thrown, reminiscent of Nuremberg and the oppression of Nazi Germany. Such representation of the conservative element can be read as dominantly negative. The use of Jazz music also reinforces the idea of intellectual liberalism as positive as firstly the Dave Brubeck Quartet's Take Five, then Miles Davis' So What soundtrack the aforementioned scene of the discovery of literature and subsequently the increasing colourisation of Pleasantville.

If Pleasantville contains a dominant ideology, it is ultimately that individual or personal advancement is preferable than the repression of desires and needs for the sake of a wider social cause. The idea of repression and expression of the self in Pleasantville is similar to the play The Bacchae by Euripedes in which the greek god Dionysus, who is said to represent man's unconscious desires, arrives in the town of Thebes, only to face the oppressive Pentheus, who represents the ego, or conscious control. As a parable of this legend, Pleasantville warns that the repression of self expression and the thirst for experience and knowledge, is tantamount to the denial of humanity.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Moulin Rouge (2001) Review

Moulin Rouge (2001): Director Baz Luhrmann Screenplay Baz Luhrmann Craig Pearce Production 20th Century Fox and Bazmark Starring Nicole Kidman Ewan McGregor DoP Donald M. McAlpine Production Design Catherine Martin Editor Jill Bilcock

The opening five minutes of Moulin Rouge essentially summarizes the form of the film. The brash and sweeping introduction by way of the 20th Century Fox fanfare, snippets from The Sound Of Music and the Can-Can contrast dramatically with the subdued, melacholic rendition of Nature Boy, which introduces us to the character of Christian.

Through the framing of the titles within a proscenium arch, and the adoption of a sepia, pop-up book version of Paris in nineteen-hundred, it is firmly established that the following one-hundred and twenty minutes will take place in the realm of fantasy.

Christian is a young, naive and idealistic poet in the Orphean mould and it is through his storytelling that we experience the past years events at the Moulin Rouge. The duality of Christian's character is alluded to in an extreme close-up shot where half of his face is lit in blue and the other half in darkness, symbolising his innocence and naivety at odds with the pain and jealousy he must also feel. The use of the typewriter also contributes to the pacing of certain parts of the film, makes the non-naturalistic form understandable and to a certain degree acceptable to the audience. It is also through Christian's typewriter that his "real life" experiences at the Moulin Rouge become art. The story itself is not especially imaginative; the young hero/poet falls in love with the princess/courtesan, the evil Duke thwarts his ambitions but in the end true, idealised, pop love prevails and the Duke is left defeated and alone. It all comes straight out of Vladimir Propp's text book, but this simplicity of narrative is submerged beneath the conceptual ambitions of Luhrmann and Pearce.

The idea of merging old and new forms in order to decode experiences unfamiliar to a modern audience is a theme which Luhrmann has employed before, in William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. The use of modern pop-anthems, along with nineteen-fifties musical numbers, all choreographed in Busby Berkeley fashion succeeds, for me, in decoding eighteen ninety-nine Paris for a modern audience. However, an understanding of the film will very much depend on the audiences relationship with the songs concerned, in that a kind of satisfaction will be gained from the recognition of intertextual references, for example; Kylie Minogue as The Green Fairy, singing Children Of The Revolution, intercut with "the hills are alive with the sound of music" references the bohemian drink of choice circa nineteen-hundred, nineteen-sixties epic musical, nineteen seventies glam rock and camp modern pop in one song and dance routine.

It is not only in musical and lyrical content that Moulin Rouge draws from modern popular culture however, but also in its cinematography. Rapid edits and epic, sweeping camera movements combine stylistic elements of music video direction, musical direction styles of the nineteen-forties, fifties and sixties, as well as early silent films, all once again serving to communicate with an audience on a visceral level the feeling of being in the Moulin Rouge one hundred years ago.

A defining moment for the representation of women in cinema comes with the first appearance of Nicole Kidman's Satine, descending into a created sense of awe, the still blue light, the birds eye view crowd shot and marked contrast with the previous scene of chaos and debauchery, with red the predominant colour. In a conscious effort to draw a three way comparison of Marilyn Monroe, Madonna and Kidman, her performance of "Diamonds Are A Girls Best Friend" shows the sassy, materialistically and sexually aggressive woman of today, combined with a more demure, passive image of nineteen-fifties woman and questions Satine's existence as high-status but still ultimately owned. On a superficial level it also succeeds to raise Kidman's own iconic status, by virtue of this comparison.

For me, Moulin Rouge succeeds as pure entertainment, as a postmodern exercise and as a celebration of the popular art-forms of the twentieth century. It is also a thoughtful exploration of the languages of love, namely music, dance and lyrics or verse and the heightened emotional plane that these languages operate on.

Fantasy, Desire and Sexuality

James Mason, Patricia Roc and Margaret Lockwood in The Wicked Lady (1945)

(Fantastic literature) ... opens up, for a brief moment, onto disorder, onto illegality, onto that which lies outside the law, that which is outside dominant value systems. The fantastic traces the unsaid and the unseen of culture: that which has been silenced, made invisible, covered over and made 'absent'. (Rosemary Jackson, Fantasy: The Literature of Subversion, Methuen: London and New York, 1981, p4). Explore, making reference to any of the media texts discussed on the module.

Fantastic literature, aswell as fantastic media texts, serve to give expression to elements of the human condition, which would be troublesome in a more naturalistic or realistic context; "reality is a complex beast which needs something larger than realism to hold it, understand it."1 Through the language of the dreamstate, particularly symbols and metaphor, fantasy allows an exploration of issues which a predominantly patriarchal society deems as transgressive and therefore attempts to control or repress. However as well as opening up onto that which is considered outside of civilised society, fantasy also allows an exploration of that which is 'technically' impossible in the real world. Fantastic texts become particularly relevant in the postmodern era, where any concepts or reality or truth dissipate into a multitude of contradictory discourses2.

A prime example of an exponent of postmodern play in terms of fantasy and multiple discourses is Madonna. A performer who has always used the media of the pop song, the music video and even herself (through interviews, public appearances and other publicity stunts) to tackle contentious issues and express identity changes, for example; Madonna the blonde bombshell, Madonna the punk, Madonna the whore and more recently Madonna the earth mother. During what could be claimed as Madonna's most controversial period, the late 1980's and early 1990's, three main texts stand out as examples of her embracing of the controversial. First of all, the music video for "Like a Prayer", released in 1989, sexualised Christianity in a way that had not been done before. Although Martin Scorcese's film "The Last Temptation of Christ" had already sexualised Christ and outraged the Catholic church, the representation of Jesus Christ in "Like a Prayer" as a black man did two things: It challenged the western image of Christ as white and used the (arguably stereotypical) perception of an African male as a highly sexual being to equate sex and earthly love with the numinous and to humanise Christ. In the conclusion to this music video, the performers literally take a bow as if to reassure the viewer that what they had just witnessed was only a show, as if an afterthought to prevent the video from being banned or cause too much offence.

The second and third examples of Madonna's overtly sexual use of the media are the album "Erotica" and the book "Sex". Her exploration of the sexual, in terms of lyrical content, musical style and visual imagery could be seen as a reaction to the moral panic surrounding AIDS and HIV in the 1980's, a reaffirming of the joy of sex. This blatant sexuality in Madonna's work generated a moral panic of its own however, and she was derided as a 'slut' and a 'whore'. The Erotica/Sex project is as close as the mainstream had got to experiencing porn culture and the reaction her work provoked reinforced the idea that even the suggestion of pornography is regarded as unacceptable to mainstream culture. Whether or not Madonna's recycling of pornographic vocabulary and imagery should be considered pornography itself depends on two things: Whether the sex is the only or primary selling point and whether any actual sex is taking place3. In the case of 'Erotica' and 'Sex', there are no sexual acts really taking place other than seduction and teasing, a general celebration of sexuality and a revelling in the psuedo-transgressive are the main selling points. So Madonna gives the impression of transgressing, of breaking taboos, whilst operating within acceptable boundaries, her transgressions are only allusions which never stray into the real world.

One creature in general and one character in particular, the vampire and Dracula respectively, has transcended fantasy and become myth4. Based on historical figures such as Vlad the Impaler and Countess de Batheroy, the vampire in fantastic texts can be seen as a metaphor for the 'other', a being who exists outside conventional social boundaries and can therefore embody elements of humanity which mainstream culture represses or deems unacceptable. Count Dracula has been cited as a personification of rape, I would agree with this up to a point, but this theory becomes problematic when the issue of permisson comes into play. If we are to accept that a supernatural being such as the immortal Dracula exists in a fantasy text, we must then also accept that other supernatural elements are valid, such as the "hypnotic power" Dracula wields over his potential victims, a power which could be seen as a metaphor for the sexual desire of the female subconscious overriding her repressive ego. Could 'Dracula' be an example of a morality play, with the females condemned to eternal soullessness for allowing Dracula to engage with them? The ultimate act of penetration and soul-letting becomes a consentual affair, the illusion of rape relying on the perception of Dracula's hypnotic power as literal and coercive.

Winona Ryder and Gary Oldman in Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

Dracula could also be seen as a personification of Nietzsche's Godless superman, without soul and therefore in a sense superior to humans as he is not bound by Christian morality5. This is seen in the representation of Dracula in Francis Ford Copolla's film 'Bram Stoker's Dracula', a film which suggests that this idea of a soulless man is unnatural and despicable, one that can only be cured by injecting that man with positive human qualities, particularly love. Love, in 'Bram Stoker's Dracula' is a metaphor for and closely linked to the idea of God, a higher power. A loss of faith causes Dracula to renounce his soul, whilst he continues to survive by feasting on the earthly, i.e; blood drinking and literally submerging himself in soil, the blood drinking only becomes meaningful and orgasmic when it is engaged in with his eternal love-mate Mina/Elizabeta. Thus in unlife he is redeemed by the reciprocation of his intensified, eternal love and finally set free in death.

Fantastic literature and fantastic texts allow the expression of dreams and desires which if carried out in the real world would be considered transgressive or illegal. Transgression in fantasy, be that in Dracula or Like a Prayer can never be considered true transgression because such acts are operating within the realm of fantasy6, and the main rule of fantasy is that anything is possible. There is a dependant relationship between fantasy and reality, whereby fantasy depends on acts of the imagination in reality to exist and, in postmodern thought at least, reality exists only in the discourses of fantasy. Fantasy then is vital in understanding our own individual identities, our place in society and also in defining human morality and immorality as opposed to the amorality of animals and Gods.


1 Singh, Vandana
2 Hall, Stuart
3 Helen E. Longino (from Social and Personal Ethics (Ed. William H. Shaw)
4 Leatherdale, Clive
5 Leatherdale, Clive
6 Todorov, Tzvetan


Frayling, Christopher Vampires Lord Byron to Count Dracula (faber and faber, 1991)
Gane, Laurence and Chan, Kitty Introducing Nietzsche (Icon 1997)
Holland, Tom The Vampyre, The Secret History of Lord Byron (Warner 1999)
Leatherdale, Clive Dracula, The Novel and The Legend (Desert Island Books 1985)
Manlove, C.N. Modern Fantasy, Five Studies (Cambridge 1975)
Mercer, Mick Gothic Rock Black Book (Omnibus 1988)
Nietzsche, Friedrich Ecce Homo (Penguin Classics 1992)
Nietzsche, Friedrich Twilight of the Idols/The Antichrist (Penguin Classics 1992)
Shaw, William H. (ed) Social and Personal Ethics (Wadsworth 1998)
Smith, Karen Patricia The Fabulous Realm, A Literary/Historical Approach to British Fantasy (Scarecrow Press 1993)
Todorov, Tzvetan The Fantastic, A Structural Approah to a Literary Genre (Western Reserve University Press 1973)

Webliography - South Asian Women's Forum: On The Importance of Imaginative Literature - Vandana Singh


"Bram Stoker's Dracula" dir: Francis Ford Coppola (Columbia Pictures 1992)
"Erotica" Madonna (Maverick 1992)
"Like A Prayer" Madonna (Warner 1989)

Semiotic Analysis #1 - Seiko Sportura 2002

Semiotic analysis of Seiko's Sportura wristwatch advertisement, 2002.

The first thing that strikes me about the advertisement for Seiko's Sportura watch is that it is aimed firmly at a middle-class professional male audience. It perpetuates ideas and myths which are traditionally associated with masculinity, ideas such as technology, relationships between man and machinery, power and the automobile.

The relationship between the watch, which is displayed in sharp focus just below centre right, and the car is a dominant theme within this advertisement. The watch is favourably compared to the car simply by the presence of both and by the top left corner anchoring text: "High performance time keeping". It is implied that owning this watch will allow the consumer to buy into at least part of the implied lifestyle, that of the successful male professional. So the relationship between the watch and the car is both iconic and symbolic, but totally dependent on the traditional gender associations of the car, anchored by the male driver. The generalised representation of a high performance car is made clear by certain literal signifiers such as roll-over bars, rev counter and other displays mounted in a utilitarian, steel grey dash, displays which echo the watch face with its red second hand.

The symbolic relationship of the watch and the car takes on another dimension when the implied lifestyle of the consumer is taken into account. The glossy black hair of the driver, to me indicates his professionalism. His lightly tanned hand grips the steering wheel assuredly, whilst the road and roadside blur by like a Gilette coloured dream, these elements imply that here is a man who is in control of his life, no matter how fast it may seem to go, the Seiko Sportura will help him retain that control. Whilst also symbolising life, the road also symbolises freedom, with it's allusion to the Autobahn and hint of highway this advert implies, through extrapolation, that the accuracy of this watch will enable the consumer to "buy" the time for this kind of freedom, that he will perhaps have some control over his time.

Symbols of class and expense are also addressed in the representation of the watch and the car. Colours such as silver, steel and blue are used economically on a black background, such minimalism and economy actually conveying classiness. The lines of the watch and the car are strong and clear yet soft, a reaffirmation of the accuracy and precision of the watch. Whilst not a dominant feature of the representation of the watch, the side mounted adjustment knob look very diamond-like, and in this context could be seen to symbolise the "reassuringly expensive"*.
Another traditionally masculine concept employed by this advertisement to connect it to a male audience is that of man and machine symbiosis. The descriptive text in the bottom left hand corner contains several phrases which reinforce this sense of symbiosis and also seemingly give the watch a life of its own; "At its heart", "It uses your body's energy", "going into deep sleep" and "only to reawaken". The latter two also address the presumed global conscience of the modern professional man, in the energy saving features of the watch.

*A phrase shamelessly stolen from the Stella Artois advertising campaigns of 1982 -2008.