I’m sure you’re all just as excited as I am about the upcoming Winter Break. One of my favorite things to do during my time off (especially when it’s cold out) is to sit around with friends and family and watch movies. Personally, I really like science fiction and horror movies but I will watch just about anything and lately I’ve been very into kung fu and samurai films. In the spirit of cinema, I thought we could have a discussion about something I think we all enjoy: the movies!
Besides entertainment, films (like books or music) are often vehicles for the expression of feelings and ideas. But exactly what kinds of ideas? Almost all films (especially in popular culture) to some extent contain certain assumptions and sets of ideas, which together we call ideology. Even movies we watch for fun like Twilight, Harry Potter and Rambo all have the power to communicate particular cultural values, racial stereotypes; standards of beauty and conceptions of love etc.
There is a very enjoyable—almost addictive—website called tvtropes.org which addresses some of these very issues in especially hilarious ways. A good starting point is their National Stereotypes page. At the bottom they have a list of examples of stereotypes by region (check out the US and Spain!). We can see many of these kinds of stereotypes in their Hollywood Atlas which explains some of the ways in which Hollywood movies tend to give us overly simplified or exaggerated images of different places and cultures around the world: Eagleland, Spexico, Toros y Flamenco.
One of my favorite examples of one culture caricaturing another is in Toy Story 3. Watch this short video clip to see the American version of a “Spanish” Buzz Lightyear. The music helps to emphasize the American image of a Spanish Buzz who is a kind of caballero encantador that dances to flamenco with the obligatory rose in mouth. Interestingly, the Youtube comments mention that in the Spanish version of the film Buzz changes modes and begins speaking with an Andalusian accent. Depending on how this change is portrayed in the film I wonder how you all as andaluces interpret this change of accent in the movie. Is it unimportant, funny or perhaps even offensive?
Even though some these situations may be funny as we can see in the tvtropes articles, what are some of the possible problems that arise from the use of stereotypes in cinema? Is it okay to learn about other cultures from TV and the movies? Can we trust the information we are given by entertainment media? Which Hollywood stereotypes do you agree with and which do you reject (for example, depictions of true love, delivering the bad guy to justice, the damsel in distress vs. the strong macho hero etc.)? What are some movies or TV shows that you like to watch that give you an image of American culture? What image of the United States do those movies paint for you? Give examples from specific TV and film or link to scenes on Youtube to support your arguments.
Be sure to comment on the films and ideas of your classmates as that always makes for a more interesting blog discussion! Don’t just limit yourself to the questions above. Of course I’d like to see you answer some of them but it’s more important for you to express any and all of your opinions on this topic and of course have fun with it! You have the whole vacation to do this blog topic so take your time with it and post a strong, thoughtful comment.
During the holidays, I would like you all to watch a movie (rent it, watch it on the internet, download it, whatever!) that we can discuss after the vacation together in class. The film is called Boyz n the Hood (1991) and it is about a group of childhood friends growing up in a Los Angeles ghetto. It features Ice Cube, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Laurence Fishburne and the Spanish translation of the title is Los chicos del barrio. If you can get the movie in English with Spanish subtitles that would be ideal but if not hopefully you can put the English subtitles with the Spanish dubbing.
As you watch the movie I would like you to consider the following (you DON’T have to include your answers to these questions in your posts just pay attention to them as you watch the movie so we can discuss later as a class):
- What are the differences between Tre, Doughboy and Ricky?
- How are they portrayed as characters (dress, attitude, interests, objectives etc.)?
- What are some of the stereotypes you notice about the men and women in the film?
- What role do the female characters play compared to that of the male characters?
- How are the police or authority figures depicted? What about the young people?
- How is Furious a role model for Tre and his friends?
- Think about the presence of these main themes in the film: violence, relationships, drugs, family life, respect, responsibility and education.
Consider these questions as you watch the movie and most of all enjoy it!
p.s. For a funny list of movie clichés, check out this site!