Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Final Paper

An "Equilibrium" in Marxism

Whenever someone is asked what Marxism is, the general response usually seems to be something along the lines of “Oh yeah, that stuff about Stalin.” What people don’t realize is that while Joseph Stalin can be tied to Marxism, there is so much more than that tiny aspect of such a huge theory. Karl Marx came up with a theory that allows people to apply politics to literature. This actually angered a lot of people in literary studies because they believed that “politics was not in literature in the first place and that literary criticism, even when limited to a concern for form, style, theme, and the like, is not implicitly shaped by political choices” (Rivkin 643). In the 1970’s politics took a huge step back into literature due to World War II. According to Rivkin, “Marxism was critical of capitalism, and during that era, the ‘West’ defined itself in terms of the defense of capitalism against the egalitarian aspirations of Marxist socialism” (643). Now although they are plenty of different political approaches to literature, “one of the most enduring forms of political criticism is Marxism” (644). The theory has many aspects that can be applied to literature, but the middle and main part of Marxism is its “critical analysis of capitalism, and a theory of social change” (Wikipedia). Three important features of Marxism are the conflicts between social classes, Karl Marx’s critical analysis of capitalism, and his idea of a possible revolution. While Marxism can be applied to a lot of films, one that really exemplifies this theory is the 2002 science fiction/action film starring Christian Bale, “Equilibrium.” Examples of the three main characteristics of Marxism mentioned above are prevalent throughout the film, “Equilibrium”. This essay will explore the movie “Equilibrium” mainly through Marxism, but will also apply Greek Antiquity, Structuralism, and Post-Modernism when appropriate.

In the “Communist Manifesto” Karl Marx pays close attention to the idea of the oppressed and oppressor in society. He claims that society is splitting up “into two great classes directly facing each other – bourgeoisie and proletariat.” The bourgeoisie is the ruling upper class, while the proletariat is the lower, working class. In the film “Equilibrium,” society is run by a ruling class, called the Tetragrammaton Council, that enforces unity and conformity among all of its citizens. Each of the citizens is forced to take a dose of medicine every day that suppresses their emotions, or feelings toward anything. This society loosely represents the classes that Marx studies. While the Council represents the bourgeoisie, the Resistance, or the sense offenders represent the proletariat. For the sake of understand this society better, the Clerics represent the middle class. The Clerics are those who are trained in Gun Kata, a fictional martial art that teaches them to predict the actions of opponents during firearm combat. Their job in the movie is to keep the society under control just like a middle class would do in Marx’s society. The Resistance, or the sense offenders (those who don’t take their medicine), loosely represents the lower class because they are the ones being oppressed by the oppressors (the ruling class). If any of the members of the Resistance, or any of the sense offenders are found, the Clerics are sent to destroy them for not following the laws of the Council. Clearly this society in the film is a loose representation of the Capitalist society that Marx studies in the beginning of his “Communist Manifesto”.

Karl Marx also suggests that the proletariat will eventually lead a revolt against the bourgeoisie, which will lead into Communism. Because the proletariat is fed up with being run by the ruling class, they lead a revolution against the bourgeoisie and their society progresses into a Communist society. What happens at the end of the movie “Equilibrium” is exactly a revolt. It has been suggested by many theorists that the proletariat couldn’t actually go through with a revolt without the help from the middle class, or someone from the bourgeoisie who understood their reasoning for a revolt. When Christian Bale’s character, John Preston, a member of the Cleric, forgets to take his medication for the day, he starts to become this exact person that the proletariat needs. When John Preston learns how to feel and meets with the Resistance, he decides to lead the revolt against the Council. They eventually kill everyone standing in their way and start their own society where emotion is accepted again.

Where a Communist society is what is suggested to have a peaceful society, the beginning of the movie proves otherwise. Because of a third World War, it was decided by a small group of people that if they had a communist society where everyone was treated equally and no one had emotions, they could avoid that of a fourth World War. In the end it is proved that the society is in fact not all treated equally. At the end right before John Preston kills “Father” (the leader of the Council), he finds out that “Father” does in fact feel and doesn’t take the same medication. The audience then learns that the society was in fact still being commanded by emotion. Although emotion was banned from this society, “nevertheless, in the classless society, with the disparity between social and artistic development removed and the emphasis taken off specialization, art could again flower naturally as it had in the primitive past” (Hyman 548). This is exactly what happens and the audience learns that emotion cannot be suppressed and neither can art.

Staying along the lines of poetry arousing emotions, this can be directly linked to Plato’s Republic. Plato had a very strong hostility toward poetry and felt “determined to resist its spell” (Classic Literary Criticism xxiii). He felt the want to ban poetry due to its ability to arouse emotions in people that should be kept inside. He wanted the society to be able to use poetry and singing, but only if it were turning “the soul towards virtue” (xxv). In Plato’s opinion because poetry was able to stimulate the emotions of people it is “psychologically damaging, for it appeals to an inferior element in the soul, and encourages us to indulge in emotions which ought to be kept firmly in check by the control of reason” (xxv). Because of this very same thought process, the Council that put together the society of Libria, the name of the city in “Equilibrium,” had to ban the citizens from feeling emotion. They thought the only way to continue living without the possibility of a fourth World War that could potentially ruin mankind, would be to forbid everyone from having emotions and to get rid of anything that could cause emotion. All art and music was outlawed and was titled “EC 10,” which stands for emotional content. If any form of art was found, it was burned.

The Council of Libria had the same ideas that Plato had and figured it’d be best for society to ban all forms of poetry. While this idea is highlighted in “Equilibrium,” it is also sheds light on Marx’s “German Ideology” when he wrote, “In a Communist organization of society there are no painters. At most there are people who, among other things, also paint.” In other words, for a communist society to work, emotion needs to be secondary to necessity. For example, wanting to spend time with a loved one should come second to going to work. But in the movie, the best way to make sure that work and just breathing are the two most important things in life, is to prohibit emotion altogether. That way the country couldn’t even possibly be at risk for war again.

While thinking about this idea of starting a new society based on no emotion, we come full circle to the idea of whether or not Communism could work. Because of human emotion, it could not. Even if human emotion were suppressed, there would still be that possibility of the one who would rebel. This idea is also prevalent in the novel, “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley when the main character yearns for a life outside of what is supposed to be a Utopia. In reality, when an attempt at creating a utopian society occurs, it seems to turn into a dystopia because of human emotion. In the beginning of “Equilibrium,” they tried to create a utopia by forbidding its citizens from feeling emotion. But the truth is that if people are being forced to not be able to feel emotion, they are being deprived of their freedom. And this in itself defeats the purpose of a utopia, or in Marx’s idea, a Communist society.

Along with Marxism and Greek Antiquity, the film “Equilibrium” has a few small hints of Structuralism and Post-modernism. In Structuralism, According to Saussure, semiology is “a science that studies the life of signs within a society” (60). In this study of “language [as] a system of signs that express ideas,” a sound-image is referred to as a “signifier.” When a group of people who share the same language read or see a signifier, they immediately have a common or similar response/meaning to that word or sound-image. This meaning, or what is implied by the word, is known as the “signified.” Signifiers depend on these meanings, made up by society, to be able to function. There is also the idea of binaries is present as well: you can only know one thing by knowing what it is not. There is an arbitrary relationship between these signs because there is no natural connection. This idea is present in one of the last scenes of the movie: the fight scene between John Preston and the leader, "Father".

In this fight scene it is a battle between bad and good. We know this from the colors that the two fighters are wearing. While Preston is wearing white, and fighting for freedom, "Father" is wearing black and trying to kill Preston to avoid a revolution against the ruling class. Our society has created this binary through the relationship of the signifier and the signified. When we see the color black, we immediately associate it with darkness and evil. And white is often associated with purity and goodness. Staying along this line of Semiotics, we come to the idea from postmodernism that we are born into a world of signs and that “post-modernism has to answer or critique modernism” for it to be post-modernism (Post-modernism Group Project). In other words, we can’t have one without the other. So, in the movie “Equilibirum,” we couldn’t have the Resistance (the lower class) without the Council (the ruling class), or the bad without the good. We wouldn’t be able to identify one as long as we didn’t have the other. Furthermore, without Capitalism we couldn’t have Communism. Which once again brings me right back to the very beginning.

The beginning of the movie was an attempt at creating a Communist society. But once the lower class realized that there still was in fact a ruling class, a group in which made their laws, they revolted. Once the revolt occurred, art was allowed back into the society, which inevitably would lead to another capitalist society. It goes full circle every time. Because humans aren’t accepting of the idea of suppressing their emotions, a utopia could not work. Human emotion is too much of a factor within society. People can never have enough to be satisfied. They always want more. In a conversation between Milton Freidman and Phil Donahue about Socialism and Capitalism, Freidman brings up the idea that every country is run on greed, even if they don’t realize it themselves. When considering a Communist society Milton Freidman says to Phil Donahue, “Just tell me where in the world you’d find these angels that are going to organize society for us.” This quote wraps up this essay and the movie “Equilibrium” perfectly. No matter what, there will always be greed and there will always be someone who is striving to be better or higher. As quoted from the movie "Equilibrium," "Man's inhumanity to man is the ability to feel. Emotion is a disease." And as long as the world is home to people with these emotions, and are allowed to express them, there will not be a solution to Marx’s so-called “problem.” Capitalism will continue. As quoted by the main female character of "Equilibrium," feeling is "as vital as breath and without it, without love, without anger, without sorry, breath is just the clock ticking." And if life comes to that, what's the point?

Works Cited

Classical Literary Criticism. Trans. T.S. Dorsch and Penelope Murray. London: Penguin
Books, 2004.

Equilibrium. Kurt Wimmer. Christian Bale, Emily Watson, Taye Diggs. DVD Dimension Home Video, 2002.

Hyman, Stanley Edgar. “The Marxist Criticism of Literature.” The Antioch Review, Vol. 7, No. 4 (Winter, 1947): 541-568.

Marx, Karl. “The German Ideology.” Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed. 2. Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2004.

Marx, Karl and Engels, Friedrich. Manifesto of the Communist Party. 1848. Rick Kuhn. 28 Apr 2008. http://www.anu.edu.au/polsci/marx/classics/manifesto.html

Milton Freidman – Socialism vs. Capitalism. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=76frHHpoNFs

Rivkin, Julie and Ryan, Michael. “Introduction: Starting with Zero.” Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed. 2. Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2004. 643-646.

Saussure, Ferdinand de. “Course in General Linguistics.” Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed. 2. Massachusetts” Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2004. 59-71.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Analysis #5

Cheerleaders Can't Be Gay

A trailer from a movie called “But I’m a Cheerleader” is about parents who send their gay children to a camp (which is referred to as “Homosexuals Anonymous”) so that they can be taught to be straight. As many theories as I’d like to apply to this trailer, I’ll mainly stick with Anzaldua’s “Borderlands/La Frontera”; specifically, “Fear of Going Home: Homophobia.” Anzaldua highlights the idea homosexuals being afraid of “coming out of the closet.” They are essentially “afraid of being abandoned by the mother, the culture, la Raza, for being unacceptable fault, damaged” (Anzaldua 1020). This trailer, in which a females parents are telling her that she is being sent to camp because she is gay, really brings forth Anzaldua’s theory that homosexuals “unconsciously believe that if [they] reveal this unacceptable aspect of self [their] mother/culture/race will totally reject [them]” (1020). This is clearly proved to be true because her parents are willing to accept her for who she is; they would rather her be sent to camp so that she can be fixed.
When the main character is told she is going to be sent to this camp to be taught how to be straight, she responds by saying, “I’m not perverted, I get good grades, I go to church, I’m a cheerleader!” Her response illuminates Anzaldua’s theory that “to avoid rejection, some of us conform to the values of the culture, push the unacceptable parts into the shadows” (1020). The main character is clearly in denial because she is afraid of being rejected by her family and society. Also, in the youtube clip, they show the kids at the camp and how they are supposed to be forced into being straight. This highlights the idea of gender roles when they show the girls being forced to wear pink and the men forced to wear blue. Immediately, there is this connotation that not only are they being taught to be straight, they are taught their roles in society as the sexuality they were born with: i.e., girls are meant to be girly (and like pink), boys are meant to be tough (and like blue).
Although this movie is clearly poking fun at society's homophobia (or fear of going home), it is to some extent the truth. A lot of people actually treat homosexuality in a similar way that the parents do in this clip. I have a friend who is a lesbian but still hides it from her parents. She has told all of her friends but refuses to tell her mother because she is afraid of the rejection. Because her mom is Catholic, she believes that her sexual preference is incorrect and could not possibly be the truth. This also ties in with Anzaldua because she is a part of the Catholic Church and they don't accept her homosexuality either. Anzaldua raises great points about being outcast for being a certain race, or gender, or having a specific sexual preferences. And the clip ties together her points showing that it's unfair to outcast someone because of their decisions.

Works Cited

Anzaldua, Gloria. "Borderlands/ La Frontera." Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. 2nd ed. Blackwell Publishing, 2004. 1017-1030.


Analysis #4 (Optional)

Coming soon!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Analysis #3

Alec Baldwin is the Bourgeoisie

In Glengarry Glen Ross, a “motivational speaker” played by Alec Baldwin is sent into a Real Estate office to help with the sales of some agents. In Marxism, Alex Baldwin is a representation of the Bourgeoisie, or the class owning the means for producing wealth. He is a representation of this in the sense that he exploits the other agents. He tells them to have “brass balls” and to lie, cheat, and steal as long as they closed the sale. When the character played by Ed Harris asks Alec Baldwin who he is, Alec responds by showing him his expensive watch and in turn is saying that he is in fact represented by his money. This shows that Alec Baldwin is a member of the ruling class (at least in this scene).
One part that stuck out in my mind is when Alec Baldwin says to Ed Harris, “Nice guy? I don’t give a shit. Good father? Fuck you, go home and play with your kids!” This little quote represents Marxism in many different ways. One thing this proves, is the idea from The Communist Manifesto, that “the bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation into a mere money relation” (2). Alec Baldwin suggests that money should come before everything. Sales are what is important, not family.
Alec Baldwin also numerously suggests that because they aren’t making any sales, they are women. When he tells Ed Harris to go home and play with his kids, he is suggesting that he is woman-like and is better off at home because only a man can close and make sales. He also harasses the other workers by telling them that they aren’t men because they aren’t closing, and tells them they need to have “brass balls” in this field of work. This is suggesting that a woman cannot do the job.
Overall, I think the quote that really sums up this entire clip is, “The class which has the means of material production at its disposal has control at the same time over the means of material production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it” (656). The first part of the quote represents Alec Baldwin’s character, or the ruling class, because he has control over the means of material production. The last part of the quote is symbolizes Ed Harris and the other salespeople, or the working class because since they lack Alec Baldwin’s mental production, they are subject to the ruling class, or Alec Baldwin.

Works Cited
Glengarry Glen Ross. Dir. James Foley. Perf. Jack Lemon, Al Pacino,. New Line Cinema, 1992. Film.

Marx, Karl. The Communist Manifesto. Chicago: Gateway Editions, 1985

Marx, Karl. "Literary Theory: An Anthology." Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Blackwell Publishing. Maldon, Ma, 2004. (653-664).

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Week 3 WebCT Post: Oedipus Complex

So, I was absolutely terrified to bring this up in class (number one
because I'm super shy and number two, I was afraid of the dirty looks),
but Freud's idea that children want to marry their parents is actually
something I experienced when I was a child. When I was about 6 years
old, I looked at my mother and I said, "Mom.. I want to marry Daddy."
And of course her response was, "What? You can't marry your Daddy." (I
don't remember this but my mom has told me this story plenty of times) I
then responded, "Well, I don't think there will ever be someone who is
as good as Daddy." I was six. So there was clearly nothing meant behind
it beside the fact that I really love my Dad. So, 13 years later, I meet
this guy named Kristopher. To me, he is absolute perfection. And
honestly, I can't tell you how many times (in the last three years) I've
compared Kristopher to my dad. I always thought that it was because I
wanted my dad to accept him and to like him. But now this Freud thing
has really crept me out! Now it freaks me out how much they are alike! I
know it's healthy but it was just so weird to actually be able to relate
to this stuff! Now, I never wanted to kill my mom (so that's a good
thing), but when my parents got into arguments, I ALWAYS took my dad's
side. And it just scares me that my life could in fact be an example of
this creepy Oedipus Complex. What do you guys think? Am I complete
freak?! Haha.

Week 2 WebCT Post

From week two, my favorite thing that we discussed was defamiliarization. It actually took me a couple times to understand what I was reading. The third time I read it, I fell in love. I’ve always loved reading poetry and looking some sort of art and trying to figure out what is actually portraying. As Shklovsky says, “The technique of art is to make objects ‘unfamiliar,’ to make forms difficult, to increase difficulty and length of perception because the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged” (16). The part that actually kind of freaked me out was the part about the dusting and whether or not it was actually done. This has happened so many times to me; where something has become so habitual that I just forgot if I’ve done it. It’s like we are on Cruise Control. Anyway, the quote that interested me most (and literally scared me out of my mind) was “If the whole complex lives of many people go on unconsciously, then such lives are as if they had never been” (16). I just feel like this is so true and really what’s the point of living if I’m not actually living? Does that make sense? Anyway, I wrote a sonnet for another Professor awhile back and it kind of reminded me of this whole idea of art being a form a defamiliarization. So I thought I’d post the sonnet to see if anyone could figure out what it’s about. (Chris, I believe you were in my class so you have an unfair advantage!) So if no one figures it out, I’ll post the answer in a few days, or a week! Have fun.

Inspired by: Dr. Scott Andrews and Sherman Alexie

“Gravity is Overrated”
By Gina Spaccia

Oh Roman god of war, you are too far,
Your crimson face has caught my turning eye;
Fate has sent me away from where you are,
An arranged love with Terra set for I.
These open wounds suggest my lasting pain
For a life with someone who comprehends;
But with him these scars are forced to remain,
Until love will allow this rule to bend.
Forever being pulled to his blue side
To provide him with darkness and despair;
Escaping to your blushing red, I’ve tried,
Life without you in sight, I could not bear.
Though this law cannot be broken in time,
My love still lives on through distance and rhyme.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


Three absolutely stunning women stand on the top of a hillside, contemplating the rest of their night. A full moon and a cemetery behind their lifeless bodies suggest the danger that resides within these women. They stand with such great posture, knowing their great beauty and power. The blood dripping down the sides of each of their mouths suggests their desire for more. The sharp-teethed women crave their next prey and recognize that they could have anything they yearned for. With gorgeous flowing red hair, the leader demonstrates her eagerness for her next move with her open hands. Her thirsty eyes stare off in the distance, contemplating their next victim. Though her eternal existence and beauty give her power, her empty eyes suggest she still hungers for a life with love and death.

Analysis #2
Vampires as a Signifier

According to Saussure, semiology is “a science that studies the life of signs within a society” (60). In this study of “language [as] a system of signs that express ideas,” a sound-image is referred to as a “signifier.” When a group of people who share the same language read or see a signifier, they immediately have a common or similar response/meaning to that word or sound-image. This meaning, or what is implied by the word, is known as the “signified.” Signifiers depend on these meanings, made up by society, to be able to function.
Through the photograph of the vampire women (the signifier), there are many connotations that we as a society hold (the signified). When most people see vampires, they are most likely to think of adjectives such as evil or dark. But just because we all have this same connotation, does not mean that it is necessarily true. We, as a society, have decided this is so. This helps to understand what Saussure meant by “the linguistic sign is arbitrary” and “the bond between the signifier and the signified is arbitrary” (62). Minus the exceptions of onomatopoeia and interjections, in language, arbitrary is meant that “it actually has no natural connection with the signified” (62).
Now that we understand what semiotics is, let’s take a look back at the picture of the vampire women and do a semiotic analysis of the photograph. Of course, immediately whenever someone sees a vampire (the signifier), they think of evil, blood-sucking, death, and a terrifying amount of power (the signified). Moving on to other aspects of the picture, the color white is usually something that we associate with good or purity. In this picture, the vampires are wearing white dresses that are dirtied by dirt and blood. This signifies that they are the opposite of pure and are in fact evil. In this example, the discolored white clothing is the signifier and the fact that they are evil is what is being signified. Another example is the full moon as a signifier. Full moon’s tend to be associated with evil, werewolves, scary movies, etc, which are all examples of what is being signified by the full moon. This picture is clearly at night and because it is dark at this hour, it is also associated with evil. People tend to be afraid of night and the darkness is brings with it. Once again, night is the signifier and evil is the signified.
Although I believe this picture holds so much more, the majority of people will agree with me when I say what is being signified from this picture is pure evil. Because as a society we’ve come up with these connotations of words or sound-images, something as beautiful as night has been signified as evil. But, by having these connotations and meanings of signifiers, we prove that Saussure is in fact correct; we do have a language that is “a system of signs that express ideas” (62).

Works Cited:
De Saussure, Ferdinand. Course in General Linguistics. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Literary Theory: An Anthology. Massachusetts: Blackwell, 2004. 59-71