Presentation on theme: "Metaphorical Imagery:- Utopian and Dystopian faces of the everyday. Two case studies:- Bladerunner (as dystopian), and The Truman Show (as utopian)."— Presentation transcript:
Metaphorical Imagery:- Utopian and Dystopian faces of the everyday. Two case studies:- Bladerunner (as dystopian), and The Truman Show (as utopian).
The context for these PowerPoint slides is provided by a webpage accompanying this presentation – both are attached to the module outline. The webpage gives an introductory account of the process of representation and also introduces a simple theory of how metaphor works. Although Richards’ interactionist theory, as it is called, was developed in relation to text, its simplicity allows some initial conclusions about imagery to be drawn from the two films that are being viewed today.
The films selected for viewing provide strikingly different kinds of imagery, but they also present ambiguous narratives, so that within each you get insight into their opposites – but couched in relation to their own dominant forms of representation. To start with Utopia - the term ‘utopian’ is usually taken to imply that an idea is unrealistic, but is so because a particular set of principles have been followed through with extreme rigour, i.e., the representation is ‘idealistic’. One therefore anticipates that it will either be dominated by one set of ‘laws’, or else will be constructed so as to only show the positive consequences of the chosen course of action. Utopia is, in general, a world in which everything happens for the best in the best of all possible worlds, as Voltaire’s Dr. Pangloss was in the habit of saying.
One of the problems with depicting Utopia is that unless its representation is sufficiently detailed and imaginative, its appearance becomes boring. Indeed, few writers have wanted to sustain the monotony of beneficent outcomes for very long. Even Sir Thomas More, inventor of the genre, seems to have intended the whole of the second half of his book, Utopia, as a witty cover for the explicitly critical analysis of Tudor England featured in the first half. Similarly Voltaire, in his Candide, used wit and irony from the start to undercut Dr. Pangloss’ utopian perception of the way the world worked so as to poke fun at the authority behind it – the Catholic Church. And although the Church repeatedly ordered copies of the book to be seized and burnt, the only effect was to make the book even more attractive to its upper-class audience – one hungry for intelligent entertainment.
These examples suggest that utopian representations gain their significance by reference to the ‘everyday’, and one might speculate dystopian ones do as well. The works of H. G. Wells provide accessible test cases. His scientific fantasies start in the prosaic, e.g., The First Men on the Moon, and The War in the Air, devote about a quarter of their length to the everyday lives of their protagonists before any adventure begins – and so did Sir Thomas More. However, most films made in the last thirty years rely on shorthand: the everyday is sketched in through context shots – or even ignored completely – the viewer being left to supply their own sense of this essential reference. And as the everyday has vanished from these films, the need for contrast has again asserted itself. Representations of the utopian now gain their apparent point of reference from explicitly dystopian representations, and vice versa.
The narrative of The Truman Show progressively subverts the integrity of its own imagery – lights fall from the sky, actors make mistakes or try to insert alternative narratives into Truman’s idealised world, and Truman himself finally rebels. As Truman moves from the fixed certainties of utopian life to the uncertainties of the everyday – he does so via an experience of his familiar world becoming dytopian. The show’s director, Christos, worried by Truman’s increasingly ‘aberrant’ behaviour, becomes a violent deus ex machina, risking even Truman’s death in order to restore order to a world built to his own design.
As you looks at the evidence of The Truman Show, ask yourself if the awfulness of its dystopian imagery gains its point of reference from the ‘external’ everyday, rather than through its opposition to Truman’s own utopian conception of what this is. In the case of the second example, Bladerunner, the suggestion would be that the same swing takes place – only in reverse. Out of the environmental disaster and ‘terminations’ of late 21st. Century Los Angeles comes a recognisable love affair – despite the fact that it may be taking place between replicants, only one of which knows its own ontology. But now ask yourself if the film’s version of a happy ending is only reached via the final flowering of utopian ‘humanity’ and vision given by the dying replicant leader.
In the case of dystopias, the representational ‘environment’ is often populated by a variety of ‘entities’ united in being inimical to human life, and it may also be articulated by partial narratives of truth which themselves shift location, form, and expected outcome. This last feature is a reaction to the same problem of predictability that bedevil utopian accounts, but in the case of these narratives the problem is how to avoid the general awfulness of the depicted world becoming too predictable. Bearing these introductory remarks in mind, what follows provides brief commentaries on some of the analytical headings presented in greater detail in Krishnan Kumar’s Open University text on this subject. Kumar, K. (1999) Utopianism Milton Keynes: OUP.
N.B. Kumar does not directly tackle dystopias, and so an important aspect of your own work will be to add your own conclusions about what should be the anti-commentaries to those given here. A close study of Bladerunner will help, but of course there are others films and texts to choose from. Secondly, there is some work to do using Richards’ theory: for each figuration that particularly impresses you, try to work out the ‘tenor’ and ‘vehicle’ that seem to be operating.
The Elements of Utopia:- Dream & Reality – note the important reversal provided by Plato’s notion of reality; The Golden Age, Arcadia, Paradise – the challenge is to work out the implied opposite from which these gain their meaning; The Land of Cockaygne – refer also to the reversal of normality in carnival – a ‘working class’ notion of paradise on earth; The Millennium – the coming of the new age, the founding of the New Jerusalem, and Mr. Mandelson’s Millennium Dome; The Ideal City – favoured by many Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century social experimenters, particularly in the United States.
The Boundaries of Utopia:- Imaginary Worlds – imagination may ‘knows no bounds’ – except that it usually does through the incorporation of aspects of the author’s contemporary world view; Utopian Theory – although the representation may be partial, there is usually a principle which dictates the nature of representation – excluding is often more important than including; Utopia in Time and Space – reflecting when the text was written: initially it was an island, then it was some hidden and still to be discovered part of a continent, and finally only space and the future could provided a necessary refuge; Classical accounts – Plato’s Republic – but then what?
The History of Utopia:- The utopian tradition – this is extensive – see the resource list attached to the module outline; Utopia and Modernity – can Modernity be described in terms of the application/quest/outpouring/etc. of utopian principles? Science, history, progress – to what extent can these accounts of social change (prospective and retrospective) be described as caused by utopian impulses? Socialist utopias – a particular feature of the first half of the Nineteenth Century – but they continue, e.g. H. G. Wells’ A Modern Utopia.
The Practice of Utopia:- Nowhere as Somewhere – the making real of an idea, the filling in of a gap, the substitution of the negative by the positive; Thought and practice – here utopia becomes both a promise and a test-bed – can the utopian be made real, and can aspects of a current practice be purified? Utopian communities – again, Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century America provides many examples that in some cases survived for many years; Utopian societies – here the interest is in the persistence of vision – just how far into detail can utopian principles penetrate, just how well are the diverse consequences of a particular utopian impulse integrated?
The location of utopia:- An ‘unseemly and subversive’ genre – this is to say, how do you relate the forms of representation associated with utopia to other genres and other forms of representation? Against utopia – there is a respectable body of critical writing that is very hostile to the consequences of utopian thinking, e.g. were the National Socialists utopian? The uses of utopia – is there merit in studying this form of representation – are there particular aspects of it that are of greater significance than mere distraction? The future of utopia – how will the genre develop – is the future necessarily utopian (or dystopian)?