The discussion of this week’s recitation revolved around the ideas of millennial anxiety and consumerism in regards to Fight Club, The Matrix, American Psycho, and the supplemental clips that Jaap screened for us. Jaap began class informally by going over the presentation and summary schedule for this week and then followed up by collecting the topic proposals for our final papers. He explained that they were just like our midterm essays only twice as long, and again stressed the importance of engaging with various readings.
Moving into the day’s discussion, Jaap screened a clip from Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys, in which Bruce Willis’s character is sent up to the earth’s surface from the confinements of the underground society that he is imprisoned in to collect samples which would then be used to analyze the presence of the virus that had previously wiped out a majority of the human population. After watching the clip, Jaap asked us to look at the movie in regards to millennial tropes of anxiety and how it compared with the screenings from lecture. One of the more up-front comparisons made was with the Matrix in regards to how in both films, humans are seen locked up, whether in cages or pods. This brought up the idea of the looming fears of being locked up, both literally and figuratively, in a world that one does not want to be in, but has no other choice, and of the lack of individual agency that humans subsequently possess. There is also this kind of fear of contamination where a world with its own rules exists to protect itself from another world entirely, the skepticism of technology and it’s affect on humans, and the idea that the representative or imaginary has now become reality. Going off of this idea, one of the more interesting points raised was in regards to a part of the opening credits of 12 Monkeys that read, “Excerpts from interview with clinically diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic.” It was discussed how it’s possible that the “crazy” people were more in touch with reality than the individuals who were in charge as they could have been witnessing a reality that was entirely different, yet possibly the right one. As was mentioned, who ultimately has the right to judge who is crazy or what crazy even is?
Next we moved onto Maggie and Matt’s presentation of Henry Giroux’s article, “Brutalized Bodies and Emasculated Politics: Fight Club,” which was generously accompanied by doughnuts! Thanks, guys! In their presentation, Maggie and Matt touched upon how the spectacle of violence in Fight Club is used to highlight the idea of hyper-masculinity in relation to the entertainment value that the audience will perceive. They discussed how more broadly, film has the ability to shape the public imagination and then went on to talk about how the idea of masculinity was rewritten during the 90s, where the importance that once lied in the production of goods now lied in the production of knowledge. The film showcases a dramatic shift from the sociological to the psychological, but it also contains many contradictions that undermine what the film is ultimately trying to do. They also discussed Giroux’s issue with the portrayal of women and femininity in the movie, describing how Marla is used to either criticize and degrade Jack’s masculinity or to continuously have sex with him. They also talked about the perception of the movie and it’s subsequent criticism as well as how throughout the article, Giroux held kind of an elitist view, taking heed into the pomp of his own discussion.
After, Jaap showed us a clip of Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday and challenged us to think about the ways in which the clip depicted the link between masculinity, violence, and consumerism. First we talked about the idea of the “hard body” male character and if we can consider the characters in the clip as well as in the other movies we’ve discussed to be hard bodies. We concluded that while the football players in Any Given Sunday are obviously larger men, a hard body is not just determined by physical characteristics, as it is more of an archetype to begin with. Part of what made the quintessential 80s bad-asses hard bodies was that they were one dimensional characters who fought against equally one-dimensional villains, and the main characters of Fight Club, American Psycho, etc. are certainly more multi-faceted. There was also the depiction of the new 90s male – the smart, successful, wealthy, muscular man – whose masculinity wasn’t formed solely by his physique. It was also determined that it’s possible that characters in 90s films needed to use violence in order to reaffirm their masculinity, while 80s characters were inherently macho and violence was just like making a living. We also briefly touched upon the idea of the self-consciousness and self-realization of the characters that allowed the viewer to watch the performance along with them.
This led into David’s presentation of the first 30 pages of Bret Easton Ellis’s novel American Psycho. In his presentation, David talked about how because the book is told in the first person, the reader is therefore thrown into the mind of Patrick Bateman, which translates to the in movie in that Bateman stars in nearly every scene. Bateman lives in the world of the upper class and works on Wall Street, and the text makes many references to items and places that are distinct to his lavish culture. David explains that what the reader ends up seeing is that Bateman’s entire world is built on consumerist values and everyone where’s a mask; everyone is two-faced. David then went onto analyze some of the quotes he pulled from the reading and ended by discussing the common themes of the mistaken identity, societal distraction, and extreme self-concern.
To conclude the class Jaap went on to highlight the role that consumerism plays in American Psycho as we discussed how a man on top has enough money to live a life of luxury and it’s his level of consumption that defines his worth, and ultimately, his identity (or lack of one?) In the short amount of time we had left, Jaap briefly touched upon the film American Beauty and how Kevin Spacey’s character is the complete opposite of a hard body and that because we see the monotony of the setting and the lives of the characters, it can be said that this movie is a comment on the American dream, consumerism, and explicitly, what is most valuable about American life.