At the start of recitation, everyone handed in their final paper proposals, which we will be getting back in the next class.
To begin class, we watched the first nine minutes of Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys (1995) and briefly touched on all the kinds of anxiety present in the scene (and the movie as a whole). The outdoor scenes clearly suggest a nuclear winter, suggesting a continuation of the nuclear anxiety that built throughout the cold war (and would come back in the new millennium following 9/11). There is also a large fear of technology present in the film (reminiscent of ’80s films), as the virus was created in a laboratory, which develops into a fear of bioterrorism. There are shots that suggest dehumanization, such as a shot of an owl that recalls Blade Runner (1982) and men caged up apart from one another in a room. Like in the feature for the week, American Psycho, the insanity is suggested to be a result of uniformity and the loss of individuality.
The Giroux reading, Brutalized Bodies, followed. The reading was a close examination of Fight Club, which depicts a feminized man as a result of consumerist culture. This is perhaps most apparent in the character Bob, a former wrestler who develops breasts as a result of testicular cancer. The emasculating society is further depicted as a result of help groups entirely made up of men and the character of Tyler Durden, who champions violence as a way to revitalize masculinity. Giroux argues, however, that there is no point to the social change in Fight Club; the men terrorize without any reason, deriving pleasure more from violence than from justice. He furthers suggests that Fight Club ignores many other important issues, such as race, gender, and religion, and points out the hypocrisy of Tyler’s idea of “just do it” echoing the Nike slogan and Brad Pitt’s shirtless body following a scene where his character makes fun of male models.
The class discussion was quite interesting, as some saw the mere fact that man championing the violence and fighting against society was the insane alter ego, and commenting on how while the only female in the film is largely a sex object, the end portrays her as a necessary part of the narrator’s happiness. Still, the movie fetishizes violence and consumerism to a level that makes it hard to pick out what is satirical and what is serious, creating a movie that is at times ideologically incoherent or open to various readings–both a strength and a flaw.
We went on to a clip from Any Given Sunday (1999), where the coach (Al Pacino) gives his players a half-time talk that leads into a one-on-one between the coach and the back-up QB that results in a touchdown. The visibility of race (Pacino’s team was predominantly African-American, the opponent team was mostly white), homoeroticism perhaps innate to football, and a parallel between the coach/QB relationship with the Tyler/Narrator relationship (where one does all the talking and the other just listens) were discussed. That the opposing team is called “Americans” was also viewed as significant; the movie was an attempt to subvert values that were overtaking America.
A long discussion regarding whether or not American Psycho, Fight Club, and Any Given Sunday are “hard-body” films ensued, where there were defenders and opponents to each film. Some saw American Psycho has hard-bodied because of how little is suggested as consequential by Patrick Bateman’s actions while others saw the satire that strips his individuality as enough to satirize the idea of a hard-body. Likewise, Any Given Sunday was seen as hard-bodied because of the nature of football, while others dismissed it as not being hard-bodied because it was simply football as it is played. It was mentioned that hard-bodies were often meant to be identified with, as classic American heroes (e.g. Rambo), and Fight Club and American Psycho did not qualify at all, so perhaps only Any Given Sunday could qualify as hard-bodied. It was an interesting and varied conversation that could very well turn into good fodder for final papers if anyone feels like their proposed topic isn’t working.
We closed with the first 4:24 of American Beauty (1999), commenting on how the main crisis of the film is Kevin Spacey’s character having been stripped of his masculinity. Millennial anxieties are still present, as 4:24 shows a reflection of Kevin Spacey’s character trapped inside a computer screen that has columns resembling a jail cell. We did not have time to fully discuss this clip or film, but it ended with the strong recommendation that anyone who has not seen it do so because it is perhaps the quintessential millennial film, and one that masterfully embodies nearly all the themes discussed in lecture and recitation.