In Wednesday’s recitation, we discussed films that explored the theme of millennial anxiety, as well as the various concerns Americans had during the turn of the 21st century.
We began class with a clip from the beginning of Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys, in which Bruce Willis’ character is sealed in layers of plastic and emerges above ground into a frozen, post-apocalyptic New York City.
We discussed the different fears raised in the five-minute snippet: the fear of government possessing absolute power, with no citizen able to maintain any sense of agency; the idea of reality versus construction, which touched upon mental illness and how representation has replaced authenticity (digital realms such as the internet, fantastical wonderlands like Disneyland, even cities like Los Angeles); fear of incurable and life-threatening disease possibly transmitted through ecological or biochemical attacks, which was spurred by the introduction of the HIV/AIDS crisis, as well as the virus’ ambiguous origins (Jaap likened Bruce Willis’ protective suit to an oversized condom). In addition, technology had begun expanding very rapidly beginning as far back as the early ‘80s, with the arrival of the home computer, video game consoles, home video recording devices and players. While remarkable, these achievements added to growing concerns of loss of individuality and humanity.
The ‘90s saw a great deal of anxieties that were reflected and further explored in thriller-type films like Fight Club and American Psycho, “dramadies” like American Beauty, and science fiction action flick The Matrix. Many of these films explored the idea of masculinity in crisis – men who had become subservient as a result of societal conventions, metaphorically “castrated” by women, or simply lost themselves in their pursuit of materialism.
After we examined these problems, I presented Giroux’s excerpt – “Brutalized Bodies” – which largely criticized Fight Club’s stance on these male apprehensions. Giroux found that Fight Club completely ignored the idea of class structure, and instead emphasized violence as a solution to personal insecurities. He argued that the film was exceptionally misogynistic, painting women strictly as an opposing force.
The reading bled into a class discussion of the male body, and how it had evolved from the “hard body” depiction portrayed in the 1980’s. Although the men in Fight Club and American Psycho were equally muscular, the main characters often contended with psychological issues. In addition, the element of consumerism added a satirical undertone of femininity – the products Bateman applies to his face, the similarities Brad Pitt shares with the underwear advertisement on the bus. It was decided that these men had bodies that were more beautiful than strong.
Sally then presented on the first thirty pages of American Psycho, paying particular attention to author Bret Easton Ellis’ highly detailed emphasis on clothing and products. After she finished, we ended class by talking in-depth about the previous night’s feature, the film adaptation of American Psycho. We addressed the main points of violence, masculinity and consumerism, and how the film satirized all of those issues without giving any clear resolutions – other than the idea that, in American culture, “inside doesn’t matter”. Jaap introduced an interesting idea when he started talking about the film’s infrequent but bookending references to George Bush and the Desert Storm conflict – does the film work as a political commentary as well? When one considers politicians power-hungry monsters who smile to the public while committing disingenuous acts behind closed doors, the parallels are striking.