Rabu, 14 September 2016

The Postmodern Identity in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy

As postmodernism itself is perceived to arrive at the era of media saturation and consumerism culture, the popular culture here plays a great role in the acceptance and development of postmodernism. An aspect of this is the idea that in the postmodern condition it becomes more difficult to distinguish the economy from popular culture (Strinati, 1995:212). Strinati here claims that popular culture determines the consumptive culture in society. People tend to buy on what is popular and this idea is usually coming from those constructed in popular culture. This phenomenon takes place because postmodernism cannot be separated from the visual phenomenon that becomes the main attraction for consumerism. Films, as one of favorable vernacular culture, serve also as the representation of postmodern identity. With the proportional time given, films can freely show the postmodern identity to their audience. This paper intends to show how postmodern identity is represented in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy movie.
Superhero movies seem to be the most promising Hollywood franchise nowadays. Ever since X-Men began its trilogy in 2000, superhero movies, which are mostly adapted from comic book, is the first genre that will sit in the blockbuster list. This trend, however, has already started since Richard Dorner’s Superman in 1978. This genre, alike the other ones, also has a certain formula that is familiar to the audience. From the point at which Superman became the mythological icon of the twentieth century, a distinct superhero archetype was laid down (Burke, 2008:14). This archetype includes the power and responsibility that defines someone as a hero and also several addictions like villain, sidekick, love interest, and secret identity. Superhero movies also work in whimsical way on the clear distinction between the protagonist and the villain. Thus, it can be said that superhero actually provides a traditional identity in which it is fixed.

However, some postmodern identities can still be found in this fixed genre. Guardians of the Galaxy, which was released in 2014 by Marvel, provided a distinct characterization of their so-called superheroes. Even though this movie still followed some classic rules like muscular body and hi-tech weapons, Guardians of the Galaxy is different from the good guy type of usual movies. The most apparent part must be how the characters here are identified more as an A-holes rather than a respected people. This movie features five leads named Peter Quill, Gamora, Drax the Destroyer, Rocket Raccoons, and Groot. All of them are first identified as the criminal. However, their identity is not fixed to this. These characters are so  dynamic that makes it fit to the area of postmodernism. For identity is often constructed in media culture and society against dominant conventions and morality; thus there is something amoral or morally threatening about postmodern selves which are fluid, multiple, and subject to rapid change. (Kellner, 1995:245)
All of the characters in Guardians of the Galaxy present this fluidity. Take Drax the Destroyer here for an example, he was a prisoner who was anti-Gamora at the very beginning due to the old sentiment to the family. Drax was very threatening and sentimental at the beginning. However, he finally agreed to join the group and put his sentiment with Gamora aside. It does not just this simple dynamic though as Drax was still having his sentiment to Gamora’s relative Ronan that resulted in the change of his characterization again. Same things happen to the other characters on how they fall in between lines of villain and hero. They are very dynamics, following the situation that they have to face.
All of this dynamic and the label of criminals on each member of the Guardians of the Galaxy here shows that they are not conventional hero. Postmodernism is well-known by its reduction on meta-narratives. Postmodern theory is highly skeptical about these metanarratives, and argues that they are disintegrating, losing their validity and legitimacy and increasingly difficult for people to organize and interpret their lives in the light of meta-narratives of whatever kind (Strinati, 1995: 215). The metanarratives in the superhero movies are what Bruke explained there on how it featured power and responsibility and also the clearly distinct lines between villains and protagonists. In Guardians of the Galaxy, the so-called good guys do not always follow this rule. Peter Quill identified himself as a well-known thief, Gamora is a famous assassin, Drax has been in prison for so long, and Rocket and Groot are also a street-criminal that loves stealing stuffs from people. Their initial goal was also for money yet these people are those who finally save the world. They truly puts aside the old grand narrative of the superhero movies to create a more complex identity of a hero.
The other characteristics of postmodern identity here, according to Douglass Kellner, is how it is usually constructed from leisure and consumption. Kellner used an example from Miami Vice on how the TV series constructed its postmodern identity through the styles of the two leads with fast cars and sensual women. Postmodernism here tries to reach the leisure utopia. In Guardians of the Galaxy, the characters may not be portrayed as a stylist group of people. However, there are several representations here that give a nod to the leisure culture, especially from Peter Quill character. Quill has an unbreakable bond with his walkman. He also once mentioned some popular culture product like the movie Footloose which Kevin Bacon starred in. Not to forget his stylistic jet called Milano, which referred to actress Alyssa Milano, that gives another nod on his eccentric character.
The Collector character here also emphasizes the consumptive culture, seen from his high style standard and fashion. The characters’ first goal on getting money also shows how they aim for material success only, which is one characteristic of consumption culture. If other superheroes movie focus on the superpower that the characters possessed and their goal to save the world the live in, Guardians of the Galaxy emphasizes less on it. It, on the other hand, focuses more on the building images of the character and the eccentrics that they intend to show. The classic formula like hero vs villain remains still, but the whole movie does not emphasize on such thing. The group grows to care more about their fancy latex uniform than the ideas that they are a hero. It shows on how Peter Quill here wants everyone to recognize him as a Star-lord. They want to be recognized according to the image they try to build.
Another characteristic from postmodern identity is the confusion of time and space. The growing immediacy of global space and time resulting from the dominance of the mass media means that previously unified and coherent ideas about space and time begin to be undermined, and become distorted and confused (ibid., 214).  In Guardians of the Galaxy, this problem is mostly brought by Peter Quill. As the narrative itself centers most on him, it brings a major effect on the confusion that take place. Quill is said to be half-human and half-alien. He once settled on earth and thus he brought several values from it. The setting of the movies might take place in other planets, however, Quill’s very well reference on popular culture somehow confuse the idea, making the space like the intersection of earth and other planets.
The bigger confusion, however, is coming from the time the scenes take place. All of the high-tech weapons and jets might indicate that it is coming from the future or as seen from the flashback scenes, this may be happening today. However, the atmosphere created in the movie indicates the confusion of time. Nick Schager, a contributor for Vulture.com, admits how Guardians of the Galaxy carries the feeling of 70’s Star Wars trilogy. While it’s never explicitly referenced — somewhat surprisingly, given the raft of '70s and '80s pop-culture shout-outs found throughout Gunn’s rollicking adventure — George Lucas’s iconic series is evoked at almost every turn (http://www.vulture.com/2014/08/how-guardians-of-the-galaxy-is-like-star-wars.html). Even though the setting indicates that this movie is not from the past, several sets still evoke the past feeling, creating the confusion of time.
The 70’s feels are even getting stronger from the soundtracks used in the movie. James Gunn, the director of the movie, admitted that he traced back the Billboard Top Charts in 1970s. Songs from David Bowie and Blue Swede fill the atmosphere of the entire movie. Thus, even though they already settled that this movie is not set in the past, they created such past feels from sets and soundtracks. This, once again, created the confused feelings on when this movie actually takes place, the confusion between times. It strengthens the idea of postmodern identity that can be seen since the beginning of the movie.
From discussion above, it is clearly seen that Guardians of the Galaxy signifies some postmodern identities. This postmodernism is depicted through characterization of characters, the images showing, and the sets that evoke the confusion of time and space. This movie does not follow the metanarrative of a superhero while going still on the genre. Their characters are not the typical good guys that we usually find but rather they are a very dynamic characters that goes from a criminal to good guy and sometimes still undergo some changes that we cannot simply identify. The nods to popular culture and style are also apparent in this movie, proposing the idea that Guardians of the Galaxy does not really emphasize on the motive but rather on the images. Last but not least, this movie creates a confusion feeling on when this actually sets. It probably shows that it takes place in today’s time but it also carries some 70’s feelings that creates the confusion between the audience on whether it happens now or then. These three characteristics already fulfill the idea of what postmodernism is.
Burke, Liam. 2008. Superhero Movies. Reading: Pocket Essentials
Kellner, Douglass. 1995. Cultural Studies, Identity and Politics between the Modern and the Postmodern. London: Routledge.
Strinati, Dominic. 1995. Introduction to Theories of Popular Culture. London: Routledge
accessed on Sunday, June 14, 2015, 06:40

Robert Downey Jr. : The story of Comeback and American Dream

Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist. That was the perfect description made by Tony Stark, the character played by Robert Downey Jr. in the blockbuster The Avengers (2012). That perfect identification also marked the new persona of the actor ever since his comeback from a drug addiction past. Those images seem to be attached to any characters he is in, creating the stardom that Hollywood media and audience dear most. The story of Robert Downey Jr. and his most acclaimed comeback in Iron Man (2008) resembles the idea of re-becoming of America ever since its post 9/11 crisis and millennium recession.
The study of stars has never been taken seriously before the publication of Richard Dyer’s Stars. Till then, work on stars had been largely the province of fandom on the one hand or of sociology on the other (Gledhill, 1991:12). The stars are then considered as one vital element of film productions. As an industrial marketing devices, stars here, as Gledhill stated, carries the cultural meanings and ideological values. The study of the stardom reveals the intimacy of individual personality as an emblem of national celebrity. Thus, the images created by the stars produce certain stereotype from the society that certain actor/actress has this identical identification. The success of stardom has often correlated with current political situation in a society.
In 2012, Murray Promerance published a book entitled Shining in Shadows which is a compilation of the stardoms in 2000s. The idea of these stardoms may be similar of the previous stardoms, Promerance emphasized on how these stardoms are somehow special. All of them shone within an intensively American darkness brought on by the surprise attacks of 11
September 2001 (Promerance, 2012: 1). Among those stardoms is Robert Downey Jr. which is categorized as a wonder boy with Johnny Depp and Matt Damon as those three represent the lingering feeling to the childhood.
The story of Robert Downey Jr. is the story of comeback. In the early century, he was more famous on his arrest regarding drug addiction rather than his movie projects. His comeback was rather quite before he go into a major blockbuster Iron Man that does not only regain his greatness but name himself as the Forbes’ highest paid actor. And, since getting clean, Downey’s cinematic roles, from independent films to blockbusters, have capitalized on his troubled personal life in various guises (Lennard, 2012: 26). Downey Jr. is not like he is acting but rather promoting his own personality which makes him the stardom of 2000s. Everyone seems agree that no matter the roles he is playing, it connects into one identical image. Downey Jr. has always portrayed a troubled man seeking for any redemption just like what he is currently doing with his comeback.
The most prominent role must be the Tony Stark/Iron Man which portrays him as the arrogant, eccentric billionaire as I mentioned in the introduction of this paper. Iron Man does not only grant Downey Jr. trust from producers and media but his success also connect with society desire of a certain figure, especially in post 9/11 and economic recession.
His alter ego as Iron Man resembles the idea of American success, the greatness of America. The film itself was released in 2008, in the middle of economic recession and the trauma of 9/11 has not completely gone either. The origin story of Iron Man itself explores the trauma of Tony Stark before he decides on becoming a hero.
            The stardom of Robert Downey Jr. itself is special because it does not only offer the persona of the actor but also answers the need of the society. This is why Downey Jr. becomes the most popular actor in Hollywood today as his persona and stardom represents the society dream’s of the greatness. It also proves once again how in capitalistic Hollywood, the post trauma or flaw can somehow be a successful spectacle.
Gledhill, Christine. 1991. Stardom: Industry of Desire. London: Routledge
Lennard, Dominic. 2012. Wonder Boys: Matt Damon, Johnny Depp, Robert Downey Jr. In Promernace, Murray, Shining in Shadows. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.
Promerance, Murray. 2012. Shining in Shadows. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.
Villarejo, Amy. 2007. Film Studies: the Basic. London: Routledge

X-Men: Days of Future Past: A Strong Critique to the White Dominancy and the Persecution of Minority

Melting pot as American national identity has forced the minority groups to assimilate with the dominant culture, Anglo-American or white. This process was gradually seen as pressurizing immigrants to assimilate into an Americanized dominant culture, with a resulting loss of their ethnic identity (Mauk and Oakland, 2009:10). Even though it is perceived as national identity, melting pot has been a debate since a long time ago, especially on how the identity of minority groups is somehow devaluated. This paper will focus on how the minority group or ‘the others’ are subordinated as the result of white dominancy as shown in X-Men: Days of Future Past movie. Furthermore, the subordination of minority groups can also lead to stereotype and racial-profiling. The main data will be taken from the movie and several examples from real life events will be added to enrich the critical analysis.
The characters in X-Men franchise possess extraordinary power which instead of gaining respect from others, they are feared and hated. These mutants experience such thing due to their difference from the dominant culture. Their extra powers are seen as something uncommon and thus should have been vanished. This idea of uncommonness of the “others” is the result of white dominancy in US society. White here is not merely a case of country of origin or skin color. Even though the term white is still debatable among African American scholars, the white people themselves already have the exact definition. White” is an ideology of domination that confers privilege, and that it commits psychological and physical violence against people of color. Those deemed “white” might receive a “public and psychological wage” of status and privilege (Du Bois 1965, 700).
White dominancy makes them see the other groups possessing special characteristics than white as the “other”. Whereas the whiteness is not treated as a race and thus is invisible, blackness and brownness are “marked” racial categories--- departure from rational norm (Thompson, 2001 taken from http://mccaugheycentre.unimelb.edu.au/). While in this case, special characters of certain groups are always apparent. Thus, the term ‘the other’ emerged as the result of their differences to white. Being as ‘the other’ also means that these minority groups are excluded from the privilege that only belongs to the white.  The privilege that possessed by white includes access to higher education and a good position of government or law enforcement.
In the movie, the mutants had to face a robot called Sentinel which hunted and killed those identified as mutant. Even though these mutants actually dress and look like the common people in daily life, their identity as the others cannot be hidden. These people possessing special characteristics are always more apparent for whites, especially because they perceive themselves as ‘neutral race’. Whiteness-privileging mechanisms work in several, sometimes paradoxical ways (Thompson, 2001 taken from http://mccaugheycentre.unimelb.edu.au/ ). It means that even though white claims themselves as neutral or raceless, they see themselves as the most preferable race. This is where the ‘other’ groups then receive negative stereotype as they are seen as not preferable.
It is even worse when white perceives the other identity as not preferable because apart from discrimination, it will also lead to the banishment of that identity. The Sentinel program in the movie is described to banish the mutants until there is no one left. History also recorded this kind of action faced by the Indian people. We may already lose count on how many tribal identities have been removed in the history ever since the coming of the Pilgrims. The Indians have to lose their tribal identity due to the stereotype of this race as conservative and not preferable. They only one the Indian can do to survive is by assimilating with white culture with still, it make them lose their identity.
The movie also shows the struggle of inter-generation. Set in the two periods of time, X-Men: Days of Future Past depicted the struggle of mutants in two different eras. However, there is a similarity that the audience can see in their struggle, despite taking place in two different eras: they have always been suffered, then and now. The future time was indeed even horrifying, showing how mutants have to face the age of extinction. In real life America, even though the government has passes the Civil Rights Act in 1968 has seemed to guarantee their rights, the daily life facts show the opposite.
As explained above, the identity of these races are always apparent ever since there have been marked as racial categories or not neutral. The case of Ferguson seems to awaken people on how racism still exists nowadays. The shooting of un-armed black teenager by white police shows how hatred towards this group still haunts them. The hatred towards minority groups can also lead to stereotype and racial profiling. Stereotype and racial profiling works on defining certain groups with wrong identifiers. Just like black is also stereotyped as criminals or native as conservative.
Picture 1
In the movie, mutants here are stereotyped as a dangerous group and thus needs to be vanished for the sake of human safety. There is racial profiling as well on how mutants were unfairly victimized and associated with crimes. As shown in Picture 1, The Magneto character was accused of killing the president well in fact he was not. He ended up being sentenced for ten years. As he is a part of the group that people have stereotyped it as a dangerous one, his profile was then associated with crimes. It was like no one else would fit the profile of a criminal. This is how racial profiling works as the negative sentiment towards certain races or groups.
The term racial profiling itself became popular after the 9/11 attack on how Muslim was called terrorist and were responsible for the damage. The term can be defined as the practice of police and other law enforcement officers relying, to any degree, on race, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin as the basis for subjecting persons to investigatory activities or for determining whether an individual is engaged in criminal activity (ACLU, 2009: 12). Racial profiling is very dangerous because it works to identify a group for doing a crime without considering legal execution.
X-Men: Days of Future Past movie depicts such persecution faced by minority groups in a predominantly white area. White dominancy that holds some privileges result to the subordination, stereotype, and racial profiling towards minority group that is represented by mutants in the movie. As white perceives themselves as ‘neutral’, ‘raceless’, but preferable, the other minority groups are seen as racial categories and often experience negative stereotype and subordination. The subordination that has been lasting for a long time can lead to stereotype and racial profiling. Someone or some groups belong to certain minority groups are often classified as criminal and always suspected to be one.
American Civil Liberty Union. (2009). The Persistence of Racial and Ethnic Profiling in the United States. New York: Author
Mauk, David & Oackland, John. (2009). American Civilization: An Introduction. New York: Routledge
Perry, Pamela. (2007). White. In Burgett, Bruce and Hendler, Glenn, Keywords for American Cultural Studies. New York: New York University Press.
http://marvel.wikia.com/X_Men browsed on Sunday, December 21, 2014 14:05