Cinematic Texts: Entertainment or Containment ?


I can never romanticize language again

never deny its power for disguise

for mystification

but the same could be said for music

or any form created

painted ceilings beaten gold

worm-worn Pietàs reorganizing victimization

frescoes translating violence

into patterns so powerful and pure

we continually fail to ask are they true for us.

Adrienne Rich,

    Literature, that is considered to be the art of written works, is still often approached as “the truest, most profound indicator of the nation’s culture and character . . .”1 (Sabina 2) as David Carter prefers to put it. Considering literary and cinematic texts to be emanating from a society’s high culture according to the categorization of Mathew Arnold’s Culture and Anarchy and T.S. Eliot’s Notes towards the Definition of Culture, renders literature the product of a culture’s elite. If culture is partly “sets of beliefs or values that give meaning to ways of life and produce (and are reproduced through) material and symbolic form”2 (2) according to Mike Crang’s Cultural Geography, then a culture’s literary and cinematic products create, either consciously or unconsciously, overtly or covertly, meanings and frameworks from which its recipients experience and interpret its subject matter.

   In this realm, a cinematic text- be it a film, an experimental film, a documentary, an animated cartoon or whatsoever – is an outright form of creation, meaning creation in the first lieu. “Not to participate in this discourse [creation] is to decline power, to court oppression” as Denis Cosgove and Mona Domosh would argue in “Author and Authority”3 (37). Consider a film and see how it is mostly held as a construct that informs and entertains more than as a form that re-forms and contains. It follows to include that the masses’ perception of photographic, audio-visual and filmic media make believe that these are transparent, mechanical, indexical recordings and reductions of reality rather than mediations of a selection.

   Michel Foucault blatantly announces in the The Archeology of Knowledge that “the manifest discourse is… no more than the repressive presence of what it does not say”4 (25). In a cinematic text, recurrence of items rather than others makes up their prominence and eminence, importance and salience. Put differently, the recurrence of a cinematic article usually shapes a mindset holding it as a given, a “fixity.” Cinematic discourses do not form mimesis, yet they can highly spur catharsis.   Meaning passes through the latter at the level of the unconscious. It is there but repressed, latent and dormant. A counter discourse can amazingly make them open up and speak louder. Thus “we must reconstitute another discourse, rediscover the silent murmuring, the inexhaustible speech that animates from within the voice that one hears”5 (Foucault 27).

   Accordingly, cinematic texts do narrate, translate, but also dictate. They tell and “reflect” lives but they enclose us in a system of thought made of virtual relationships between peoples, items, and places. All sciences agree that we do not live in a vacuum and that we live amidst relationships to others which define who we are. We live in “a set of relationships that define positions”6 as Foucault’s “Of Other Spaces” puts it. In this respect, cinema builds malleable relationships. It can make the familiar outstandingly outlandish and the outlandish astonishingly familiar. It can also render the trivial highly central and the central terrifically trivial. It follows to note that motion picture demarcates the confines of thought and contains it in the box of the given. It can even form new thinking patterns. A proverb in Arabic- attributed to the Muslim caliph Omar Ibn Alkhattab- goes, “Man is the enemy of what he does not know.”7 It has scientifically been proven that being ignorant of a matter creates suspicion and distance from it. Being familiar with another creates the reverse. In this respect, cinema can create easily familiarity or estrangement through the set of relationships it is able to establish.

    Cinematic texts are playing, in a more powerful mode, now the role that literary texts played in the past. In the English Renaissance literature, colonial Britain defined stereotypically its own relations to the rest of the world. In literature then, it attributed qualities it did not wish for itself to people within the borders of its empire or any would-be colonized beyond them. “The ‘Turk’ was cruel and tyrannical, deviant, and deceiving; the ‘Moor’ was sexually overdriven and emotionally uncontrollable, vengeful, and religiously superstitious. The Muslim was all that an Englishman and Christian was not: he was the Other with whom there could only be holy war”8 (Matar 13). The recurrence of those descriptions in its literary productions shaped an unnatural image about the rest of the world.

   This way “[t]he Orient [became] a pretext for self-dramatisation and differentness; it is the malleable theoretical space in which can be played out the egocentric fantasies of Romanticism”9 (Kabbani 11). This practice still shows up today in a way or another in a big number of American films for instance: the Muslim character is usually the terrorist and the American Christian white man is so the freedom fighter. Hence, cinema’s ability to form thinking patterns -although there are only empirical and hardly any scientific results in figures about the degree of influence it exerts- creates texts that attribute meanings to the relationships we build, even with ourselves. Like the case of the literary text, the cinematic text can entertain as well as contain thought especially that the visual reaches faster than the written. A longer article may provide me with more room for details next.

Works Cited

Arnold, Mathew. Culture and Anarchy: Rethinking the Western Tradition. Eds. Samual Lipman et al. US: Yale UP: 1994.

Cosgrove, Denis and Domosh, Mona. “Author and Authority: Writing the New Cultural Geography.” Place, Culture. Representation. Eds. James Dunan & David Ley. London: Routledge, 1993.

Crang, Mike. Cultural Geography. New York: Routledge, 1999.

Foucault, Michel. The Archeology of Knowledge. London: Routledge, 1994.

— “Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias”. Rethinking Architecture: A Reader in Cultural Theory Ed. Neil Leach. NYC: Routledge. 1997. <http://www.vizkult.org/propositions/alineinnature/pdfs/Foucault-OfOtherSpaces1967.pdf>.

Hussain, Sabina. “Label and Literature: Borders and Spaces in PostColonial Migrant Literature in Australia.” Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature. 3. 2004. P 104. 29 Sep 2010 < http://www.nla.gov.au/openpublish/index. php/jasal/article/viewArticle/38>

Kabbani,  Rana. Europe’s Myths of the Orient. London : Pandra Press, 2003.

Matar, Nabil. Turks , Moors, and Englishmen in the Age of Discovery. New York: Columbia UP, 1999.

McCombs, Maxwell & Reynolds, Amy. “News Influence on our Pictures of the world.”

Media Effects. Eds. Jennings Bryant and Dolf Zillmann. USA: LEA, 2002.

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