World history presents peculiar challenges to scholars and students of sociology, in the production of categories of we in the West and they, which relates to the rest in the globe, in view of civilization and their representation in mass media. Representation of different categories of people in the media, on the other hand, encourages both positive and negative ways of seeing.
Since popular and academic paradigms and approaches in their study of the West and the rest assert that representation affects how other people see us as members of certain social groups, it is important to clarify the extent through which such investigation can be helpful to address undermining of central practices and power relations including how mass media, political, educational and business discourses reframe and challenges posed by exclusion and categorization.
Mass media is one of the most essential agents in the reproduction of the image of the West as dominant and the rest or others as different or deviant. Like its peers, cinema is highly utilized and engaged in reproducing images of segregation, differentiation and categorization of people based on race, ethnicities and social class. Through an understanding of natural history, this paper aims then take a closer look at the emergence of the tradition of categorizing people before investigating how such phenomenon has been reinforced through media representation, particularly in motion pictures.
This paper will also underscore some important questions raised about the creation of Western image of non-West societies and how these changed societies and human civilization. This paper will first look into the the West and the rest paradigm of Stuart Hall, which will be followed specifically by the exploration of how cultural categorizations are reinforced in the mass media through the selected films, the French film, Qu'est-ce qu'on a fait au Bon Dieu? (2014) and the American movie, Crash (2004).
Rationale for the Selection of Films
The selection of films for our study is not haphazard. Films with positive reviews and awards from different critics groups, including the Academy Awards are important consideration since such recognitions bestow a degree of popular prestige. Academy Award winning films, for instance, give a film the credential worthy of being seen by the mainstream public audiences. It is a huge advantage when a film was selected as the Academy Awards best motion picture because of renewed lease of circulation.
When this happens, films are guaranteed a re-run or re-distribution of the film, which allows the mass audience to watch its surface and sublimated narratives (White 2002). The case in point can be applied to Crash, the 2004 film directed by Paul Haggis which bagged the Best Picture trophy from the Oscars. Due to this prestige, Crash have benefited from their wide distribution and circulation, leading to their undeniable influential ideological roles in showing a particular image of the world to their audiences.
Our second selected film, meanwhile, the European import from France, Philippe de Chauverons Qu'est-ce qu'on a fait au Bon Dieu? (Serial (Bad) Weddings) (2015) is a blockbuster movie with global distribution rights except in the US and the UK. In addition, the film has received awards from various Eurocentric film awards, such as the European Film Awards, Goya Awards and the Lumiere Awards in France (IMDB 2015).
The film has also received considerable press exposure because of its controversial topic. In his report about the film, Lapin (2015) noted how the film would stand less of a chance of getting distributed in the English-speaking market. Its racy subject matter about nationalism and xenophobia is ill-timed as France still reels from the aftermath of the ethnically-motivated terrorist acts in Paris (Lapin 2015).
Finally, as both films share similar themes that would otherwise be absent from other films, Crash and Serial (Bad) Weddings courageously address a sensitive theme about race and ethnic differences. Their respective productions are geared to shed light (if not just expose) the ongoing, daily reality of racism, as part of the ongoing discourses on the question about what constitutes the causes of otherness. However, this paper will limit its investigation toward the more divisive issue raised by Stuart Hall, the conceptualization of the West and the rest or the other.
Stuart Halls The West and the Rest Model: Framed
Stuart Hall, who was then the department head of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies in the University of Birmingham in England in the 1960s, has extended the discourse about representations with his seminal works best-known as the West and the rest construct. Social scientific and sociological research argued that the paradigms of the West and the rest is a manifestation of Western dominance and colonial intentions and politics. In discourses about this polemic, the rest is said to be the negation of all the prized elements of superiority of the West. In other words, while the West represents rationality, science, development, progress, and the likes, the rest is the opposite. Other social scientists contend that since the rest was a product of the West, it existed only according to the wishes of the West.
Historically, after setting the distinction between the East and the West, it then became that Western ideals are viewed as more progressive, more modern, more sophisticated, and more. In this sense, the West is characterized as a superior peg toward which the Oriental or Rest must strive. According to Morley & Kuan-Hsing (1996), this discourse places pressure upon the West to act in assisting the Rest to move up the ladder of social, economic, and political structure. They added that the West/Rest discourse and implicit Western superiority are being positioned in discussions whenever terms like third world countries, globalization, and modernization prop up (Morley & Kuan-Hsing 1996).
Representation of Western People and the Others in Crash (2004)
Crash deals with the interrelated narratives of diverse and multicultural characters that include whites, blacks, Latinos, Koreans, Persians, the powerful and powerless, all unfolding through a series of interlocking vignettes centered around race and racial conflicts in Los Angeles. The films director and co-writer, Paul Haggis had served up a more literal treatment of racial tension as much as he could muster, through violent interpersonal clashes (Ebert 2004).
A surface reading of the exchanges among characters, for instance, which involve a plethora of racist sentiments and stereotypes, sometimes to the extent that they reach traumatic scenes of violence and unease, it is tempting to focus our study on the use of mass media in reinforcing racial and ethnic biases. However, on a much deeper level, Crash closely mirrors the idea of the West and the rest ideology of Stuart Hall. There is, for instance a rich white woman and who is the wife of a Los Angeles district attorney Jean Cabot (Sandra Bullock) accusing a Mexican American locksmith (Michael Pena) of being a gang banger, which is contrary to the reality that he is a mere a family man; a Persian shop owner (Shaun Toub) who was thought to be an Arab and called Osama (implying head of terrorist group leader Osama Bin Laden); an African-American homicide detective (Don Cheadle) who is having an affair with his Latina partner (Jennifer Esposito) but could not get it straight which country shes from even though knowing her parents are from Ecuador and Puerto Rico.
Ambitious in terms of scope and sweep, the director wanted to show through cross-cutting stories a microcosm of human society in modern day Los Angeles and how people can sometimes leap to conclusions based on race and the price we pay for that. In the film, these people speak exactly what it is they are thinking. There is for instance the story of two young black men (Larenz Tate and Ludacris), who dress and act like college students, but are actually robbers with propensity for violence. The black male character named Anthony, who was played by Ludacris, have a conversation on account of Jean Cabot as a typical white female racist. The two will steal car. The cultural racism is reinforced first as Jean demonstrate this by way of clutching her husband for security upon seeing the two young black men in the street, to which Haggis make Jean right in the first place after the black men actualize her fears. The latter described scene reproduce whites who are capable of racism toward others but did not depict their acts reprehensible.
Categorization of all the other races presented in the film and the social group where they belong to, such as those with mixed or immigrant status living in Los Angeles (which could be any country in the West) as with the Persian family and domestic helpers (whom we assume are not whites) who both struggle as immigrants making a living in the American soil are easily viewed as the others, hence, a reinforcement of the sense of we and they.
In a film whose filmmaker is a white male American, Haggis construction of a modern day Los Angeles remains to be Western. His ideals, experiences and vision of a western imagined world reflected the directors particular experiences growing up in a Western society. As in Grace Jantzen (1995) argued, it is but only a fiction to have an idea of a neutral, objective and universal position (Kamali n.d.). What they reinforces then is that the non-whites social and economic status cannot be above their white counterparts like that of the Cabot family.
Jean Cabot, the white wife of the district lawyer has been shown afraid of a street encounter that she has the locks changed. She then assumes that the Mexican locksmith will return with his peers to attack their home. She, however, released her racist tendencies when her suspicions about the black men were affirmed when she finally saw the car stole, an obvious conveyance of approval of the formers racist actions. Of course, the audience will first regard Jeans reaction and action very prejudiced, but upon learning what would happen next in the film, which is showing Jean the victim of carnapping, such initial opinion will be swayed another way. In sum, when it comes to handling race, the Haggis has made the white characters appear to be less complex but also more pardonble for their misgivings as compared to the other races in the film. There was also a subtle implication that suggest segregation has to be right somewhere, which affirms the conceptions of others to be all but one (the rest) that is the opposite of their white counterparts (the West).
The film Crash is totally steeped in the West and the rest. Immigrants and non-whites are not only marginalized and segregated, but they are depicted as the bad guys whose color, countenance are typically associated with non-Westerner characters. The film suggests that except for the whites who are bad initially but are actually all good people in the end all the races and ethnicities are categorized as the others. In addition, while these mixed and diverse characters are located in a multicultural Los Angeles, they are trapped in a Western world, which requires that they all learn the latters culture, language, diction, and accents.
Moreover, the immigrants institutionalization as the others have been dealt with in the film to show that the immigrant characters have accepted their being racially and culturally different, which in the process would later make it a part of their identities. But the latter case is not only applicable to immigrants. The film has further shown...
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