Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Reactions to the Vietnam War

Born on the Fourth of July 

Released in 1989, Born on the Fourth of July follows a teenager (Tom Cruise) who fights as a marine in the Vietnam War after always dreaming about serving his country and partaking in the Vietnam conflict.
After being injured, he is left in a wheelchair and struggles to adapt to normal life. He becomes an anti-war political activist and tries to speak out for his human rights which he feels he was deprived of.

This film is important in representing the Vietnam War as it not only shows how fighting in the Vietnam War was presented to the public with it being shown as heroic and something you should do if you love America, but it also shows the reality of being involved in the conflict and how soldiers suffered with the consequences of the war after they fought, having to adjust to illnesses and impediments.

Like many other films of this time, it shows the Vietnam War in a negative light, stating that soldiers were mistreated and not properly looked out for. This can be seen in the sheer number of Missing in Action soldiers that were abandoned and left either dead or as live prisoners after this conflict.

There is still much controversy around the treatment of soldiers during the Vietnam War but this film definitely presents the negative view that Vietnam ruined many Americans lives and was a complete disaster.

Below is the trailer for Born on the Fourth of July


Less Than Zero

Tropics of media published an article called 'Generational Narcissism?: Less than Zero, Gen X, and Why Millenials Really Aren’t All That Bad.'

Less than Zero highlights the lives of rich youths in Los Angeles and displays how their wealthy lifestyles create a dependency to a harmful behaviours that includes drugs and sex.
Ryan Reft in the article explains that this lifestyle leaves the characters feeling empty and unfulfilled. He says that "To say that pretty much every character seems vacant in the novel would be selling vacancy short." This shows the idea of a blank generation, a term showing hopelessness for youth culture. 

Reft also talks about how the youth culture in Los Angeles has shifted from a place of hippies to the new destructive culture that is presented in the novel. He writes that "Clay’s L.A. indeed has moved. The game is no longer “peace, love, dope” but rather “dope, sex, and death.” This shows the drastic change in the culture and presents America as a constantly changing scene.

Later on in the Article, Ryan Reft discusses Bret Easton Ellis and his take on the current culture when he wrote Less Than Zero. He describes him as being very admiring of the time period that he writes about and even though he shows the culture as being so destructive and toxic, he still views it positively. He writes "With or without social media, Ellis and others saw youth culture in this hyper-self absorbed nihilistic light. While Ellis certainly means to be brightlining Clay et al’s negatives, he also enables their worst habits and glorifies them." The fact that Ellis brings so much attention to the bad attributes of Clay and his friends, almost makes them aspirational. 

From reading this article it is clear to see that the youth culture represented in Less Than Zero is very problematic and damaging however this is done in such a way that it is glorified and the time period written about by Ellis is almost strangely admired. 

Monday, 4 April 2016

Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis

Less Than Zero is a novel in the ‘bildungsroman’ genre, a novel about the so-called ‘blank generation’. The term blank generation was coined by Richard Hell who released an album in 1977 called blank generation. Richard Hell described its meaning thusly, ‘it’s the idea that you have the option of making yourself anything you want, filling in the blank... It’s saying, ‘I entirely reject your standards for judging my behaviour’’. In literary terms, blank fiction refers to a ‘bratpack’ style group of writers whose subject matter - drugs, violence, commodities and youth culture - is presented using detached or disengaged rhetoric. Of these writers, Bret Easton Ellis is one of the most well-known and his debut novel, Less Than Zero, is considered a cornerstone in this genre of literature.

The novel is told using the narrative voice of Clay, a young man in his late teenage years or early twenties, who returns home from college and finds himself quickly re-immersed in the angry, disaffected, disengaged lifestyle of his high school friends whose prolific drug use and the associated lifestyle begins to pull Clay into a downward spiralling vortex of confused desperation.

In 2008, Ashley Minix Donnelly wrote her graduate thesis, Blank Power: The Social and Political Criticism of Blank Fiction and Cinema, focussing on ‘blank generation’ literature. Within that thesis which is published online, Minix Donnelly explores Bret Easton Ellis’ novel Less Than Zero.

This blog post will examine Minix Donnelly’s assessment of Less Than Zero, focusing in particular on her understanding of the novel’s representation of commodification, drug use and youth culture in relation to ‘the blank generation’, i.e., the wealthy generation of 1980's youths (those in their late teens and early twenties,) growing up in LA.

Minix Donnelly makes the point that often ‘blank literature’ is ‘intended to motivate a complacent audience and ignite passion in American readers against the injustice faced by their fellow citizens’.  This idea can certainly be applied to Less Than Zero. If a society has a dominant set of ideas and values that are seen to be shared by the majority of members within that society (organic culture), then examination of Less Than Zero provides an excellent opportunity to counter such a perspective. Less Than Zero offers what one might describe as an anti-culture perspective, that of a group within society whose ideas and values are in direct conflict with the dominant values of the culture within which they exist.

In addition, Minix Donnelly suggests that the debauchery that is often found in ‘blank fiction acts as a cautionary tale that serves to promote the current values of society by showing the malfunction of society if people deviate from those values. She agrees with James Annersley’s view in Blank Fictions: Consumerism, Culture, and the Contemporary American Novel, referring to his suggestion that ‘the violent, destructive and decadent’ nature of this genre is intended to represent ‘the apocalypse culture’ of the late 20th century’.  Minix Donnelly suggests that the ‘overwhelming sense of hopelessness’ that is prevalent in the genre is to be explained in this way, and it is certainly my belief that her theory can be applied to Less Than Zero, when one considers the political and ideological backdrop against which the novel is set.

In the U.S. during the 1980s the dominant culture was bred by the embracing of right-wing politics (those of the Reagan administration), which included the celebrated era of consumerism, of which the Yuppie is perhaps the most easily recognised symbol.  This new and exciting era was especially well received given that the US was only just beginning to rise from the ashes of ‘Cold War Culture’, a period prior to the era of commodification when a sense of responsibility and seriousness was the dominant ideology.  However, the era of consumerism was not regarded as the answer to a progressive society by all Americans.  Whilst ‘Cold War Culture’ had been countered by the rise of the 1960's and 1970’s angry youth in what has come to be known as the punk era, the 1980s dominant culture was countered by the ‘blank generation’, the 1980s angry youth who set out to buck against what they perceived as ‘mainstream’ ideologies that they felt did not represent who they truly were.  (It is fairly ironic that it would in fact be this generation who would, in just a decade or so, feed into the idea of commodification more than any generation before them, through their total immersion in – and subservience to – the information age.)

This doesn’t mean that Less Than Zero is not a valuable work of literature or that it does not give an accurate reflection of life for some of America’s youth at that time.  I would indeed argue to the contrary:  Danny Bonaduce, a college student at the time of Less Than Zero’s publication, was very clear in his autobiography that he and some of his fellow students felt that they were the characters about whom Ellis was writing. Less Than Zero offers one perspective, which is particularly easy to recognise due to the first-person narrative that acts as a sort of ‘stream of consciousness’ of the protagonist, Clay, one of LA’s angry youth.  What we must recognise however, is that it is only representing this section of society, and however small or large that group is, the book cannot be considered to represent the very many of sections of society whose views, or ideologies differ from – and in many cases directly oppose – those represented in Ellis’ novel.  This does not mean that the novel is unworthy of critical reflection, which  is a view that Minix argues is often taken by critics who struggle to separate the content of blank fiction literature from its context and thus consider work in this genre as ‘superficial works of popular culture’. Indeed Less Than Zero continues to be regarded as an edgy, stark piece of literature and one worthy of respect in its field.

However, in some ways Less Than Zero is in fact offering the same kind of mainstream approach as, for example, the movies of John Hughes.  Hughes’ films are very often seen as ‘the voice of a generation’, and it is certainly true that for some of that generation that is exactly what they were.  However, it is utterly false to suggest that any of Hughes films completely represent every member of that generation, or that they represent any one person’s entire ideology, viewpoint, or values.  Rather, his movies reflect one or some aspects of life in some parts of America for some people who predominantly belong to a particular generation. In the same way, Less Than Zero can be seen in this light regardless of its dark and at times uncomfortable content, and therefore, whilst I appreciate the novel for its representation of one aspect of 1980s culture, and whilst I hold it in high regard for its literary value, I do not see Less Than Zero as the voice of a generation, instead I consider it to be an enjoyably dark, yet still rather mainstream, ‘coming of age’ novel.

Bonaduce, D., Random Acts of Badness: My Story (U.S., 2001), p.62

Annersley, J., Blank Fictions: Consumerism, Culture, and the Contemporary American Novel (London, 1998) p.108

Friday, 1 April 2016

Week 8: Less than Zero

This article deals with several issues related to ‘Less than Zero’ by Bret Easton Ellis, including issues of commodities, youth culture and Los Angeles.

This article discusses how this novel is “largely autobiographical account of what it's like to grow up, rich and jaded, in Beverly Hills today.” The article states how the characters lack any sort of ambitions or aspirations, yet instead they focus their energies on spending their trust funds on “designer clothing, porno films and, of course, liquor and drugs.” This therefore gives an insight into the youth culture of LA in the 1980’s and the desire for commodities over real life experiences.

This article goes on to talk about how the characters in this novel, “are willfully intent on numbing themselves to life - Valium, Thorazine, downers and heroin are their favorite drugs; soap operas, MTV, and video games, their idea of recreation.” These characters are enthralled with consumer culture, using commodities to numb themselves to life, in the same way they use drugs to numb themselves. This creates the question of what are these characters numbing themselves to? Perhaps because of the consumer culture they live in, yet it becomes an endless cycle of buying things to numb themselves to the very culture that encourages them to want these commodities.

This article also talks about the disturbed nature of the novel, as characters as young as thirteen are participating in this youth culture of drugs and commercialisation that Ellis describes. However, with regards to Clay, the article states that, “presumably we are meant to think that he's more sensitive and well-meaning than his friends because he abstains from raping a young girl, turns down an offer of heroin, and has crying jags in his psychiatrist's office. But such gestures are hardly sufficient to establish him as a sympathetic hero, and in the end, his alienation remains undifferentiated from that of his fellow nihilists.” Therefore, even if Clay is portrayed as more sensitive than his peers, he still exists within this youth culture that thrives on numbness, a lack of caring and consumerism.

Week 7: Music Videos

Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’

Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ was released on December 2nd 1983, and was MTV’s first world premiered video. It was also voted as the most influential pop video of all time, and it has had a large influence on the music industry. This music video is seen as an iconic music video of the 80’s and is widely known around the world, with a number of people recreating the dance from the music video themselves. This music video helped break down racial barriers in the music industry at the time, as prior to it being aired MTV was criticised as favouring white artists. However after the popularity of Michael Jackson’s music MTV began to be more racially diverse with its music. Therefore Michael paved the way for other black artists to enter the music industry. This video is also seen as an almost a short film, as it is a 13 minute music video showing a narrative with a conclusion. Which changed the way artists viewed their music videos.

 Lady Gaga’s ‘Marry the Night’  

Lady Gaga’s music is an example of a contemporary music video that I think will represent the contemporary 30 years from now. Lady Gaga’s career began with catchy pop videos, however she has developed into making long music videos with film like narratives, similar to Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’. An example of this is her song ‘Marry the Night’, which is almost 14 minutes long. This video contains complex scenes to build the narrative of the music video, which is still not very common amongst artists even today. This is why I believe her music will represent this time in 30 years, as Lady Gaga is constantly pushing the boundaries of the music industry with her creativity and ingenuity. 

Week 2: Reagan hatred

Reagan hatred shown in a contemporary article, published 28th December 2015:   

This article is entitled, “Behind the Ronald Reagan myth: “No one had ever entered the White House so grossly ill informed”. Which suggests that the article will disprove this statement, and prove that Ronald Reagan wasn't ill prepared and was a good president. However, this article details a large number of examples showing Reagan’s political ignorance, and his lack of interest in political matters.

 “Speaking of one far-ranging discussion on the MX missile, the Indiana congressman Lee Hamilton, an authority on national defence, reported, “Reagan’s only contribution throughout the entire hour and a half was to interrupt somewhere at midpoint to tell us he’d watched a movie the night before, and he gave us the plot from War Games.”

This example shows how Reagan seemed to lack an interest in important discussions, and how Reagan didn't take important topics seriously. It also suggests Reagan was just ‘grossly ill informed’ about such topics and therefore he didn't properly take part in such discussions.

Another such example is how Reagan would fall asleep during important discussions as if he didn't care about the fate of his country, an example being how Reagan fell asleep whilst the pope was speaking to him during a televised event in the Vatican. Examples such as these show Reagan had a lack of respect for others, as the article goes on to state “Cabinet officials had to accommodate themselves to Reagan’s slumbering during discussions of pressing issues” which shows this wasn't a one off occurrence.

Furthermore, this article states that in order to get Reagan to pay attention to important information, “his national security adviser had the CIA put together a film on world leaders the president was scheduled to encounter.”

This whole article is filled with examples like these, which show how Reagan was in fact “grossly ill informed” as President and how he didn't seem to care about becoming informed. This article is therefore an example of Reagan hatred, as it discusses a large number of Reagan’s flaws as President, and as a person.