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October 1998, Week 2


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Jason Lapeyre <[log in to unmask]>
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Jason Lapeyre <[log in to unmask]>
Wed, 7 Oct 1998 14:19:17 -0400
TEXT/PLAIN (56 lines)
Coincidentally, I've just submitted an essay proposal dealing
with the very topic of what is "realism".  Here are three definitions.
Realism: a representation which presents an appearance of transparency by
effacing the processes of meaning production in their own textual
                                                - Annette Kuhn
Realism: [it] should have a surface accuracy; it should conform to notions
of what we expect to happen; it should explain itself adequately to us,
the audience; it should conform to particular notions of psychology and
character motivation.
                                                - John Ellis
Realism:  what we evoke in the name of "realism" is a system of convention
whose construction we co-operate in.
                                                - Richard Maltby
The ideas in these definitions - "the processes of meaning production",
"conform to notions of what we expect to happen" and "whose construction
we co-operate in" - all these indicate that Realism can be seen as what an
audience perceives to be the real world at the time that a text is
For example, a film is defined by popular critics as "realistic" if it
shows an audience what they believe to be true about themselves at the
time that they see it.  The recent trend in Hollywood cinema of showing
the President of the U.S. as incompetent and ineffective in films like
"Absolute Power", "Primary Colours" and "Armageddon" - this representation
is acceptable to American audiences of the late '90s but probably wouldn't
have washed in the late '50s.  Why?  I think a simplistic answer would
look at the disillusionment of American culture with big government and
the perception of politicians as cut off from the public.  In that sense,
it is "realistic", but bear in mind it's a constantly shifting definition.
The Asphalt Jungle (1950) is a heist film and was considered realistic at
the time of its release.
The Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three (1974) is a heist film and was
considered realistic at the time of its release.
However, the two films are very different.  Then what has changed?  The
codes of realism.  Why have they changed?  Because American culture has
Jason Lapeyre
York University, unofficial motto:  "Grades 14-17"
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