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April 1994


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Sterling <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Wed, 20 Apr 1994 15:50:00 EDT
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Apparently Henry Jenkins post seemed to if not discourage listers from
continue the discussion at least attracted some scorn. I really don't
see why the discussion has come to an end, but I'm beginning to realize
that there must be some informal netiquette or styles/devices which
are probably more specifically appropriate to a newsgroup.
  It seems that one should present only half-baked ideas
on the newsgroup --or at least pace out your argument in installments
and leaving some sort of at least implied question.
At any rate, it seems to me that a general difference between utopia
stories in the two different tradition Jenkins mentions is that the
science fiction/societal sort constructs the utopia/dystopia around
characters (and/or audience) while the utopia tradition in classical
Hollywood films contruct it "within" characters/audience.
That is, the sci-fi constructs more overtly an entire new diegetic
world which implicitly differs from the audience's world while the
classical Hollywood film also constructs a fictional diegetic world
but it tends to be more similar to the "normal" world perhaps. How-
ever it is the characters which strive for utopia (and achieve it if
there's a happy ending).
If such is the case, the "personal" tradition might tend to have
characters in a faulted world striving for a utopic world, while with
"societal" tradition, it might be more like the individuals (and any
identifying audience members) trying to adjust/strive for this brave
new world.
I guess this tends to overgeneralize, but I'll leave it at that. Ra-
ther than see it through utopia/dystopia I guess one could see it from
the social-individual angle.
Sterling Chen
Henry Jenkins a couple weeks ago wrote:
> There seem to be multiple concepts of utopia clogging our discussion at the
> moment. I had intended my original post as offering a more historically
> grounded version of what the concept has meant in terms of science fiction
> since Roberta's original post contained only science fiction examples.
> Utopianism has been a central concept in science fiction, with the early pulp
> magazines of Hugo Gernsbeck helping to set the tone for much of the subsequent
> development of the genre by popularizing the technological utopian rhetoric o
> late 19th and early 20th century middle class reformers who felt that modelin
> society more after a machine would lead to a more perfect order. Howard Segel
> has written a book on the technological utopian tradition which is well worth
> reading. There had been, of course, earlier versions of fictional utopias in
> philosophy, such as Thomas Moore's original UTOPIA, in writings about the New
> World as a utopian space, etc. Peter Fitting argues that the social utopian
> tradition emerges in the 1960s, typically around the work of feminist science
> fiction writers and focusing on changing the social order to allow for greater
> equality and diversity. I argue in my forthcoming book on STAR TREK that it
> draws on both of those traditions, while melding them with a healthy dose of
> space opera. In this context, then, I see utopianism as a specific ideologica
> discourse and a specific generic tradition.
> On the other hand, there is a very different tradition of talking about
> utopianism within film and media studies which I also find very helpful and
> which can probably cover most of the other examples, from THE WIZARD OF OZ to
> PHILADELPHIA STORY, which people have suggested. Richard Dyer has argued that
> popular entertainment provides us not with an image of what utopia looks like,
> the specific concern of the genre tradition described above, but "what utopia
> feels like." Dyer's model includes both narrative elements (such as shifts
> within the character relations), thematic concerns (such as community), but al
> formal aspects (such as music, which can give us a sense of intensity, or
> color, which creates a lushness, etc.) Frederic Jameson pushes this further to
> say that entertainment, in order to be effective, must offer a certain degree
> of utopianism (a sense of a better world that responds to the felt needs,
> frustrations, and unsatisfied desires we feel in our present world.) Further
> still,
> Dyer's work in queer theory points to a utopian mode of reception within the
> gay and lesbian community, a desire for texts which speak of pleasures which t
> mainstream media rarely acknowledges, a desire to imagine alternatives to the
> pain of living in a homophobic society. Dyer identifies a number of different
> forms of entertainment, popular with gay and lesbian audiences, such as
> Disco,Opera or Judy Garland's musicals, which provide this utopian pleasure.
> Finally, we might identify the notion of a utopian space as the "green
> orld"
> beyond the edges of civilization, a space characters can move into not so muc
> to construct a new social order but rather to escape society's constraints
> altogether. This image of a utopian escape into a "green world" is most visib
> within the romantic comedyy tradition where characters gain psychological
> fluidity by escaping from their normal social sphere, enabling romance to
> resolve the irreconcilable differences between the characters and facilitating
> their marriage. See the bus trip in IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT or the trip to
> Conn. in BRINGING UP BABY as archtypial examples. Could the lush, green
> landscape at the end of BLADERUNNER be understood in that tradition, as the
> space which allows the two protagonists to escape their fixed social roles in
> a more fluid world where the line between human and android, man and woman, m
> be less rigidly enforced and where they may then achieve a personal utopia
> through marriage?
> One reason why this discussion, while productive, gets confusing is that
> different posts seem to use utopia in different ways, depending on which
> tradition we are evoking, and so, there seem to be few films which fit
> comfortably within the utopian genre (as Roberta first suggested and seems
> true) but that some form of utopianism is recognizable in almost all Hollywoo
> genre
> films (which would seem to be axiomatic for Dyer or Jameson). The same is
> at the roots, I think, within debates between whether a utopian film must
> have larger social categories at its roots or may be focused around individual
> characters, whether utopian films must construct an alternative social order
> it is sufficient to show the characters escaping from a dystopian social
> order into the "green world" beyond.
> I hope this clarifies rather than shuts down what is proving to be one of t
> more substantive discussions on Screen-L in a long while.
> Henry Jenkins