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April 1994


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Heather Hendershot <[log in to unmask]>
Mon, 18 Apr 1994 14:47:27 -0500
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
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I'd like to respond to Chad's posting on Man Bites Dog.  I don't know how to
recreate the text here, and I'm working from notes I took on Chad's posting, so
please excuse me if I make some mistakes in the particulars of Chad's message.
I have read a lot of writing on the "dangers" of media texts ranging from
radio to comics to TV to film, and therefore some of Chad's rhetoric had
a familiar ring to it.  The idea that some people fully understand the
difference between representation and reality, while certain segments of the
"immature mass audience" do not is an old one and one that is highly problem-
atic.  First, it assumes that the mature intelligensia do not experience such
confusion, a specious assumption.  Secondly, it assumes that the masses are
not media literate and therefore not sophisticated viewers.  Chad is concerned
that some viewers will read certain images as real and acceptable behavior.
That troubles me too, but less when it comes to representations of "extremes"
than when it comes to more mundane behavior.  I worry more about the "effects"
of representations of everyday sexism, racism, classism, and homophobia than
I do about a representation of someone being shot.  It is the representation of
the shooting that people debate, much more often than they debate the fact that
a character in a film is blatantly homophobic.  I worry about the silences
surrounding certain representations, in other words. But to say that I "worry"
does not mean that I assume "immature" viewers will be duped while "mature"
viewers will not be.  We are all capable of reading images in both progressive
and non-progressive ways.  (And just to cover myself here, I do realize that
"progressive" and "non-progressive" are rather idiosyncratic words that we
would all define differently, and, to back up, that violence _is_ mundane in
the sense it is lived in a daily, relentless way by many people.)
I am also suspicous of the contention that films that represent "extremes" of
behavior are more likely to be propaganda than art.  Much propaganda is art
and vice-versa.  I guess I don't find propaganda and art to be very useful
(or convincing) as binaries.
Chad's initial point that discussion of Man Bites Dog's censorship has
dominated much of our discussion so far is a good one.  I'd be interested
in hearing more about why people liked or didn't like the film.  I was
interested by the way the film showed the student filmmakers become part of
the life that they were trying to "objectively" record.  I am always interested
in films that try to question the filmmaker-film/objectified other relationship.
I liked the way the film approached this issue using dark humour; this seemed
like a novel approach to me compared to say, Tony Buba's Lightening Over
Braddock (humorous and serious, but not darkly or satirically humorous in the
way that Man Bites Dog is), another fascinating film that examines the relation-
ship between filmmaker and film.  A video I saw recently, Kathy High's Unexplor-
ed: the Temple of the Fetus (about reproductive technologies) is another text
that explores very serious issues using dark humour.  I guess drawing in all
of these other films is problematic, because I'm still not discussing the film
itself, but for me thinking about all these other films has been a crucial part
of my understanding of Man Bites Dog.
Heather Hendershot