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July 1994


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"Edward R. O'Neill" <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Thu, 28 Jul 1994 21:28:00 PDT
text/plain (42 lines)
I've found the discussion of subliminal messages/references very
interesting.  It seems that people have listed several types.  The
first posting (I believe) noted product placement, which has a
powerful commercial function, both in terms of income for the pro-
ducers and in terms of potential tie-ins.  Here the film becomes
linked to other commercial enterprises, and can itself serve as a
commercial (this is very well parodied in Wayne's World).
  Other types of references mentioned involve various types of cinema-
philia:  references to favorite films, to other films, to future or past
films of the director or producer.  Here there's an obvious reference--
or even meta-reference--to Hitchcock, whose self-inscriptions as in-
jokes are central for cinephiles.  Some of these references, writers
have pointed out, are not without commercial weight--advertising,
almost, upcoming films.
  Dare I mention the word post-modern?  It seems that the joke-y
self-referentiality is, first, not far from a commercial technique
for inscribing subliminal messages within the text, and, second, it
is a form of metacommentary, which, far from being merely an in-joke,
has become a very widely understood game.  Everyone knows Hitch puts
in his appearance, and as the Hollywood industry continues to publi-
cize its every aspect, we are treated nightly to Entertainment news
and more and more of the public become meta-aware insiders:  doesn't
every viewer of True Lies know how much it cost?
  Thus these messages seem to point to a postmodern shift in both
economic or commercial aspects of cinema, and also in the mode of
viewing cinema, which becomes highly self-conscious.  Is this radically
different from previous modes of cinema viewing?  After all, looking
at joke-y references would seem to pull the spectator outside the
empathic identification with the characters and the forward-moving
aspect of the narrative.  Have action-adventure films become so
relentlessly violent and spectacular to compensate for an ironic
attitude in the viewers, in which deaths don't  matter and characters
are nothing but  a collection of one-liners to be ironically
appreciated by a distanced audience?  Is the spectacular expenditure
of cash visible on the screen an antidote to the viewer's distance,
while this very distance itself is produced precisely by this very
commercial and economic dimension of contemporary cinema?
  This has been my attempt to reflect on the very interesting chain
of references that's been unfolding.  I would be glad if someone
would be interested in continuing this reflection.
--Edward R. O'Neill, UCLA