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October 1997, Week 3


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charles tepperman <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Fri, 17 Oct 1997 04:22:05 -0400
TEXT/PLAIN (64 lines)
>         I find that many American movies of the last twenty years or so,
> which depict an encounter with supernatural phenomena (e.g., Close Encounters,
> E.T., Contact, maybe 2001) tend to suggest the possibility of the supernatural
> offering an experience of transcendent redemption:  In each of these movies
> something fantastic arrives from far away, from the future, or from another
> dimension, equipped with superior intelligence, technology,  and --more
> important--sensitivity, and releases the characters in the film, and thereby
> the audience in the theater as well, from the intolerable or meaningless
> or repressive existence they have known. By contrast, encounters
> with the supernatural in American films of the 1930s and 40s like It's
> a Wonderful Life and The Wizard of Oz seem to convey the message that in
> fact American life as we know it is just fine, and that when it comes
> down to it there really is no place like home.
>         Can you suggest any additional films that would serve as good
> examples of this contrast, or, if necessary, films that tend to undermine it
> and show that a desire for transcendence was as common fifty years ago as it
> seems to be today?   In addition, do you know of any secondary texts
> that explore this topic, or related topics?
        I think it might be interesting to persue the relationship between this
phenomenon and the post-colonial narrative.   Perhaps the confirmation of
american values was necessary during an era of overt colonialism (ie. cold war
expansion) but now that colonialism is much more subtle (TV not guns) and the
activity itself is deemed BAD, the figure of the enlightened colonist must/can
disguised as aliens.  a sort of repressed representation of contemporary
colonialism.  The new Rodenberry show "Earth:  final conflict" seems to
some of the friction in this representation.  I've only seen it once but the
ambiguous position of the aliens is quite striking.  Its difficult to tell right
 away if
they are actually bad.
        It is also interesting to note that the transcendental wisdom of the aliens
is usually a mixed bag of judeo-christian and eastern philosophy.  Is this a way
western culture to appropriate foreign values into popular discourse without
acknowledging their origins?  Shohat and Stam discuss the west's long tradition
doing this in "Unthinking Eurocentrism:  Multiculturalism in the media".
        At the very least the colonist/colonized relationship in the films you
mention deserves to be looked at.  Certainly the description you give of
intelligence, technology and sensitivity and the posibility of redemption"
resembles the view colonial powers would like to have of themselves.  It is the
attitude of the European colonist who brought "Civilization" and "Science" and
of all "Christianity" to the "Savages" of the new world.  So what is the meaning
the positioning of humanity as the potentially colonized?
Good luck on your paper.
Charles Tepperman
Screen-L is sponsored by the Telecommunication & Film Dept., the
University of Alabama.