My Initial Stages of Academic Research for Essay 3
Tratner, Michael. “Working the Crowd: Movies and Mass Politics.”
Criticism, Volume 45. Number 1 (2003): 53-73. Web.13 Nov. 2013.
The advent of film and its ability to influence popular culture on a massive scale has made film one of the most feared and highly regulated art forms in our society. Film’s ability to transcend most cultural and socioeconomic barriers through its appeal to a wide range of audiences is only part of the reason it is feared. The mass appeal of films in combination with its ability to manufacture a mob mentality amongst moviegoers and the powerful emotions that may result from such group gatherings makes it appear to be a perfect breeding ground for collective mass resistance. The evolution of the Hays Code or the Motion Picture Production Code of 1930, a series of rules censoring the content of films in Hollywood during the rise of fascism in the 1930’s through the cold war against communism in the 1950’s and 1960’s, is an example of how elites have tried to neutralize the political influence of film through strict regulation of what moviegoers see on screen. Several films made during the Hays Code including Casablanca (1942), Gone with the Wind (1939), The Sound of Music (1965) and Dr. Zhivago (1965) use a carefully crafted plot structure where romantic storylines are placed against the back drop of mass uprising as a means of distracting and distancing moviegoers from the dark and hostile emotions that lie underneath the political turmoil of the times in history where each film's plot takes place. This shifting of focus from collective historical struggles to a love story between individuals in film gives elites the double benefit of disarming potentially dangerous revolutionary sentiments amongst audiences while reinforcing the capitalist ideals of individualism essential to maintaining the status quo.
My essay will be an extension of my class presentation “Who’s Afraid of Big Bad Business?” where I looked at the anti-capitalist bias in film explored in Rick Groen’s article “Why Hollywood Hates Capitalism.” The film American Psycho (2000) will be my primary source, and I will use Groen’s article along with scholarly and other critical sources as evidence of how the portrayal of business as evil on screen conflicts with Hollywood’s enormous profit generating business model off screen. Michael Tratner’s article “Working the Crowd: Movies and Mass Politics,” the article I wrote the above abstract for will serve as at least one of my naysayers because it offers an alternative explanation for the film industry's anti-business profit generating paradigm constructed in Groen’s article.
While the film American Psycho (2000), a satire that seeks to embody all the social ills of capitalism in one psychopathic individual, supports Groen’s claim that Hollywood seeks to paint business as the villain in films, Tratner’s article offers a different perspective on why this phenomenon is so prevalent. Whereas Groen would cite profit as the only motivator for making capitalism the bad guy in film, Tratner makes a more sinister argument by accusing Hollywood of relying on “the emotions that fuel mass rejection of capitalism- anger at class or gender or racial inequities [for the purpose of] turning those emotions into mass support for American individualism” (Tratner 71). In other words, Tratner agrees with Groen but does not believe Hollywood is solely focused on using anti-capitalist sentiments to feed the bottom line. For Tratner, Hollywood in addition to seeking profit also seeks to control popular culture by making moviegoers pawns in an elaborate psychological-political game where they consciously view films that preach the evils of capitalism while subliminally they are encouraged to cling to those same capitalist ideals. We can also infer from Tratner’s argument that Hollywood like every other industry has a vested interest in keeping the masses away from the picket line by luring them to the front of the ticket line where they will focus on being entertained rather than collectively organizing and demanding massive social change. Overall, Tratner’s article is a useful naysayer because it strengthens rather than disproves Groen’s argument by giving a more definitive answer for why Hollywood appears to contradict itself by rejecting the capitalist system it is so successfully apart of.