Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Cody's Questions!

1) I'm no expert on feminism, though I do consider myself an uninformed fan of the movement.  The clear, neatly-fitted answer is that women are historically and globally in the subordinate position to their male counterparts, and literature is a reflection of its cultural setting.  Moreover, men generally comprise the elite class-- even today holding the majority of political power (you may want to check my stats on that) and, therefore, revolutionary power.

2) Love this question!  I'm scared I won't be able to give it the answer it deserves.  While melodrama identifies and demonizes "bad guys," its ultimate goal is to bring societal organization to justice.  But it is single-sided!  In trying to empower the subordinate group, it paints them as victimized and pitiful; it can manipulate the portrayal of a situation as one that requires drastic (melodramatic) measures.  As Cody points out, the Manifesto was designed to cause an uprising.  Generally, these aren't peaceful.  Melodrama is powerful.  Individuals should really evaluate what they are being told, and not let a stylized portrayal and exaggeration of class dichotomy cloud their judgment.

3) One of my questions referenced the way the female victim, in concordance with the progression of the female status through history, has become less of a victim in children's programming and more self-sufficient.  In recent Disney releases, we see more heroism, sass, and individuality in female characters.  Still, good guys win in the end, and bad guys lose-- and there's rarely to never a character who doesn't sit securely on one side of the moral dichotomy described by Singer and Williams (and Dr. B).  The melodramatic storyline has remained largely intact, but characters have developed to adhere to modern adherence to democracy and fairness-- the values set into motion by the earliest of melodramatic work.

Answer to Katrina's Questions

1. According to the literature that we've seen, I would say that Singer's definition does not hold true in all cases. In fact, Linda Williams gives a much more detailed account of all of the "key features" of melodrama that do not necessarily completely reconcile with Ben Singer's definition. Melodrama does always seem to interact and come from modernity, but I am sure that there are some soap operas that are considered "melodrama" that don't deal with much more than petty alliances and love triangles--although I suppose this could be seen as a cry for the demoralizing effect "modernity" has on society. At any rate, after Williams discusses her "key aspects" of melodrama, she then goes on to state that not all of the features are in every melodrama, "nor do these five key features exhaust the definition of melodrama" (42). Again, I don't think melodrama necessarily has to deal with urbanization or class mobility in all cases, but I certainly do think that Singer is right in noting that it comes from a sort of anxiety arising in the social psyche in reaction to modernity. I think Williams puts it best when she says, "at its deepest level melodrama is thus an expression of feeling toward a time that passes too fast" (35). Although issues like class mobility and urbanization may be key aspects of today's contemporary "modernity," modernity could encompass different features in the present, but I think there'd still be melodrama arising from that longing for the past.

2. This is a loaded question. It is also a very subjective question. It reminds me of when I was listening to Obama's SOTU address in 2012. I remember him saying something along the lines of "We have killed Osama bin Laden...!" and then a long pause while everyone cheered. For some reason, that cheering unsettled me, and that fact that Obama knew that that statement would unify a somewhat polarized nation--politically speaking--also unsettled me even more deeply. In my opinion any violence should not be considered "moral good." No matter what crime or atrocity a person commits against a person or several million people in some cases, stooping to violence against that person in the name of "revenge" is also stooping to a moral wrong. If I may borrow from Dr. Seuss, " a person is a person, no matter how..." bad. Of course, I feel quite alone in feeling this way. If the majority public did not believe in a melodramatic sort of "revenge" as a proper course of action, Obama would not have said what he did. Then of course, what do you do with all the villains of the world? We must figure out a way to stick to our moral integrity. Much can be learned from Dr. Martin Luther King's and Gandhi's practices of nonviolence.

3. I actually don't think that this cartoon was intended for a young audience at all. Or if it had been, and the comedy had not been included, it would have completely gone over a child's head. I think the comedic representation of Uncle Tom's Cabin was more geared toward adults as Anti-Tom propaganda--essentially making a mockery of all that Uncle Tom is. The cartoon was published in 1933, just six years after The Birth of a Nation, and just four years after the market crash. Comedy, particularly comedy that sort of satirized social issues, would have been an incredibly popular form of escapism at the time. Thus, I don't think that the comedy employed would have had anything to do with it being appropriate for children to watch. Even if the comedy had not been included, children probably would have already been enculturated into the Tom; anti-Tom duality in the existing society.



1) Why is "high culture" associated with masculinity, but more looked down upon aspects of culture such as melodrama are associated with feminism?  Do you think that there are any legitimate connections, or is this simply another example of the pervasive sexism simply being extended unrelated things as a way of defining their worth?

2) Williams' argument throughout Playing the Race Card is that melodrama has been a critical component in the perpetuation of race relations in America, and Marx uses melodrama as a mode through which to organize a political revolution.  Because of the "good vs. evil" inherent in melodrama, do you think that it is possible for it to promote peace or solidarity?  Or do you believe that melodrama is most effective in pitting people against each other?

3) After watching "Mickey's Mellerdrammer", do you see similarities with how melodrama is portrayed in cartoons and other forms of children's programming today (in regards to subtleties such as the audience, not a blatant mustachioed villain)?  Do you think that because of the form that melodrama virtually always follows there is much flexibility in the way stories are portrayed? Or do you simply think characters and storylines change, but only very slightly and without changing the overall trajectory?


1) Although I certainly do think that there are instances where people unnecessarily try to bring issues of race into certain conversations where they are irrelevant, I do not at all think that the motivation behind speaking on race is meant to be "dramatic" or serve as a "distraction from the real argument". On the contrary, I think that in most cases when someone is accused of playing the "race card", the accuser is the one actually the one distracting from the real argument.  Issues involving race are still extremely prevalent in modern society, whether people choose to acknowledge it or not, and by simply labeling any conversation about them as "playing the race card" really distracts from the bigger issue and hinders growth and progression.  I am unsure of what you are referring to when you talk about a racist lead detective, but I think that what you brought up about the Left and President Obama is significant.  I do not think that the political Left is implying that everyone opposed to the President's policies are racists, but rather that race is an issue that factors heavily into the politics surrounding his policies, which I agree with especially considering the fact that he is the first president of color.

2) I think that news broadcasts including stories about athletes overcoming their personal struggles and winning Olympic medals is definitely melodramatic.  They depict a victim hero that, despite their struggle and seemingly against all odds, emerges victorious in a competition of the world's greatest athletes. In doing this, the news blows up the athlete to heroic proportions making them all the more likable to common families around the world who would likely otherwise think much lesser of the feats.

3) I definitely think that it has become a normalized daily occurrence to hear the media talking about violence.  I think that this is largely due to the glorification of violence in popular culture (music, movies, television, and literature) over the last several decades which has in turn led to a desensitization of society to these violent scenarios.  Not only does the desensitization remove the innate feelings of fear, empathy, and horror from exposure to particularly violent images, but it also in some ways encourages that type of behavior.  I think that these violent images have lasting effects, especially on children, and that in turn leads to real life violence being committed and being talked about in the media.

Answers to Chelsea's Questions

  1. Sentimentality in art and literature didn’t appeal to the elite classes because they recognized it as highly melodramatic. Elitists thought this melodramatic art and literature was excessive and manipulative of one’s emotions, and thus deemed it distasteful. This distaste was rooted in the elitist belief that melodrama was vulgar and unaesthetic. Elite classes also disliked the lower classes often represented by the victim heroes of melodramas, and thus took a negative view of art and literature that reflected melodramatic sentiment.                                                                   
  2. I believe that melodramatic themes and tones have transcended to recent Disney release not because they are designed for the non-elite (I feel that the appeal of recent Disney films is targeted to families, not just children), but because melodrama has been so popularized by the hallmarks of modernity. All audiences share fears of uncertainty and change. Like Singer said, melodrama gives people faith in moral justice and that forces of good with always triumph over evil. I think melodrama's popularity is also rooted in American culture, which is about freedom, mobility and working hard to achieve your goals. The obstacles preventing one from attaining these goals in America can be deemed "forces of evil". Melodrama is thus a way for people to transport themselves to a world in which these forces of evil will never prevail.
  3. Melodrama coalesced in France in the 1800s as a result of a the French Revolution, which "transfigured the theatrical landscape” (Singer). It wasn’t until after the revolution that melodrama became legally permissible in theaters, and it thrived because its ideologies well reflected the revolutionary shift in political power occurring in France at the time. Melodrama suited the struggle of the bourgeoisie against the feudal aristocrats, as well as the psychosocial transition into post-feudal, uncertain world of modernity. American melodrama can be distinguished from the melodrama that coalesced in France in a couple of ways. For example, despite being victim heroes and champions political change, the bourgeoisie in France in the 1800s actually dismissed melodrama on account of its vulgarity. American melodrama, on the contrary, was first embraced by the victimized working classes and dismissed by the elite classes. Moreover, much of American melodrama has been a way for mainstream American culture to deal with the “moral dilemma of having first enslaved then withheld equal rights” (Williams) to African Americans. Thus, American melodrama has developed into much more than the relatively simple genre that emerged after the French revolution. 

Monday, January 27, 2014

Dibs on



  1   Was the audience’s reaction to the Legree character the response Marx and melodrama wanted to  entice in its viewers?
22     Are the bloodhounds that were let lose and destroyed the stage an allegory for the proletariat overthrowing the social structure, in this case the play itself?

33    Williams talks about the role of violence in our melodramatic society and how it has become about shock now a days. Has it become normalized in society that media talks about violence?

Answers to Sheena's Qs.

1) It seems as though the home, while a "space of innocence" at the beginning of films, is  broken, flawed and or ill-suited for the needs of our hero. It is a "space of innocence" because the hero doesn't yet know how to break out, how to live in the real world. However by no means is this home a good place. Consider Cinderella's home with her step mother and sisters, Ariel's male dominated sea palace or Belle's boring village life. However, the home can also be a place of peace that is disrupted; this disruption sends the hero on his quest. Consider Simba in The Lion King, whose idyllic life is disrupted when his father is killed. The idea of a safe, welcome or loving home is often what the hero strives to return to. And it is often at the end of the film that the hero is given an upgraded home or "space of innocence". In Aladdin, the beggar becomes wealthy and ends up with the princess, In The Lion King, Simba becomes King and in Cindarella, Cinderella leaves her abusive step-family and moves in with the Prince.

 2) Melodrama often features a poor or disadvantaged hero and a greedy, if not wealthy villain. Unlike in post-modernist works, where the hero must fight his own internal demons, the hero in a melodrama often wins by stroke of luck. This means there are often "nick of time" scenarios; The damsel in distress is rescued from the train tracks, right before the train crushes her. Because the hero faces external struggle, that struggle often manifests itself in time-sensitive situations. The resulting success gives this "nick of time" feeling. What helps to set up the "nick of time" feeling is the "too late" scenario. Often before the hero can win out in the last second, he faces tragedy when he is too late fix the problem. This situation can prove to be a crucible for the hero, though eventually he redoubles the efforts to succeed. The "too late" and "nick of time" provide a symbiotic relationship. Without the "too late", the "nick of time" isn't has trying and suspenseful for the viewer/reader and without the "nick of time", there is no victory and the story ends without a satisfying resolution. The first example that came to mind was The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan's 2008 blockbuster film. Though it contains both post-modernist and melodramatic elements. the film features the "too late" when Batman is unable to save Rachel from the Joker's bomb. However, later in the film, Batman is able to save Commissioner Gordon and his family "in the nick of time" against villain Two Face. Having experienced a shocking loss, the view is even more satisfied by the happier resolution at the end of the film.

3) When I first attempted to answer this question, I was certain that a lack of pathos and action prevented comedies from winning the Best Picture Oscar. However, after looking at a list of Best Picture winners for context, I realized that the answer isn't that easy. I had working under the assumption that the award was given to critically acclaimed dramas and character studies, basing my assumption off of wins by The Hurt Locker and The King's Speech in recent years. However, after some research the list is more diverse than originally thought. Included among the winners are Argo - which provided plenty of humor, Annie Hall - Woody Allen's nerotic and Chicago, a musical.  I do agree that pathos is required for a film to win Best Picture. But maybe it isn't that comedies don't have the required pathos for Best Picture, perhaps most comedies are written to supply the most laughs or revenue instead of a mix of humor, pathos and action. Off the top of my head I can think of two films that fulfill those requirements; both are mandatory viewings in Intro to Film classes: The Graduate and A Fish Called Wanda. In addition, there seem to be other criteria for Best Picture besides an inclusion of pathos and action. Big Budget films have mostly been ignored; the Academy often has focused on smaller, more artist driven films, at least recently.

3 Questions

Sorry for the delay in posting these - My Williams book just came in two hours ago!

1) Williams states that melodramas typically begin and seek to end in a "space of innocence". What role does home and the establishment of a "space of innocence" play in melodramas, and what are some examples of spaces of innocence in popular Disney films?

2) Williams states that a feeling of loss is crucial to crying's relationship to melodrama. In other words, people often cry during melodramas upon realizing that is is too late for a certain course of action, or out of joy upon realizing that something occurred "in the nick of time". For example, we all cried when it was too late for the rescuers to save Jack in the Titanic. What role do the feelings of "too late" and "nick of time" play in melodramas, and are these feelings essential ingredients in the recipe for a powerful melodrama?

3) In Playing the Race Card, Williams frequently mentions that effective melodramas offer a combination of pathos and action. Earlier this year in class it was mentioned that comedies often do not win Oscars over dramas and thrilling action films. Do you think that the lack of pathos and action in comedies plays a significant role in their failure to win frequent Oscars?

Three Questions

1. In the opening anecdote of the Williams text, Harriet Beecher Stowe cries at the sight of a marble monument. After being informed she had been swayed by melodrama, she "reconsidered her tears" but still defended the artist's right to break usual conventions and create such a work. Does melodrama have a place in the world of art as Stowe thought, or is it only through ironic use that "transcends the melodrama itself" that it can even be considered successful?

2. "Mickey's Mellerdrammer" was very reminiscent of 19th century blackface minstrel shows. How was this cartoon a response to Uncle Tom's Cabin and what significance, if any, does using aspects of minstrelsy have toward Disney's purpose?

3. A classic motif in melodrama is "black hats vs. white hats." How did The Birth of a Nation and the anti-Tom movement take the roles laid out in Uncle Tom's Cabin (e.g., sympathy toward the "good slave") and completely flip them upside down?

3 Questions-- Also I call answering Katrina's questions.

1. We have seen from the Communist Manifesto, and from the controversial race issues dealing with Tom and anti-Tom sentiment during the turn of the century that Williams discusses, that melodrama is a highly polarizing medium. Williams, and Singer however also point out the ways in which it is a unifier-- as in American culture post- Birth of a Nation. Do you think that melodrama is more inclined to cause one or the other of these things? Are both equally important and necessary extremities i.e. "two sides of the same coin" as Williams put it to cause social change?

2. Is Disney's comic portrayal of Uncle Tom's Cabin really just some of the Anti-Tom reactionism that Williams discusses?

3. How does the rescue/escape motif found in melodramas that Williams discusses still play a role in today's popular culture?

My Three Questions

1. In what ways does Disney's portrayal of the audience in "Mickey's Mellerdrammar" contribute to the video's melodramatic nature?

2. Applying information learned from the "Melodramas of Black and White" section of Chapter 1 in Playing the Race Card, explain why the proletariat's use of melodrama in the Communist Manifesto was so effective.

3. How do the relationships between the slaves and slave-owners in Uncle Tom's Cabin lacked some classic melodramatic qualities?

3 Questions

Williams mentions how popular culture has become fascinated with "murder narratives," and pain and suffering in general, so readers can immerse themselves in the "excitement and horror" of the violence. What role does violence currently have in modern-day melodrama? Is it a necessary element?

According to Playing the Race Card, Williams quotes Ann Douglas, who claims that American melodrama, and film in general, succumb to the "cheaply sentimental feminization." However, these kinds of movies have become very popular in American culture. Does a melodrama need to incorporate the "feminine qualities of piety, virtue, and passive suffering" to be successful?

The Titanic showed that people around the world were thrilled when Jack was "too late" in saving his own life, but still able to save Rose's. However, did this movie foster a boom of "chick-flicks" where the guy or girl is, in some cases unrealistically, able to save the day at the very last moment and win over his or her true love?

P.S. I call dibs on Izzy's questions!

Will be working on these throughout the day, and probably not able to post till later. Thank you! :)


1. Why doesn't sentimentality in art and literature appeal to the elite class?

2. Themes and tones of melodrama have transcended from Disney's Mellerdrammer to recent Disney releases such as Frozen and Tangled.  Why might this be?  (My initial guess is that it's because they are designed for young, undereducated audiences-- the "non-elite."  But adults enjoy these films as well.  Is a favoring attitude toward melodrama instilled in us when we are young, is melodrama somehow superior to all other forms, more vastly comprehensible, etc?)  Or do you disagree with me?  I.e., Have melodramatic rules not been applied to the newest Disney movies?  (They have certainly been modified.  Damsels are in less distress than they used to be.)
Sorry for the elaboration.  Big Disney fan.

3. What distinguishes American melodrama from the genre that coalesced in France in the 1800s?

3 questions

1.  Ben Singer defines melodrama as a genre as "a genre with a specific relation to the hallmarks of modern life: urbanization, cultural discontinuity, increased mobility, and sensory complexity."  Based on the examples of melodrama we've discussed in class and outside knowledge, does a piece have to have all four "hallmarks" in order to be melodramatic or just a few?

2.  In Playing the Race Card, it is highlighted that many famous melodramas "all share the common function of revealing moral good in a world where virtue has become hard to read."  Would revenge on a villain be considered "moral good"?

3.  Disney's "Mickey's Mellerdrammer" incorporated a lot of comedy into it's portrayal of the story of Uncle Tom's Cabin.  If it had not would this melodrama be too inappropriate for the young audiences that typically watch Mickey Mouse?

Three questions

1. As noted by Linda, "pathos and actions" are crucial features of melodrama, then what's the the corresponding "pathos and actions" in Mickey the Mellerdrammer?

2.Though both happy-ending and sad ending melodramas employ "crying" as a vital element("too late" or "in the nick of time") to develop the plot,is there any difference in them? If there is, each of them achieves what kinds of effects?

3.One key feature of melodrama noted by Linda Williams is that people's "sympathy for another ground in the manifestation of that person's suffering".Ben Singer also states that "making forces of nature and fate the agents of moral retribution served a psychological need".Could this "psychological need" be the reason why melodrama is widely embraced by the public and criticized by "cultivated artists"?

3 questions

1) Is playing the race card only dramatic if accusation of racial bias or difference distracts from the real argument? Is there a difference between the defense accusing the lead detective of being a racist and the left accusing those who have fought against President Obama’s policies as being racist?

2) Williams uses the 1996 Broadcast of the Olympics of a modern example of melodrama in broadcast news. Is including stories about the athletes personal struggles melodramatic or is Williams just being cynical?

3) Williams draws on Uncle Tom’s Cabin as an early example of melodrama and Disney’s Mickey Mouse stages a vaudeville-esque production of the novel. Was Uncle Tom’s Cabin inherently melodramatic or was the response to the novel (especially years later) what made it melodramatic? Or was it both; originally intended to be a melodramatic statement against slavery and then becoming a melodrama of a black man who betrayed his own race.

3 Questions

1) In chapter one of "Playing the Race Card", Williams points out the concept of agnition,the result of a clash between conflicting viewpoints, in melodrama. Is melodrama or even melodramatic effect possible to achieve in a piece of media if the overt one side versus another notion of agnition is not introduced?

2) To what level of detriment does the contradicting notions of African Americans posing a real competent and legitimate threat to society and African Americans being incompetent, unorganized, and child like have on the "Anti-Tom" works of media such as Birth of a Nation and Thomas Dixon's novels?

3) Does the use black face and depiction of slavery in Mickey’s Mellerdrammer have a different meaning and message when viewed through the lens of a 1933 audience as opposed to a present day audience?

Sunday, January 26, 2014

3 Questions

1.     In what ways would the “high class, learned” detractors of melodrama (such as the artist who scoffs at the statue that moves Stowe to tears) argue that an abundance of melodrama absorption from early childhood onward negatively affects somebody?

2.     Williams mentions, and gives examples, of the usage of melodrama in the media. Is it possible for a news organization to be successful without the use of melodramatic elements?

3.     Williams notes, “One of the key features of melodrama … is its compulsion to reconcile the irreconcilable?” What does this say about the place of the genre of melodrama? How does this speak to its ability to endure, and be revitalized and revamped with each successive generation?

Three questions

1. Who has the authority to determine when a piece is "too melodramatic"?
2. If melodrama is the excess of sentiment and sensation, can anything be too melodramatic?
3. What effect does the use of black face in Mickey's Mellerdrammer have on contemporary audiences as opposed to on the audiences of its time?

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Group Virginia, Helen, Cody, Sam, and Katrina

    We chose two passages, one from each play. The passage chosen from The Poor of New York is in Act IV, Scene III, when Lucy and Mrs. Fairweather are both trying to commit suicide, and Badger is in an adjoining attic talking to himself. This scene seems especially melodramatic, because both female characters are lamenting their misfortune by sacrificing themselves for their families, and Badger is drinking himself into a stupor. The fast pace, and dual story line seemed appropriate to tell a melodramatic episode.
    The second passage chosen is from The People's Lawyer, Act II, Scene III. In this scene, Charles is being arrested for the crime he did not commit. It shows melodramatic elements through the surprised, and shocked tone of the dialogue, and the victimization of the protagonist, Charles Otis. It clearly shows the melodramatic ploy of the victim-hero.

Marx and Singer Revisited

Marx's use of melodrama in the Communist Manifesto makes for a powerful document when considering his purpose and target audience. The language that Marx uses is perfect for the average proletariat reader, crafted in such a way calls back to church-like experiences. It is clear in the beginning sections that he considers the bourgeois a revolutionary class, praising their virtues and the secularization that came with modernity. However as Singer explains in his article, in a classically tragic notion, these same virtues become the flaws of class stratification and exploitation. 

"The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his “natural superiors”, and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous “cash payment”. It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom — Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation."

The notions of capitalism and free trade as virtues now become to Marx flaws, the vehicles through which the bourgeois have grasped control of the working-class wage laborer. He explains that human history has always been a history of class struggles, what Singer may describe as productive tension (the balance between cooperation and competition). But no matter how dependent the proletariat may seem on the bourgeois, Marx explains that the working class has a chance to rise up, that the same economic stabilities which are valued so much by the upper class are ultimately their downfall.

Communist Manifesto Part 2

The "Manifesto of the Communist Party" by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels employed several techniques of melodrama that described in the fifth chapter of Ben Singer's Melodrama and Modernity: Early Sensational Cinema and its Contexts. Singer points out his his book that early Melodrama played a similar role to people that the church did:

"The contemporary spin interprets a hunger for moral stability and intelligibility as a reflection of a post-Enlightenment, postsacred, postfeudal world, or in short, a reflection of modernity."

The Communist Manifesto reflects this Melodramatic aspect of "filling the void of the church" by giving the proletarians a cause that they view as moral and just:

"Of all the classes that stand face to face with the bourgeoisie today, the proletariat alone is a really revolutionary class. The other classes decay and finally disappear in the face of Modern Industry; the proletariat is its special and essential product.
The lower middle class, the small manufacturer, the shopkeeper, the artisan, the peasant, all these fight against the bourgeoisie, to save from extinction their existence as fractions of the middle class. They are therefore not revolutionary, but conservative. Nay more, they are reactionary, for they try to roll back the wheel of history. If by chance, they are revolutionary, they are only so in view of their impending transfer into the proletariat; they thus defend not their present, but their future interests, they desert their own standpoint to place themselves at that of the proletariat."

By giving the proletarians a cause that they believe with a religious fervor is just, all Marx and Engels need to do is make them realize the power that they can exert over the Bourgeois:

The manner that the "Manifesto of the Communist Party" persuades its working class readers to join the Communist cause shows its effective employment of the persuasive genre of melodrama. 

Rewrite: Singer and Marx

        Melodrama, as Singer states, is a “class conflict”, and “to consider melodrama’s relation to the social context of modern capitalism, the degree to which melodrama grew out of and persisted to accentuate, cultural divisions basic to the capitalist structure of class stratification must be pointed out.(143)” Manifesto, however, emphasizes that class distinction should disappear. The proletarians ought to be the ruling class and eliminate private property.
        To me, an aspect that pertains to both Singer and Marx addresses the psychologically ameliorative effect of melodrama. Singer notes that “making forces of nature and fate the agents of moral retribution served a psychological need. It reassured audiences that, ultimately, they were not transcendentally homeless, after all. (137)” Marx also reaches out to proletarians saying that if they unite together and utilize their strength, they can become the main key to the entire society’s happiness. This will be a great encouragement to the working class men. Moreover, Singer also advocates the cooperation and collaboration of people, rather than the isolation of individuals. Marx also stresses that as a result of workers’ competition with one another weakens workers’ powers.  

Revised Marx and Melodrama

Melodrama is an acquired taste. It was, and still is, not meant for everybody. Ben Singer points this out in “Melodrama and the Consequences of Capitalism” when he mentions that the genre of film is meant for “proletarian amusement.” They want to witness someone who is going through a similar struggle overcome his or her challenging obstacles. They want him or her to vanquish evil and save the day. Those who are wealthy have no desire to watch a victimized nobody prevail after constantly being put down, for they cannot relate to the struggles that this character faces.

            Marx reaches out to the proletariats around the world in his manifesto. He claims that the bourgeois have gained too much power, yet have also created their own gravediggers. Though they completely control all working-class people, who can be disposed at any moment, they have also fueled these people with a desire for a better life. A life where everyone is equal and there is no such thing as private property, or greed. Marx’s manifesto is an attempt to inspire the proletariats to be the hero of a melodrama. He wants private property, his version of the evil authority, to be rid from the world, and a new, good system of government to be established. A government that would eliminate greed from society and put workers with nothing at equal status as the dreaded bourgeois. 
            The problem with Marx's manifesto, and melodramatic films in generally, is that it can only provide hope. A melodramatic film can make a viewer feel happy for the triumphant victimized hero after leaving the theatre, but that does not mean the person is going to walk in to work the next day and stand up to his or her boss. Likewise, Marx's words can inspire an individual to take a stand against his unfair living standards, but history has shown that it took more than just the words of the manifesto for Communism to spread throughout the world. 

Melodramfesto Part Deux

Marx's Communist Manifesto was able to appeal to the masses because it points out the villain, which is one of the melodramatic characteristics mentioned. Not only was the proletariat the villain, but the ideal of feudalism is portrayed as evil. Feudalism was the structure of society that oppressed those of the lower class that had to work or be peasants, which created misunderstood characters. It kept people within socioeconomic boundaries they could not break out of without money or inheritance. Marx was against the structure of society and wanted to revolt in order to bring out a new structure, but people only saw the revolt in his philosophy, another misunderstanding in the grand scheme of Communism. On paper Communism was a great idea, but the idea of fighting in order to bring about a new government was a dangerous idea. To overthrow the government would bring about anarchy and our original State of Nature even though Communism was the goal. His way of changing the social structure was melodramatic in itself because of its manner of defeating the social structure "villain."He named his enemy and his hero, Communism, and using melodramatic grammar convinced people it was the proper way of life.

Group Joe, Aaron, Nick, Carlos

On pages 20-21 of The Poor of NY Bloodgood and Puffy enter into a melodramatic dialogue. The grammar between them is exaggerated. When Puffy is talking about rent it is described as "good as gold" which embellishes the idea the importance of rent. Another melodramatic element is Bloodgood's revelation of his opinion of Puffy. He describes him as "the worst kind of man" and as a "weak honest fool." His negative opinion is revealed after Puffy reveals the importance of rent. Puffy also takes the victimeized role in this dialogue by claiming the swindlers are, "the kindest, purest 2d floor as ever drew God's breath. I told them that this note was all right" as if if the responsibility was not on puffy.

   On page 11 of the People's Lawyer the grammar also has melodramatic elements with the characters calling each other "fools" and proclaiming themselves throughout. Mainly the grammar in which they speak is melodramatic, however, it is interesting that both of the characters have an evil view of each other. The tone in which they are speaking proves that they think that they are the victimized person in this dialogue. 

Marx, Melodrama & the Manifesto (Re-visited)

The Communist Manifesto is a highly melodramatic document. In this melodrama, the proletarians are the misrecognized, victim heroes and the bourgeoisie are their oppressors. Ben Singer notes that melodramas "reflected the revolutionary shift in political and ideological power”, like the revolutionary shift in power from the bourgeoisie to the proletariat. 

The melodrama employed in the Manifesto is tragic. Though Marx and Engels recognize the bourgeoisie to be an incredibly successful revolutionary class, they state that their particular success also dooms them to failure. The bourgeoisie were able to, in a "series of revolutions in the modes of production and exchange”, successfully establish Modern Industry and capitalism. This capitalism “ configured society as a chaotic conglomeration of competing individual interests” and unleashed horrifying forces of modernity, such as “poverty, class stratification and exploitation, job insecurity, workplace hazards, and heartless contractual systems of housing and money-lending” (Singer). 

Marx and Engels melodramatically describe the bourgeoisie establishment of capitalism as a victimizer of proletarian wage-laborers: 

“Modern Industry has converted the little workshop of the patriarchal master into the great factory of the industrial capitalist. As privates of the industrial army they are placed under the command of a perfect hierarchy of officers and sergeants. Masses of labourers, crowded into the factory, are organised like soldiers.  Not only are they slaves of the bourgeois class, and of the bourgeois State; they are daily and hourly enslaved by the machine, by the overlooker, and, above all, by the individual bourgeois manufacturer himself…" 

Marx and Engels point out that it is because the Bourgeoisie has “enslaved” the proletarians together in an “industrial army", they have unknowingly enabled them to rise up as a revolutionary class capable of overthrowing the bourgeosie. They claim that "with the development of industry, the proletariat not only increases in number; it becomes concentrated in greater masses, its strength grows.” Thus the class stratification brought about by modernity and capitalism, which the bourgeoisie support, paradoxically plays a role in their downfall.  

Team Mr. F

(Sheena, Izzy, Ajay, Gideon, Chelsea)

The People's Lawyer, p. 9-12
This argument establishes Charles as the poor hero, standing by values of honesty, and Winslow as the dishonorable villain.  Winslow asks Charles to lie, suggesting that this will help him make money, and Charles refuses.  This excerpt demonstrates classic melodramatic dichotomy between good and bad guys, even associating dishonesty with money.

The Poor of New York, p. 42-44
This play introduces a unique melodramatic villain, one without personal wealth, but still conniving and statically bad.  Still, he is driven by material gain, after Mrs. F's wedding ring, which she is hoping to exchange for grocery money for her family.
The Poor of New York, p. 47-48
The Fairweathers are a sweet, poor family.  This excerpt captures Lucy begging a gentleman for money, and then encountering her family.  Each of the Fairweathers promises to take care of each other.It is important to note that Lucy is reunited with her family by chance. This passage stresses the importance of family and perseverance through adversity, demonstrated by the lower class. 

Melodrama in the Communist Manifesto (Take 2)

In contemporary society, most readers, myself included, lack a strong working knowledge of the definition of Communism. In 1848, the year that Marx wrote the manifesto, the general public knew even less about Communism. Then and now, people generally regard Communism as negative. Marx employed several aspects of melodrama to ingratiate himself and his ideas with the layperson. First, he identified with the working class, acknowledging the “history of class struggles” of which they have constantly been on the worse end. He quickly separates good from bad, hero from villain, “oppressor and oppressed.”
At this point, he has captured the readers’ interest, perhaps offering a path to end the eternal struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletarian. He has linked his ideas, Communism, with championing the underprivileged, underappreciated worker. He plays to the situation of the time, as is popular in melodrama, by exaggerating the threat posed by the bourgeoisie. He refers to their power as “the weapons with which the bourgeoisie felled feudalism to the ground” and indicates that such weapons are putting the proletarians in imminent danger. The unlikely hero, in his case Communism, has the ability to save the proletarians in distress from the dark and powerful bourgeoisie.

Marx cleverly takes a genre that perfectly suits the time and has gained favor with the masses and applies it to his ideas, attempting to popularize his beliefs. The proletarians would hardly argue that they are against family and property, or that they are for being used as mere tools for manufacturing. Therefore, in the dichotomous nature of melodrama, they must be with the Communists, because they are against the bourgeoisie. In Marx’s framework of hero and villain, Communism shifts from “a spectre… haunting Europe” to the general public’s best hope of salvation.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Melodrama and the Consequences of Capitalism / Communist Manifesto PART 2

I consider many parts of the communist manifesto to be melodramatic. In his book, Melodrama and the Consequences of Capitalism, Ben Singer especially touches on the melodrama presented in the communist manifesto when he writes that "melodrama reflects the revolutionary shift in political and ideological power". In terms of the communist manifesto, Ben Singer's "revolutionary shift" can be interpreted two ways. On one hand, the revolutionary shift in power could refer to the broad gap in power between the bourgeoisie and proletariat. However, the communist manifesto proposes a reactionary, revolutionary shift of their own in which the proletariats gain power and eliminate the oppressive upper class.

The use of melodrama in the manifesto is to ultimately paint a simple picture of the divide between the working class and the elite. Staying true to Ben Singer's statement about "melodrama's ability to portray powerlessness within the harsh and predictable material life of modern capitalism", the communist manifesto describes work in a manner that aims to further stratify the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. The communist manifesto reads:

"proletariat, the modern working class, developed — a class of labourers, who live only so long as they find work, and who find work only so long as their labour increases capital. These labourers, who must sell themselves piecemeal, are a commodity, like every other article of commerce, and are consequently exposed to all the vicissitudes of competition, to all the fluctuations of the market."
The manifesto aims to depict the proletariat as workers whose work ultimately contributes to their perpetual conditions. Sure, the proletariat work for the bourgeoisie, but the proletariat still receive compensation. The language in the passage above almost implies some sort of slave trade or slave labor. The manifesto uses an extremely negative, melodramatic tone to propose that a capitalist society is a society in which, for the working class, movement to the upper class is impossible.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014


SORRY FOR THE DELAY.  I stink at computers!

The Manifesto relies on pathos and moral dichotomy, using strong terms and comparisons to demonize the bourgeois and victimize the proletariat.  Again, vocabulary colors and creates the melodramatic impression, and stock characterization manipulates through simplification the portrayal of the circumstances.  Modern bourgeois society is "like the sorcerer who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells."  It gained power through chance in history, using this power to "simplif[y] class antagonisms," leaving the proletariat in a subordinate, oppressed, undeserved position. 
The document echos the binary response to political change outlined in Singer's article.  It reacts to the insecurity following political change by reassuring the Communist movement will transcend momentary conflict for the working class, because it is allied with the French Social-Democrats, the Switz Radicals, and so on; it ensures their protection beyond this initial revolution with power in numbers, and power in justice.  It dramatizes working class powerlessness within capitalism, explaining that laborers "live only so long as they find work, and... find work only so long as their labour increases capital."  They "like every other article of commerce, are consequently exposed to all the vicissitudes of competition, to all the fluctuations of the market."
The Manifesto uses these terms to rally the working class behind a revolution for liberal democracy, calling them to "question the operation of law and justice" (Singer).  Dramatic language can cause dramatic change in what was formerly an airtight, monopolized cultural structure.  This literature and its style illuminates the plausibility of social mobility, putting power in words to ignite feelings of power in the docile subordinate.

Communist Manifesto and Melodrama

         The Communist Manifesto mainly aims to convey communists’ perspectives and thoughts. With an emphasis on the oppressing and the oppressed, the Manifesto unavoidably builds two opposites now and then throughout all sections. In the section on bourgeois and proletarians, laborers belong to the proletarian class are depicted as victims deprived of recognition of their own virtues. 

"Owing to the extensive use of machinery, and to the division of labour, the work of proletarians has lost all individual character, and, consequently, all charm for the workman. He becomes an appendage of the machine..."(18) 

        Because of the uniformity of machinery, proletarian workers gradually “lose individual character” and become “instruments of labor”. Marx, however, indicates that proletarians are instrumental to revolutionize the bourgeois class and build up a new class once they stop fighting each other and realize the significance of concentrating their strength. Knowing their own powers, the victim hero here, the proletarians, can become the lethal weapon that’s antagonistic to the bourgeois. 
        In the following section on proletarians and communists, Marx states that class distinctions should disappear and the workers should be the ruling class and eliminate private property. To me, melodramatic sentences could be an effective technique Marx employed to convince the readers of the ideas expressed in Manifesto. It's noticeable that Marx's tone is rather sarcastic and melodramatic. On page 24, he says"don't wrangle with us so long as you apply, to our intended abolition of bourgeois property, the standard of your bourgeois notions of freedom , culture, law, &c. Your very ideas are but the outgrowth of the conditions of your bourgeois production and bourgeois property, just as your jurisprudence is but the will of your class made into a law for all..."Marx may not be able to influence so many people if it weren't for his strong and harsh language. 

Engels and Marx are Melodramtic? 2.0

Marx and Engel's Communist Manifesto features both melodramitic language and more importantly, many of the themes and ideas central to melodrama. Melodrama was a response to modernity and the working class revolutions, most notably the French Revoution. Communism is an ideology that focuses on the working class rising up to remove the bourgeois from power. The working class are the "heroes" of the ideology, while the money makers, the elites, are the enemy. As the Singer article notes on page 133, melodrama replaced religion as a draw for the lower class. In the manifesto, Marx and Engels dismiss organized religion as a greedy, corporation like institution, one that cares more about its coffers than its constituents. Interestingly enough, it is their ideology - this sense of community and solidarity that replaces the church/religion.

Singer also notes that Melodrama "thrived" because its ideas ran parallel to the class revolution taking place in France. This concept also explains why communism caught on as well. Like Melodrama, Communism wasn't afraid to not only criticize, but demonize the wealthy elite. Both melodrama and communism are forms of "acutal popular empowerment" (132). In addition, both communism and melodrama are reactions to modernity as a whole. In Europe's cities, citizens are lost in the throngs of the crowds all rushing to work, most of them working to earn money for someone else. This, along with the rising importance of competition leads to a sense of being alone in a crowd; communism and melodrama lament this occurrence.

Melodrama in the Communist Manifesto

What makes Marx's Communist Manifesto such a powerful and effective piece is its heavy use of core melodramatic principles and stark comparisons between opposing forces. Not only does he invoke the age old antagonism between "white hats" and "black hats" through his contrast between "the spectre of communism" and the "old powers of Europe," but he also raises the question of the power struggle between social classes. 

He explains that "oppressor and oppressed, [stand] in constant opposition to one another, [carry] on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time [ends], either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes." 

According to Marx, human history has always been a history of class struggles, especially with the coming of modernity. As a response to this modernity, the class struggle has been reduced to a mere antagonism of a quality similar to that shown in melodramatic works: the rich, aristocratic, oppressors -- the bourgeois -- and the poor, misunderstood heroes of Marx's manifesto -- the proletariat. However in this vein, a new force is introduced, one that in this work is said to be the tool which allows the bourgeois to oppress as they do. 

"The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his “natural superiors”, and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous “cash payment”. It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom — Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation."

Marx completely villainizes free trade and capitalism, his true "black hats," and portrays his ideology in a very positive light to the working class.