Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Two more questions

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.

For a working definition of melodrama, I reference Singer’s “Melodrama and the Consequences of Capitalism” as follows: the basic elements of melodrama are “moral dichotomy, violence, spectacle, situation, pathos.” As a fellow Disney fan, I agree that melodrama plays a huge role in most Disney films. I have not seen Frozen (which breaks my heart on a daily basis), but I have seen Tangled, wherein the hero is in fact a misunderstood and oft-suffering young person who never really wanted to be a hero. The difference between this and classical melodrama would be, of course, that the hero is female and the “damsel in distress” is often the male character. This appeals to the largely female audience in that the heroine is a strong female who accepts help, but could probably succeed on her own through sheer grit and moxy. In regards to the first part of the question, I do think that the melodramatic tendencies of Disney movies definitely caters to the young, because the target audience of 5-7 year olds is unlikely to pick up on subtlety and nuance. It is incredibly important for the young viewers to be able to distinguish between good and evil, but now more than ever, Disney is blurring the lines. For example , Lotso, the bear from Toy Story 3, is first good, then evil, then good again when our heroes save him, and then evil once more when he turns his back on Woody and the crew. In short, there is no definitive answer to this question, mostly because of the sheer volume of Disney movies. On a case-by-case basis, some can certainly be considered melodramatic in the classic sense (Pocahontas, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid) wherein the hero suffers and is misunderstood and the villain is the one spearheading the mob (often literally-Beauty and the Beast) against the hero.

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?

The core examples discussed in this class that I will use to answer this question are Harry Potter and Birth of a Nation. First, I would like to point out that Singer earlier gave a difference list of melodramatic characteristics, “moral dichotomy, violence, spectacle, situation, pathos.” In short, I would say no, a piece does not have to have all four hallmarks in order to be melodramatic. The smartass reason I offer on the surface is that Singer contradicts his own list at least once within his own article, so there are no four hallmarks characteristic of all melodrama. Delving deeper into the question, I call upon Harry Potter as an example. While there is obvious cultural discontinuity between the muggle and wizarding worlds as well as sensory complexity in the descriptions of everyday goings on in Harry’s life, there is no notable example of urbanization or increased mobility. However, we agreed in class that Harry Potter is a superb example of melodrama. In Birth of a Nation, a classical example of melodrama, there is cultural discontinuity, increased mobility, and sensory complexity.

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