Monday, September 15, 2014

Three Replies

Ean #1:Linda Williams, in the first chapter of her book Playing the Race Card: From Uncle Tom's Cabin to O.J. Simpson stated that "Melodrama is often often referred to as occupying the childhood of a nation." A classic example is Harry Potter, seemingly geared towards children with its youthful protagonists and innocent artwork. Is this always the case with melodrama, specifically in American culture? If so, give an example of a series that supports this and explain generally how it is melodramatic. If  you do not believe this is the case, give an example of a melodramatic book, series, television show, or movie that supports this view and explain.

Many children's media employs melodramatic techniques. Harry Potter is one prime example. Another representation of melodrama in childhood would be the influential Disney, specifically Disney Animation. One of the most recent examples, a movie that enchanted and disenchanted the international public in a span of six months, is Frozen. This widely popular movie fits Williams' criteria of a melodramtic work. It begins in a "space of innocence," the comfortable and loving dynamic shared by the two sisters, Elsa and Anna, when they were younger (Williams 28). This setting of "home" promptly deteriorates at the beginning of the movie and remains so until the end, when the sisters finally find each other again. Williams' second listed aspect, an emphasis on "victim-heroes and on recognizing their virtue," is fulfilled by Elsa, the elder sister, who harbors a power that she can't control and desperately tries to hide, and when revealed, is viewed as an evil witch by the people of Arendelle (29). Her intentions are misunderstood and she is unjustly hunted after by ruthless henchmen, forced to harm them in self-defense. This strikes intense empathy in the audience, who can sympathize with her feeling of being trapped within herself as well as her exhileration at being able to "Let It Go," an emotion embodied in her powerful musical solo. These relatable pressures experienced by youthful protagonists also act as the realist anchor for the audience watching the film--an aspect especially important when the plot revolve around two Scandinvian princesses, on of which who has magical powers. Another requirement of melodrama dictated by Williams is the "give and take of 'too late' and 'in the nick of time'" (Williams 30). The best example of this turning point it at the very end of the movie, in which Anna is saved not even "in the nick of time" but after her supposed demise; she is miraculously revived by Elsa's tears, evidence of her "true love" for her sister. Finally, the fight between good and evil, though unclear at first, is fully realized by the three quarter mark of the film, when Hans is revealed to be the manipulative villain of the story. This further extends the suffering of both sisters--Anna, who was tricked by Hans' charm (ironically similar to the Anna of Way Down East) and Elsa, who was nearly killed by the prince due to her status as queen. Frozen is only one such example from Disney that contains all aspects of melodrama; many others--particularly fairy tale films, contains at least one--if not more--of Williams' listed criteria.

Jiny #2: Williams argues "that since the mid-nineteenth century, melodrama has been, for better or worse, the primary way in which mainstream American culture has dealt with the moral dilemma of having first enslaved and then withheld equal rights to generations of African Americans" (pg. 44). Would she argue that nowadays, melodrama is attempting to deal with the prejudice against women/minorities/the LGBT community?

One of Williams' main arguments about melodrama was its constantly evolving nature. According to her, the main reason melodrama influences public opinion so heavily is because it focuses on invoking sympathy for an object of victimization. During the Civil War, Reconstruction, and Civil Rights movements, these objects of abuse--and thus, sympathy--were African American and women. For each group to gain public attention, necessary exposes had to be unveiled to the public. More often that not, such exposes employed melodrama. Uncle Tom's Cabin is one such example, where the black slave's suffering at the hand of white Southerners was revealed to the mass public. Also notable are the worker's rights of the twentieth century that were similarly exposed in novels like Upton Sinclair's The Jungle and coverage of scandals such as the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. Now, the newest victim of abuse is the LGBT community that has been slowly making its way into the prominence since the sexual revolution. Like the African American's, women's, and worker's rights movements, the public became aware of the victimization of the LGBT community mostly due to exposes on the atrocities committed against specific groups or individuals. To cite one example, The Laramie Project, a play and film, focuses on the origins of the Matthew Shepard Act, a major legislative move against hate crimes. It not only educates the public or today about the wrong committed against the LGBT community, but also demonstrates how strongly they reacted towards the death of one teenager who was murdered because of his sexuality. The establishment of Matthew Shepard as a melodramatic hero builds steadily in the movie, which is conducted in an interview mode where a group of writers from out of town enter the world of Laramie to find out more about the event. Through those close to him, the audience is able to directly verify Matthew's virtue, while the public at the time obviously viewed him as a innocent young boy (only 21 when he died). Thus, the documentary can be considered an unhappy melodrama, in which it is "too late" to save the victim-hero (Shepard died in the ICU six days after he was beaten unconcious). This is another way in which melodrama has evolved;many documentaries nowadays--particularly those relating to civil rights--identify a victimizied group or individual so that the viewer may later feel sympathy for them once their virutes are recognized and the audience feels attached. Melodrama is indeed present in the promotion of LGBT rights, now in more forms than ever.

Paloma  #2:Williams refers to “moral legibility” a lot throughout the first chapter of the book, though he never really does give a definition of what it means.  He mentions that “melodrama differs from realism in its will to force the status quo to yield signs of moral legibility within the limits of the “ideologically permissible,” even as it builds upon genuine social concerns” (19). What does Williams mean when she talks about moral legibility, and why is it so important to Melodrama?

To break it down, "moral legibility" is the extent to which the audience of a melodramatic work can understand the moral skew of the piece. The main purpose of melodrama is to, through it's key devices, point the audience in the direction of a (usually) new moral opinion. Uncle Tom's Cabin prompted formally neutral individuals to sympathize with slaves while Birth of a Nation turned previously apathetic citizens pro-Southern. If there is a lack of moral legibility, than the melodramatic work, then it becomes unacceptable and criticized as melodrama in the negative sense of the word, "Melodramatic, melodramatic, terribly so!" (Williams 11). A work lacking moral legibility is a work that does not successfully invoke the necessary sympathy in the viewer so that instead of being caught up in the overdramatic elements they become hyperaware of it, so much that it negatively influences the overall tone of the work, thus negating the ultimate goal of melodrama: to push the audience towards a certain moral opinion.

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