RE: New Memes Book

From: Vincent Campbell (
Date: Tue 12 Apr 2005 - 07:37:38 GMT

  • Next message: Derek Gatherer: "Re: Durkheim redux"

    >> Are mountain men another way of representing the dangerous
    >> other_inside_America (I remember studying Deliverance as a
    student and being
    >> taught about it as a possible allegory of the vietnam war-
    natives in the
    >> wilds terrorising the unknowing, disrespectful city folk)?

            <Gee, was your instructor an English Lit. type who didn't know much about
    > American or Vietnamese culture? ;-) The Vietnamese were civilized before
    > the Europeans. And there are still dangerous Americans living in the
    > hills.>
            Funny you should say that but yes they were an english lit type, although I think their knowledge of vietnam war era America was really quite good, certainly in terms of the movie zeitgeist.

            I think their reading was based on a view of how popular culture tends to turn that which is not understood into a fantastical other. They were probably heavily influenced by Said's Orientalism stuff, which whilst very problematic, has some merits as a form of textual analysis and has gone quite a long way in film studies. Look, for instance, at Black Hawk Down, in many ways a great movie, but given the times, arguably it's more racist than Zulu (that other great war movie in which the voiceless black horde descend on the civilised white man). Or the way in the Star Wars films- the recent ones that most fans hate especially- how many of the aliens speak with east asian or mid-eastern accents (actually I recall that the character who has the future Darth Vader as a child slave was criticised for being a jewish stereotype, but the actor who did the voice said they were trying for a mafia gangster type voice- is that any better?).

            That's partly why I find the mountain men trope in many American films so interesting as they are the_white_other of american films. I suppose serial killers have become the urban white other of American movies. I presume there are some well known black serial killers- ah the washington sniper springs to mind now I think about it- but most of the famous ones are white aren't they? (Dahmer, Bundy, Gacy, BTK- well apparently if that's the guy). And most of the pop culture ones too- Lecter, Spacey's character in Seven, Harry Connick Jr in Copycat etc. Ah, of course, virtually all vampires are white aren't they? (OK Wesley Snipes' Blade is black, but he's a hero who takes meds to stop him biting people...; I think they had one black vampire character- who wasn't an extra- in Buffy for a brief time; oh, and didn't Eddie Murphy do a comedy about vampires?)

            I have heard of the idea of certain myths/ legends/fictions that have spread (like dracula and frankenstein's monster etc.) as being semiotic machines- in other words they are profligate in popular culture and the popular imagination, not because they invoke very specific ideas, but precisely the opposite, they are able to successfully contain multiple readings and still work. I wonder what that does to the notion of memes- are vampires symbolic of repressed sexuality, fear of homosexuality, fear of HIV/AIDS etc. etc.


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