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In general terms, ideology can be defined as a belief generally upheld by groups in society, at a specific time and place. It is how we understand the world around us. In analyzing films, we can get better understanding of how certain ideologies are formed, and why they are sustained or changed over time.
Virtually every movie presents us with ways of behavior, negative or positive, and therefore offers us an implied or explicit morality or ideology. Every film has a slant based on the director’s sense of right and wrong – an ideological perspective that privileges certain characters, institutions, and cultures. Recognize that films are products marketed to the American public and that film-making may include a predisposition that many, if not most, Americans will respond in roughly parallel or identical ways to the material. Films are market derived art.
There are two types of meanings in films:
Implicit: a generalization that a viewer makes about a text or a subject in a text, more like our traditional notion of meanings. Implicit meaning is a deeper level of interpretation of the content of the film and a viewer may use awareness of cinematic techniques, satire, symbols and narratives or stories to help discover implicit meanings. Good example of a film with number of implicit ideologies, analyzed by numbers of critics is “Pretty Women” produced in 1990. The romantic story of a relationship of the young prostitute and a very wealthy businessman portray America as “the land of dreams”, where everything is possible.
Also the implicit meanings can be noticed in the original “Psycho” from 1960, where appropriate techniques like setting, lighting and composition helped in creating meaning and suggest that the human being is strange and dangerous.
Explicit: general observations included in the film about one or more subjects. It is what have been clearly shown in the film. Such movies are often constructed to teach or persuade their viewers. Patriotic film such as “The Green Berets” directed by John Wayne in 1968 is a good example. “The Green Berets” is a definition of insidious propaganda. The film was brought into being specifically because John Wayne was bothered by the anti-war sentiment within the country in 1968. With the Pentagon’s backing and President Lyndon Johnson’s approval, the film was made with the specific intention of countering existing opinions about the war.
At the start of the film, a journalist who was skeptical of the war was given a lecture by an American Special Forces soldier who painted the conflict in Vietnam in starkly simplistic terms as being a fight for freedom against Communist forces. Later, the journalist traveled to Vietnam where he witnessed the American forces participating in humanitarian acts, while the enemy engaged in brutal violence (as if the Americans never participated in brutal acts of violence against civilians). Ultimately, the journalist realized his ideological errors and reversed his previous opposition to the conflict. In the film, there is no mention of the millions of dead Vietnamese or Agent Orange, or the fire-bombing of civilian villages.
“The Green Berets” took an exceedingly complex conflict, and reduced it to a simplistic dichotomy of good and evil, with the U.S., of course, being the side of good. Most striking though is what the film omits. In addition to the aforementioned omission of civilian casualties, the film also omits that the war was started on a lie with the Gulf of Tonkin incident, the brutalities committed by U.S. forces, and the indifference of much of the Vietnamese civilian population to their own conflict. All of this in addition to over-playing the threat that was posed by the Soviets. A viewer watching this film, who received no other information about the war, would have one sided views of the conflict. Most films fall into the Implicit category with the understanding that implicit presentations of ideas and values has increased potency, achieved in part by mass repetition or “Culture Incorporated” suggesting the mass media replays the same message, over and over, in many different forms.
Also a good example of explicit films is the “Casablanca.” This 1942 film, often hailed as one of the best films of all time, was actually backed by the War Department because of the film’s pro-war stance. America was largely indifferent to involvement in the war’s early years, and films like Casablanca which showed Humphrey Bogart taking a stand were given assistance by the military for helping to shape public opinion.
As war film propaganda goes, Casablanca’s contribution is fairly innocuous. Still, the overall popularity of the film and its little known history is a tool of the American military to change minds. The trope of law and the courtroom trial in the Hollywood legal movie also had a political dimension and could be understood as ideological in nature. In addition, in the United States “ideology” strikes many as a foreign and dangerously subversive term, and one must therefore be aware of bias against the term. Ideology, by contrast, is more generally normative, expressing the hopes and dreams of a society without necessarily attempting to dupe people. Indeed, the most effective and powerful ideology is that which nobody recognizes as such.
According to Stephen Prince, “ideological film theory examines the ways in which films represent and express various ideologies.” Experimental films for example, tend to question the dominant ideology, by provoking viewers brought up on classic Hollywood cinema, and often aim to shock.
The Hollywood film includes among its characteristics a significant ideological component. Films” images, ideas, and narratives have a normativity to them. They convey messages that viewers might internalize. Many American viewers, both in the 1950s and even today, let these messages wash over them as somehow true. As a result, Robert Ray asserts, American cinema is “one of the most potent ideological tools ever constructed.”
Legal films from the 1950s and early 1960s are no exception, and in more specific terms they serve up a particular law-related ideology. The representation is not new, drawing as it does from a venerable American notion that their nation, among the world’s nations, is one with a particular degree of faithfulness to the rule of law.
The American’s films are not only viewed in the American states, but they are viewed by the massive audience around the world. Additionally, the American films first dominate the majority of market share in the world film industry. It seems that using films is the best means for America to gain recognition and friendship. Films portray a smooth storytelling and attract the people to keep watching from the beginning till the end. To me, American films are still the most interesting films to watch and the easiest to understand. The promotion of American nation through films is a phenomenon where America subtly wants to dominate the world by spreading out its own culture, tradition and views through the movies. America’s transferring of culture becomes more relevant while the concept of Americanism is known worldwide since it became the world superpower. America tries to make the American values in the films meaningful to others and it tries to make the films as a new political tactic used in world politics.
The promotion of American nation through Hollywood movies grasps larger populations. The popularity of American culture may make the rest of the world to decide whether to fear or favor the promise of Americanization and a globalized planet.
The Hollywood movie can influence the people around the world, and it gives several impacts both positively and negatively. America is the most powerful country in the world, it has impacts to all aspects like; politics, economics, military, or even entertainment. Hollywood is always considered as the fashion leader where the actors and actresses in the movies portray fashionable hairstyle, cloth, make up, etc. Otherwise, Hollywood movies always contain the rude words or aggressive behavior of Americans which resulted to the audience imitating and adopting those characters in their daily life. Hollywood is the succeed story of America which it works as an instrument to affect the ideology, and culture of the entire world population.
To be global is to be American. Hollywood film industry, to me, is a form of media imperialism. Hollywood for a long time, has been generally influencing the world psychologically and ideologically. As mentioned before that Hollywood is an American instrument, the access of Hollywood to the world is the access of America. So the world society which is seen as being globalized is a subtle process to Americanization. By watching movie, the audiences get the pseudo-involvement with the scenes portrayed in the movie. After they are exposed to the movie, they sense the reality and the possibility from the movie where the movies can move the audiences. It means that the intimacy between movies and audiences becomes clearer and stronger. The movies shape people’s thoughts and life as mentioned above, while the audiences are moving to perform like the characters or to be in the situations within the movies.
According to my survey, only one third of the survey pool adopted the ideology and values taking place in the movie to their real life. It means that the ideologies and value cultures affect the lives of the audience the least. Otherwise, the ideologies and values contained in Hollywood movies always cause the behaviors and thoughts to be changed in some people. For example, it appeared that America was the worst during World Wars, but after watching the movies about World Wars, some other countries appear worse, killing others brutally and cruelly.
Freedom seemed to be the main ideology of America as it usually appears in the movies. Freedom must be granted, and “to fight was to gain freedom”. Moreover, most of the movies present America to be the best nation in the world with benevolence, moral, and ethic. During World Wars, America was the only nation who remained neutral, and tried to ignore the war. But at the end, when the wars became more violent and brutal, and spread through many nations around the world, America became a hero who declared war with the enemy of freedom and helped those nations who have been invaded. This turned out that after watching Hollywood movies, some people believe that freedom could bring peace, and that they more freedom to live peacefully.
Some Examples of Ideological Assumptions in American films:
Ideological assumptions operate, for the most part, on an unconscious level, and are therefore rarely questioned or closely examined. It is often difficult, but always rewarding, to become aware of your own ideological filter, to seek and to understand your own position, your own received ways of thinking, your own limited perspective and point-of-view, by exploring alternatives to your own ideological beliefs and values, the other ways of looking, of other people.
In addition to providing entertainment, Hollywood cinema proffers a significant number of ideological views. In fact, film scholar Gerald Mast claimed, “there are few cultural products more influential in contemporary American life than movies. They provide familiar stories that help us make meaning of our own lives and provide order to the chaos of our world. They suggest to us what and whom we should value, as well as what and who we should give short shrift to.”
The promotion of American nation and culture through Hollywood movies may make the rest of the world to decide whether to fear or favor the promise of Americanization. It may facilitate an emergence of a global culture while invading the national sovereignty and identity of other nation states. In the future, American culture will continue to be a major force in global community. As Thomas Friedman wrote, “today’s era is dominated by American power, American culture, the American dollar, and the American navy.”
America is seen as the only super power in the world, its decision to promote its American culture to the international community may affect the relations with other nation states. The promotion of American nation and culture through Hollywood movies is a representation of cultural imperialism. Hollywood movie is a cultural product where America is trying to imperialize the world once again by using a soft tool. American culture is U.S. leading export, America is trying to sell its culture to any other state around the world.
Cultural Imperialism is a domination of a more recognized culture over other cultures, it is a soft means of colonization. According to John Tomlinson, cultural imperialism is the spread of modernity, it is not the process of cultural expansion, but it is a cultural loss process. It means that cultural imperialism is a process to eliminate culture of minority groups or the old-fashioned cultures. Cultural imperialism makes those local cultures vanish from time to time.
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