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A composer’s representation of political motivations and actions may influence an individual and broader society. W. H. Auden reflects on moral and political issues of his context in the poems The Unknown Citizen (1939) and Spain (1937), to criticise the indoctrination and manipulation of the people by political systems and advocate for individuality. Similarly, Steven Spielberg’s film, Schindler’s List (1993) reflects on the suffering of individuals during the Holocaust to emphasise the importance of freedom and action against political turmoil. Both Auden and Spielberg manipulate textual form and language choices to convey a politically astute message and urge individuals to engage in political conflicts.
In The Unknown Citizen, Auden urges his audience to ridicule bureaucratic government which favour conformity and anonymity through his satirical representation of the perfect, unknown citizen. Auden, an Englishman who moved back to “the colonies” in 1939, expresses his culture shock when confronted with American-style chaos and consumerism and reveals his exasperation with the submissive attitudes and ignorance idolised by the US government. Through the alphanumeric identification of the model citizen, “JS/07 M 378,” Auden reveals the death of individuality. He implies the citizen is reduced to a “cog” in society through the mechanical rhythm of the text, established by the iambic tetrameter, to criticise conformity. Auden’s sardonic tone in, “his reactions to advertisements were normal in every way,” warns his audience about the government’s ability to psychological manipulate acquiescent citizens. Thus, he urges his audience to challenge the industrialist’s expectation through the accumulation, “a photograph, a radio, a car,” which implies the citizen is a perpetual mental slave to commercialism. Auden insinuates that governments value socio-political obedience over autonomy through the rhetorical questions, “Was he free? Was he happy?” to encourage his audience to fight oppressive regimes. Hence, Auden’s satire represents the debilitating effects of political pressures on individuals.
Similarly, Spielberg contrasts a brutal government’s corrupt interests to an individual’s heroic desire to save persecuted citizens to urge his audience to advocate for action against oppressive political systems. Spielberg represents the Holocaust in 1939 after the Nuremberg Laws were passed in 1935. Schindler initially exploits Jews for economic profit, but upon witnessing the inhumanities committed against them, decides to save them by keeping them employed. Spielberg champions religious freedom before the War through the symbolic use of warm colours at the film’s start which represents Jewish Sabbath. However, the transition cut to greyscale foreshadows their political imprisonment. Spielberg represents how political persecution can scar children in a long crane shot of a small girl in a red coat as she walks amongst SS Officers and Jews. Her salient red coat symbolises bloodshed while the diegetic gunfire distresses the audience to urge them to acknowledge the Holocaust’s atrocities. The low angle close-up of Schindler’s paralysed expressions as he witnesses Jews being shot on the street, reveals his sympathy for their unjust political treatment. Though both Auden and Spielberg encourage viewers to condemn political supremacy, Spielberg also encourages engagement with confronting political events in order to challenge an individual’s conscience. Through Spielberg’s representation of the Holocaust, he encourages readers to condemn political persecution and its dehumanising effects on people.
In Spain, Auden represents the people’s inaction during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) to urge his audience to engage in political conflict because it contributes to cultural history. Although Auden was a leftist American intellectual who supported the Republicans, he witnessed the brutal struggle between democracy and fascism during the war and urges humanity to act to achieve a better future. Auden champions mankind’s technological evolution through the alliteration in, “the counting-frame and the cromlech,” which symbolises religious, philosophical and intellectual advances. Whilst his allusion to Zeus in, “belief in the absolute value of Greek,” commends human imagination and strength, the juxtaposition to the truncated syntax, “but to-day the struggle,” reveals how political conflict disrupts human progress. Through the damning apostrophe, “O descend as a dove or a furious papa,” Auden criticises reluctance to engage in political affairs. However, he offers hope in the the juxtaposition, “Madrid is the heart. Our moments of tenderness blossom,” which argues the need to act for a better future. He encourages his audience to engage and resolve political struggles through the metaphor, “tomorrow the hour of the pageant-master,” to advocate for societal progress. Thus, Auden represents the power of conflicting political perspectives to shape people’s motivations and urges individuals to not be passive to achieve a better future.
Spielberg represents antithetical personal and political devotions to urge his audience to take action against political turmoil. Oskar Schindler, a compulsive industrialist and womaniser, was an unlikely hero, memorialised through his emancipation of 1200 Jews during Hitler’s regime in WWII. Spielberg criticises Schindler’s excessive opulence and material obsession driven by political motivations in the close-up propaganda imagery of the swastika and SS logo, starkly contrasted to the long shot of oppressed Jews. However, in a two-shot between angry Schindler and a woman pleading for her parents to be saved, the director reveals Schindler’s inner conflict between loyalty to the party and his developing empathy. Both Auden and Spielberg inspire audiences to act against political injustice in order to restore social and political cohesion. Spielberg frames the money negotiations between SS Officers and the Jews behind salient metal bars to criticise the corruption within his society and to emphasise Schindler’s heroic transformation. The close-up of Schindler’s gift to the Jews, a gold ring engraved with the idiomatic text, “He who saves a life, saves the world” commends Schindler’s altruism and encourages viewers to act righteously in the face of political injustice. Hence, Spielberg represents political corruption to emphasise the need for moral empowerment to resolve political crises.
Ultimately, both Auden and Spielberg use their textual forms to communicate how power and control – driven systems neglect individuals of their universal human rights such as individuality and freedom. Thus, the representation of people and politics are critical in understanding the relationship between political motivations and their impacts.
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