From an early age we are told many stories from a variety of people and especially in the media that surrounds us. Some of these stories can be one-sided narratives and the meanings can be interpreted in a various ways. One-sided stories or “a single story” can be problematic because there are many interpretations or beliefs involved. Although it is nearly impossible to dig deeper to find out the whole story, it is significant to not take one side of a story as the truth. Similarly just like how there are many sides of a story, there are also many sides to an individual. This is conveyed in many American films in popular culture. Popular culture captures these many traits of an individual by presenting the “duality myth” in films.
Telling stories is a way of how we interact with one another and how we communicate different ideals and values. For example, history tells stories of the past and discusses different narratives. Walter R. Fisher whom introduced a concept called “The Narrative Perspective”, further defines narratives. According to Fisher, “Narration, the “symbolic actions-words and/or deeds-that have sequence and meaning for those who live, create, or interpret them is at the heart of the narrative perspective.” (Sellnow). Stories are symbols, words and actions used to interact with others; they convey morals and beliefs that society or individuals have. Popular culture is composed of a numerous amount of stories that are all significant, however to believe a single story can be dangerous. Chimamanda Nqozi Adiche, a Nigerian writer discussed the dangers single stories could have in a TED talk titled, “The Danger of a Single Story.” Adiche talks about stereotypes and how as a child she remembered reading books often about people who were quite different from her, and that she perceived these people as being what the books have described them to be and in a sense how she should be. She goes on to say, “What this demonstrates is how impressionable and vulnerable we are in the face of a story, particularly as children.” (Adiche). Media such as books, films, and technology can have a tremendous affect on how we view certain aspects of life. Narratives and the duality myth go hand in hand with the “duality myth”.
The duality myth refers to characters in media who display different traits and have their own stories to tell. Robert B. Ray explains the duality myth in the “Thematic Paradigm” and explains the importance it has in culture, particularly American films and the heroes in cinema. In these films, heroes are portrayed as being both official and outlaw. According to Robert Ray, “while the outlaw heroes represented a flight from maturity, the official heroes embodied the best attributes of adulthood: sound reasoning and judgment, wisdom and sympathy based on experience.” (sellnow). This example of a hero having the characteristics as being “part official and part outlaw” is presented in almost any movie shown today.
The origin of popular culture emerged in the United States around the late 1700s, during the Industrial Revolution. The rise of industry required laborers to work tedious long hours with no time for hobbies or leisure time outside of their jobs. With new technology and inventions such as the printing press, the desire for leisure activities was high in demand. The printing press paved the way to publishers being able to sell newspapers and books. “With the advent of the cylindrical machines, in which paper rolled off presses powered by steam, it became possible to run a much larger volume at a much lower cost. Publishers could now sell newspapers, books, and other forms of print at a fraction of their former price.” (Cullen). The United States was growing exponentially with the rise of new inventions and transportation.
“The fact that the United States was a large market with growing cities and a rapidly expanding transportation infrastructure made it possible to turn the printed word into something it had never really been before; a true mass medium.” (Cullen, Popular Culture). The Industrial Revolution being a start to mass media opened up new means of communication and interaction in our society. This era in history was important because it contributed to the growth of American culture. The emergence of new technology made it possible for news and stories to reach millions of people, it continues to find ways to appeal to popular culture.
Three media learning theories that contribute to how popular culture influences us are Narrative theory, Social learning theory and cultivation theory. These paradigms help to analyze films, music and other pieces of work in media. The narrative theory is used to find the “hidden” message or moral of a story. “A moral as used in narrative criticism, then, refers to the value-laden ideological argument a story proposes directly or indirectly about how we ought to or ought not to believe or behave.” (sellnow). Morals that are displayed in stories often reflect culture and what is perceived as good or bad. When watching the trailer for the movie, ‘Us” it starts off showing a normal family going on vacation, but later on shows them having to face a horrifying version of themselves. The horrifying figures with masks that look like them portray the overall moral of the story. At one point the mother says, “They look like us. They think like us. They know where we are.”
This line demonstrates the hidden message and moral that we all have to struggle with our own demons that can be horrifying. Social learning theory relates to what is being “taught” or what an audience or individual learns from media. Credited by Albert Bandura, social learning theory focuses on how we learn to believe and behave based on observation, imitation, and modeling. (Bandura, Sellnow). Social learning theory connects to the duality myth by….. The cultivation theory implies that continual exposure to consistent message about what the real world is like can shape a user’s attitude about the world. (Romer, Jamieson, Bleakly, & Jamieson, 2014). This relates to what Chimamanda Nqozi Adiche said in her TED talk about the dangers of a single story. The books she read as a child of the people and places that were outside of Nigeria, told stories which had consistent messages about what people were like in other parts of the world that she had never visited. As a result it shaped her attitude and the stereotypes she believed were true. The idea of semiotics connects to all of these concepts because signs and symbols are everywhere we look and have a major influence in how we view the world and the messages in it.
The trailer for the 2015 drama movie, The Boy Next Door starring Jennifer Lopez, demonstrates beliefs and ideologies in American culture and what is “right” and “wrong” and certain beliefs it holds. The Boy Next Door shows a single mom and her teenage son, they live ordinary lives in a suburban neighborhood. The mother is a high school teacher who is separated from her estranged husband but he still comes around for their son. She is trying to get back into the world of dating and feeling “hot” again. That all changed when the new boy moves in next door. (Trailers, Movieclips, director. The Boy Next Door Official Trailer #1 (2015) – Jennifer Lopez Thriller HD. YouTube, YouTube, 8 Sept. 2014, www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z_qN59GYZsc.)
A rhetorical analysis of The Boy Next Door displays the image of a normal middle class woman and her son, there doesn’t seem to be any excitement in their lives. The music is a low bizarre instrumental that automatically comes off as being dark and dramatic. This depicts how things are not what they seem under the surface. There is an later in the trailer of a deadly car crash that presents the dramatic aspect. Her new neighbor seems to pop up everywhere, her house; he becomes a student of hers at the high school she teaches.
Every time he is shown, there is a creepy vibe. The appearance of the new “boy” is not at all what resembles a “typical” teenage boy, especially when compared to how the teenage son looks. The neighbor looks like a man with his masculine jawline and stature. The mother’s appearance is portrayed as vulnerable and lost since she is newly separated from her husband. Her son also seems to be lost not having a male figure in the household now that his father no longer lives there. It’s insinuated that the creepy neighbor is attracted to the mom. After seducing her he becomes obsessed with her and with befriending her son.
From a narrative perspective, there are many instances in the trailer that show the behavior of the mom and the neighbor as wrong. At one part of the trailer she clearly tells him, “I was feeling vulnerable. I’m the adult. I wasn’t thinking clearly. I can’t do this.” She clearly shows resentment and how it was wrong for her to engage sexually with him. However after the fact things seem to get even more creepy and dramatic. He gets even more upset when she tries avoiding him and tries to sabotage her job and reputation as a teacher by joining her class. The moral of the story is to not engage in inappropriate relationships with underage students. The underlying message seems to be focus on her marriage and family life with her husband because he wants to work on it and her son benefits from having his father around.
When analyzing the movie trailer using the dramatist perspective, rule-breaking behavior is definitely present and it conflicts with the norms that society holds. The ideology of an older woman having an intimate relationship with an underage boy is considered wrong in our culture. This behavior is taboo and illegal, therefore it shows her breaking a law. Somehow the image of the boy being manly and portrayed as him being the one to seduce her somehow justifies her wrongdoing because she wasn’t thinking clearly and afterwards she tries to avoid him. Therefore she is forgiven because she knows what she did is wrong and feels guilty for it. In order to justify her actions she plays victim by saying she was vulnerable and therefore wasn’t thinking clearly. On the other hand, the neighbor isn’t forgiven. The overall message clearly shows that this behavior is wrong and leads to serious consequences.
The Boy Next Door suggests that American culture is drawn to drama as well as the values of marriage and family life. The trailer depicts how it is clearly wrong to behave the way the mother did and also how the neighbor acts. This behavior resulted in her almost losing her family, and her job. It shows the consequences and dangers of what can happen if engaging in this type of behavior. This story incorporates different perspectives and digs in deeper to reveal attitudes and ideals that are part of American culture. The analysis of such films provide insight and exhibits the importance of stories in popular culture
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