Ideology has a strong presence in all films. There is a constant underlying idea that a filmmaker is consciously or unconsciously applying to their films. We can define ideology as a system of ideas that cohesively form a central belief. Some movies assert the dominant mindset of the era, like to pro-Reaganism and militarism ideologies in Tony Scott’s Top Gun (1986). Whereas some films demonstrate an emerging ideology that counters widespread such as the racial commentary in Jordan Peale’s Get Out (2017).
Ideologies are talked about in films using elements ranging from the imagery used from the scene to the dialogue between two characters. These are some of the tools that directors use to convince and expose their audience to an ideology. Due to the medium’s popularity and effectiveness, films can be used as a powerful weapon of conveying ideology and as such able to enlighten and mobilize and touch audiences across the world. In this essay, I will try to deconstruct these ideas using Top Gun and get out to show how our perception of the world is greatly affected by the media we consume on a daily basis.
Any era in history has a dominant ideology and emergent ideology, things that express these opposing ideologies. Political climates and political affairs, will directly affect the content expressed in narratives. The dominant ideology during Top Gun’s development in the 80’s was Reaganism. During Regan’s term as president from 1981 to 1989, Ronald Reagan embodied a vision of a powerful government and in turn a powerful America. Regan’s focus on the military was most noticeable during the cold war. With tensions as high as ever between the US and Russia, America had to pertain a vigorous appearance against the enemy. Essentially a chess buffing contest, both nations maintained an exterior that showed a willingness to engage in combat though never doing so. These ideals and beliefs that dominated America are can be seen in Top Gun. The respect of individualism mixed with ego is found in the film’s protagonist Maverick, the handsome and idealized pilot. We the audience are told to respect and admire Maverick furthermore the people in the world he represents. Reaganism favors those that are willing to express individualism as long as it aligns with the government’s ideals. This is a major characteristic of Maverick.
While Top Gun embodies the dominant ideology of the 80s, Get out represents the image and ideology of today’s modern world. Peale criticizes the current dominant ideology, the belief that the days of oppression for people of color are fading and that we should be satisfied with the progress made. Get out juxtaposes this through an emergent ideology that comments that there is still adversity faced by minorities in this post Obama world. It realizes that while progress is being made, it is still nowhere near the standard of equality. Racial groups are still marginalized, and in the worst cases attacked or killed for their appearance. The murders of innocent young African Americans such as Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown act as evidence that issues regarding race are still present in today’s society. All of these external factors, the political climate, current affairs, and cultural events, have a pivotal influence on the ideology of films. Through the tools of chosen conventions, the director is able to convey an emotion or an idea to their audience. The beginning of Top Gun presents us with an idealized view of the military, enforcing that pro-Reaganism ideology.
The film’s introduction showcases a montage of pilots and aircraft preparing for flight. Scott’s decision to use the silhouettes of the pilots removes them of any defining qualities. This creates the appearance that any one of us could be a pilot and to look heroic in front of a backdrop of dawn like Maverick. The imagery combines the two ideals of man and machine creating a relationship between the pilots and their planes. Reaganism promotes the melding of the past and the future. This is achieved through blending tradition and classic American values, with the modernity and technology of the new age. Thus, the pilots and their planes work in unison to combine the two Reaganistic ideas. Get out challenges our dominant ideology through a mixture of subtle and over cinematic techniques.
The subtlety shines as Dean reveals his fascination to Chris of immersing himself in other cultures by saying, “I’m a traveler and I can’t help but I keep bringing souvenirs back. It’s such a privilege to be able to experience another person’s culture.” The small line of dialogue is teeming with racial connotations. Not only in the context of the film but also with the ideology Peale aims to tackle. Dean’s delivery of the dialogue is seemingly unimportant. It’s a remark he makes that is intended to be overlooked, yet it holds a significant truth. Europeans have historically colonized and robbed the values of other cultures appropriating them for themselves or banishing them entirely. The ideology of colonialism has remained dominant in the past, there now has lessened in its intensity. Its modern day iteration comes in the form of cultural appropriation.
Cultural appropriation is the act of a dominant culture taking elements from a minority culture. Get out showcases quite literally though taking bodies of black people and inserting the minds of white people into their bodies. It is a heightened example of cultural appropriation. Which in turn makes it clear to the audience that the dominant ideology and its invisible racism exists and is warped. Dominating the US box office, Top Gun was a hit to the audiences in the 80s. The film grossed over a hundred and seventy million dollars, demonstrating that viewers of the time had a clear demand for films that celebrated America and its glorious ideals. In turn millions of individuals were exposed to its ideologies of Reaganism and militarism. The US Navy had a direct contribution in the production of Top Gun. The Navy supplied resources such as large set pieces and aircraft, and in turn the Navy was given to influence the script. For instance, the character of Charlie was altered from being an enlisted member of the Navy to a civilian contractor working with the Navy. This decision was made as a result of the Navy’s prohibition of relationships between personnel.
The collaboration worked and after the film’s release, naval aviators went up by 500%. That being said, audiences of today would likely have a difficult time connecting with the film. Its use of overused tropes and clichés are now considered cheesy and more importantly, the ideology it tries to convey the audience is no longer as relevant as it was before. In contrast, Get Out held a light to the dominant ideology questioning the legitimacy of the close to perfect society we live in. Through embracing familiar narrative and cinematic techniques from horror and comedy genres, the audience is able to easily connect and predict the rhythm of the film, only to have their perceptions tested. Through these techniques, Peele’s emergent ideology is easier for audiences to swallow.
Much to Peele’s surprise, Get Out was a Cultural phenomenon. People of all creeds embraced the film’s introspective racial commentary. In 2018, the film received a prestigious academy award for best original screenplay, and as a result, Jordan Peele became the first African-American to win the award. Despite both films’ difference, they are without a doubt explicit when it comes to ideological content. We can justify Top gun’s ideological content as explicit because it glorifies militarism, through the combination of audio and visuals. The fighter jets shown and the hot shot character Maverick demonstrates it very well.
In Get out, it is slightly more implicit compared to Top Gun, but still retains the explicit ideological content. The difference in release dates can be the reason for the difference, to be specific, story-telling method the at the time. Driven by dominant and emergent ideology, films will continue to shift and change as ideologies do. Media codes and conventions will develop and continue to act as vessels to express these ideologies in films too, and audiences around the world will persist in accepting or rejecting the messages these films convey, While Top Gun and Get out are two strikingly different films, their interaction with ideology bonds them together both films have and will act as a representation of the ideas present in our society. As we humans continue to attain beliefs, films will be right there with us, acting as an insight into our world.
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