SEX, SOCIAL CLASS, AND TECHNOLOGICAL CHANGE AT THE END OF THE CENTURY Summary: Today we will contemplate gender, work, and the changing configuration of public and private in 1990s American culture. We will consider the impact of economic and technological changes on nineties American work and private life. We will consider the examples of Dilbert, Office Space, and The Sopranos. We will conclude by considering The Matrix and its commentary on postmodern American life. Broader connecting themes Manhood, technology, and the American dream Race, class, and national identity: Euro-American versus African-American manhood The urban landscape at the end of the 20th century Technology, selfhood, and community Postmodernity As we proceed through today’s discussion, let’s think about race, class, and economic change at the end of the century. This representation of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Dream Speech” also invites us to ponder the following question: For many Americans, what has become of the American dream at the end of the twentieth century? Materials for discussion today: On work, manhood, and technological change: Dilbert cartoons The Sopranos (online clip from first episode) Office Space The Matrix (in-class clips and discussion) On politics and representation: Brief discussion of Monica Lewinsky scandal Sex, Lies, and Clinton Monica Lewinsky affair enters the headlines, January 1998 •Clinton misleads the American public on television •Lewinsky testifies before a grand jury in August 1998 •Clinton apologizes for misleading the public and hurting his family, but insists on legal accuracy of his denials •Starr Report becomes public in October 1998 •House votes to impeach Clinton, Senate does not (highly partisan vote) •Clinton loyalists come to his defense: Lewinsky affair was a private affair between consenting adults •Democrats gain 5 seats in Congress in 1998 elections; Gingrich leaves office under a cloud of impropriety •Polls indicate that Americans overwhelmingly believed Clinton to be guilty but the vast majority did not want him removed from office Broader themes: Interpenetration of public and private emergence of a confessional culture (recall Patrick Bateman’s obsession with The Patty Winters Show) sex as a public issue Economic and Technological Change Anxieties about Sex, Gender, and Family Life Work, Class, and Culture in 1990s America Changes in the national economy promote prosperity and anxiety Cultural contemplations of white-collar malaise: Scott Adams' Dilbert and cubicle life (see Dilbert comics archive) "It started as a doodle at work, at a large bank. He got developed over time, also at work, and one day I realized I had something." -Scott Adams on the origins of Dilbert Office Space (1999) This film chronicles the dreary life of Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston), a software engineer cubicle dweller at Initech. Peter has a frustrating commute, tiresome coworkers, an inane boss and a girlfriend that he's pretty sure is cheating on him. The only bright spots in his life are his two friends at work, Samir (Ajay Naidu), and the unfortunately named Michael Bolton (David Herman), his laid-back construction worker neighbor Lawrence (Diedrich Bader), and Joanna, a waitress at the local Chotchkie's restaurant whom he worships from afar (Jennifer Aniston). From synopsis at imdb.com Scene of smashing the photocopier from youtube The Sopranos (screen clip of first episode written and directed by David Chase, aired 1999) commentary on manhood and confessional culture interaction of public and private identity depiction of work depiction of the upper-middle class references to popular culture relationship to the gangster myth Season 1, Episode 1: “The Sopranos” Tony Soprano tries to be a good family man on two fronts - to his wife, kids and widowed mother - and as a capo in the New Jersey mob. The pressures of work and family life give him anxiety attacks, so Tony starts seeing a psychiatrist; which is not the kind of thing a guy advertises in the circles Tony moves in - it could get him killed. So he keeps it to himself. What caused all this stress? On the home front his marriage is shaky and his mother needs to be put in a nursing home (he calls it a "retirement community" but she still won't go). Uncle Junior wanted to use Tony's childhood friend's restaurant to whack a guy named Pussy Malenga, but Tony prevented the hit by blowing the place up. When a Czech mob attempted to move in on the Sopranos' waste management business, Tony's hot-headed nephew Chris "handled the problem" by murdering their representative and dumping him on Staten Island without getting the permission of the administration. To top it all off, Tony is haunted by the feeling that the glory days of mob life are long gone, and that he might not measure up to the titans of the past. Madon'! It's enough to make anyone want to see a shrink. From HBO’s Sopranos website (http://www.hbo.com/sopranos/episode/season1/episode08.shtml) Tony as Everyman In general, The Sopranos holds up a mirror to American middle-class life, and the distortions viewed in that mirror seem exaggerated for the sake of narrative effect. But these effects are not nearly as distorted as we like to imagine. Though comprising less than twenty-five percent of the global village, we consume over seventy percent of the world’s resources. Our gady lifestyle, with its insatiable thirst for resources, presupposes a level of violence against nature, against each other. In The Sopranos, this violence is normalized, made to appear casual, unremarkable. Even the most extreme instances of violence in the series are played a little tongue-in-cheek. (Parini, 86) Season 1, Episode 8: “The Legend of Tennessee Moltisanti” This week, an ugly rumor made its way around Essex County, and it can be summed up in one word: "indictments." At the wedding of Larry Boy Barese's daughter, all the wiseguys talked about were the indictments coming down and how half of New York has already left for Fort Lauderdale. So the question was, what are Tony and his associates going to do, lam it or stay? The decision was for everyone to stay - but do a little "housecleaning" in case anyone shows up on the doorstep in an "FBI" jacket. Later, there's a television broadcast naming everybody in the Soprano crew as possible subjects of a grand jury investigation. Everybody but Christopher, that is. So he got upset because he's not named. Very upset. Depressed, even. After all, if he's not significant enough to warrant a warrant, what's the point of his life? To put it mildly, Christopher started falling apart. He had nightmares about Emil Kolar. He infuriated Tony by shooting a clerk in bakery. When he tries to take his mind off things by writing a screenplay, it only makes things worse. Madonn' - what's going on with him, anyway? Not to worry. Just as Christopher is about to hit bottom, he's named in the newspaper as a "reputed gangster." Life is good and he's got a new lease on it. . . From HBO’s Sopranos website (http://www.hbo.com/sopranos/episode/season1/episode08.shtml) Work and Selfhood in the Internet Age: Wachowski Brothers, The Matrix (1999) "In an anti-Utopian future, the 'real' world as we know it is nothing more than a computer construct, created by an all-powerful artificial intelligence. A small group of humans has found a way out of the construct, and are now fighting for the future of the human race."--from container. Scenes: •Cubicle life •“The construct” Neo awakes in a world of all white. He is in the Construct, a "loading platform" that Morpheus and his team use to prepare to deal with the Matrix world. Gone are the sockets in Neo's arms and neck. He has hair again. Morpheus tells him that what he is experiencing of himself is the "residual self image, the mental projection of your digital self" and bids him to sit while he explains the truth. "This," he says, showing an image of a modern city, "is the world that you know." A thing that really exists "only as part of a neural, interactive simulation that we call the Matrix." Morpheus shows Neo the world as it truly exists today, a scarred, desolate emptiness with charred, abandoned buildings, black earth, and a shrouded sky. Morpheus goes on to say that "at some point in the early 21st century all of mankind was united in celebration as we gave birth" to artificial intelligence, a "singular consciousness that birthed an entire race of machines." --synopsis at imdb.com The Matrix, Baudrillard, and Postmodernism Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation (1985) original French Simulacres et Simulation is the book in which Neo hides illicit software “The simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth--it is the truth which conceals that there is none. The simulacrum is true.” - Baudrillard Baudrillard on Postmodernity and Life at the End of the 20th Century Modern society has replaced all reality and meaning with symbols and signs The human experience is of a simulation of reality rather than reality itself. The simulacra are signs of culture and media that create the perceived reality Society has become so reliant on simulacra that it has lost contact with the real world on which the simulacra are based. Morpheus: The Matrix is a system, Neo. That system is our enemy. But when you're inside, you look around, what do you see? Businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters. The very minds of the people we are trying to save. But until we do, these people are still a part of that system and that makes them our enemy. You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it. Morpheus: What is the Matrix? Control. The Matrix is a computer-generated dream world built to keep us under control in order to change a human being into this. [holds up a Duracell battery] Neo: No, I don't believe it. It's not possible. Morpheus: I didn't say it would be easy, Neo. I just said it would be the truth.
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