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The Family Melodrama and the Postmodern Period

Lecture on Family Melodrama for Art of the Cinema

James Bogdanski

on 13 November 2015

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Transcript of The Family Melodrama and the Postmodern Period

REVIEW: Melodrama
Family Melodrama
REVIEW: 1963 - 1977 -- Modernist
Case Study:
Wild, Wild West
1978 - present -- Postmodern
a. Elsaesser
i. "Identification, recognition, and sustained sympathetic attention"
b. Elizabeth Anker
i. moral virtue
ii. villain, victim, & a heroic savior
iii. dramatic polarization of good & evil
iv. a cyclical interaction of emotion
v. images, sounds, gestures, & nonverbal communication
Wild, Wild West
TV show (starring Robert Conrad, (1963 - 1969)
plots/conflictual strategies (conventions)
i. Generically: rejection of status quo; cynicism; distrust of authority; simultaneous distrust & embrace of technology
1. Disruption; non-plot oriented (character centered); distancing & alienating; multiplicity & polyvocality of characters; distrust
2. Self-reflexive, inter-textual (filmic, non-filmic, extrafilmic); open text; critical distancing
3. Multiple truths; situational ethics; chance/happenstance
i. Generically: rejection of status quo; cynicism, distrust of authority; simultaneous distrust and embrace of technology
revival of traditional genres with new twists (looking backwards and forwards simultaneously)
supplanting of national economies for global economies (transnationalism and globalization)
The Family Melodrama

c. Linda Williams

i. begins, and wants to end, in
a space of innocence
ii. focuses on
victim-heroes and
the recognition of
their virtue
iii. appears modern by borrowing from realism, but realism serves the melodramatic passion & action (which is "excess")
iv. involves
a dialectic of pathos and action
-- a give and take of "too late" and "in the nick of time"
v. presents characters who embody primary psychic roles organized in Manichean
b/w good & evil
i. Disruptive outsider intrudes on the family (e.g.
Cape Fear,
ii. Traumatization of one family member by
another (e.g.
Ordinary People
, 1980)
iii. Generational conflict (e.g.
The Butler
, 2012)
Historical Overview
1896 - 1928

-- Pre-Classical:
Codification into groupings
1929 - 1945 -- Classical:
Crystalization or solidfying of genres
1946 - 1962 -- Post-Classical:
transitional; destabilizing of the Classical era
1. Jameson: "grasp 'postmodernism' not as style, but rather as cultural dominant: a conception which allows for the presence and coexistence of a range of very different, yet subordinate features." [56]
2. Postmodern subject as multiple and contradictory (schizophrenic)
a. Aesthetic sense of Style
1. Fragmentation = new "language" based on discontinuity or breaks
ii. Pastiche, collage = mashups and
of textual poaching
iii. Simulacra = disappearance of the referent
iv. Nostalgic sensibility
3. Ahistoric; weakening sense or reverence of History; integrity of socio-cultural "structures" are destabilized by postmodern subjectivity (i.e. poststructuralism); indifference to history
4. Blurring of lines distinguishing "high" (elitist) and "low" (popular, masses) culture
5. Waning affect, experience of intensity; depthlessness (requires the need for more and more intensity); of the surface
iii. Industrial determinants
1. Conglomerate Takeover of Hollywood
2. Blockbuster Era (Spielberg, Lucas); SPECTACLE
3. Technology
Wild, Wild West
rap/video Kool Mo Dee, 1987
iv. Cultural determinants

1. Post-Vietnam; HIV/AIDS, Death of
2. Reagan/Bush era
(neoconservative/neoliberal movements);
3. Gimme generation; Wall Street
Rejection of tradition; explosion of traditional modes
“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” -- Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
Full transcript