On the Limits of Poststructuralism

Of course, representations always matter. Both choices and implications.

Disregarding the author and his/her/their background and intent (see, for example, “The Death of the Author”) is typically important when analyzing culture. Humans are generally blind to their own circumstances and why–truly why–they make the choices they make. Only with time can we begin to see aspects of the historical unconscious.

For example, those involved with the reel version of The Help said they were committed to giving a voice to the voiceless and to producing an anti-racism film. However, numerous authors–including myself–have found The Help to be extremely racist and ahistorical.

(A film can be anti-racism and still show historically/culturally relevant racism.)

In other examples, Hollywood frequently receives much warranted criticism for casting White characters in non-White roles. Black women are still cast as Mammy in far too many cases, as I and others have argued elsewhere. White men who are jocks are cast as privileged, know-it-all bullies in too many cases. White characters are often cast as “innocent” pure victims, drawing on the virgin/whore trope. 

These representations have implications: They teach audiences, and they perpetuate inequalities. The institutional problems are endless. 

However, sometimes knowing about the author(s) and the related circumstance(s) is vital and makes poststructuralist criticism unwarned and arguably, inaccurate.

For example, if a group of people work together to make a high-quality but low-budget film about issues they are all passionate about, critiques regarding representation are not as important or accurate, especially when this group of people consist of close, long-time friends or colleagues. In this case, critiquing the work because people play characters that might ordinarily be read differently in a Hollywood production completely misses the existing beauty.

The dominate film and music industry has thoroughly manipulated and skewed audience feelings and expectations such that we (“must”) criticize all media, even though we know that any given cultural text cannot possibly include representations of everything and be completely free of anything that could possibly be associated with a stereotype.

With their limited funds and resources, independent films or local theatre productions, for example, cannot be fairly accessed by analyzing the text alone or by using the same standards used for major-studio-funded works and their bottomless pockets. 

Dr. Andrew Joseph Pegoda

Categories: Thoughts and Perspectives

Tags: , , , , , ,

7 replies

  1. Knowing the limitations the creator(s) faced can add to the enjoyment of a film, but I do not agree that the limitations should excuse a film’s problems in analysis. A creator should be aware of their limitations and work within them. If one can excuse an independent film’s issues because of its budget, then one would also be obligated to excuse a Hollywood film’s issues stemming from studio politics. For instance, if an indie creator casts a straight person as a gay person due to budgetary constraints or a studio casts a straight person as a gay person because the straight actor has large box office appeal, is there a difference? Both films gave gay roles to straight actors because of money. Independent creators must use innovation to overcome impediments to producing their vision. If the vision is not successful, the creator should look inward at themselves and not toward a forgiving audience.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hey Jake,

      Thanks for all of these thoughts. A few immediate responses:

      How do we determine if/which members of the audience are being too forgiving or too harsh? It’s certainly subjective, but any critiques or opinions have to acknowledge reality. Opinions can be wrong if they are factually dismissible.

      I find it interesting that we all–myself include–focus so much on gay vs. straight actors/people when we don’t even think twice when a movie star plays a teacher or mother or CEO, for example, without ever having been one.

      I see your point about Hollywood politics and film analysis vis-a-vis my arguments. I’ll think about that more, but I would still maintain that an independent film cannot be fairly critiqued using Hollywood standards.

      Liked by 2 people

    • To your first point, certainly. Saying that something is good or bad is easy and critics sometimes do a poor job of articulating what in particular did or did not work for them or had unreasonable expectations. If a critic cannot articulate their point well or provide factual evidence to reinforce their point, then dismissing them seems like a good course of action. If they can, then their views are worth considering.

      To the second point, I think that the focus stems from Hollywood’s reluctance to cast queer actors because of homophobia, similar to white actors being cast as people of color because of racism. If actors that are also mothers/teachers/CEO’s were not being cast in roles because of those identities/professions, there would probably be more discussion surrounding it.

      Regarding your third point, I agree in certain respects. A large budget does allow for access to crews and equipment that can improve a film on a technical level. However, even the least expensive film should have a strong premise, a solid plot, and engaging writing.

      Liked by 1 person

    • To tired to think more tonight! More on all of this soon. See you soon. Thanks for all of your thoughts


  2. @wetwithwaterwings,
    You make a very good point. There have been some indie filmmakers who have chosen unknowns to play a lead, especially if it was to play a Native American, or some foreign person, (and in some cases a particularly articulate and charming child, who is completely unknown to Americans, as in ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’), but too few are daring to put unknowns into lead roles, no matter how good they are. Or even to dare to populate ALL of the roles with unknown but really talented actors. Then there are the writers of the screen play who realize that if they really make the film completely historically accurate, they will lose a lot of their audience. The real racism or sexism is hinted at in old TV shows. Some are clearly so sexist and/or racist that not only are all the lead actors white men, the women have to put up with blatant and cruel assumptions by the men. And the assumptions are even worse for any black woman in a TV role. But, to cause a truly gagging event, they were not considered so blatant or cruel back then.

    After all, there ARE an excess number of really talented actors in Hollywood who never get a chance to play in any movie at all. They are bankers, administrative assistants, real estate sellers, workers in factories, bars, restaurants, department stores, etc. Worse, plastic surgery has been considered a “must have” mainly because everyone who wants a job doing anything in LA has to “look good” just in case they get discovered by Hollywood, or just to be able to get a job–the competition is that fierce. When I watch PBS shows made in Britain, I am constantly made aware of the fact that the British are not afraid to put good female actors into roles who are NOT knockout good looking, who look like everyday people in the res of the country. They are far more believable than the Miss America winner chosen to play a saleswoman or farmworker.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The entire entertainment industry in the United States is really unfair and cruel. For comparative analysis, I’ve watched bits of television shows from other countries, including the UK, Australia, South Africa, they are so much more informal and relaxed compared to here.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Your thoughts and “their” comments made a good reading experience for me–gave me much food for thought. Thank you all.

    Liked by 1 person

%d bloggers like this: