Film and Television – Things On My Mind Series, #8

I use the Things On My Mind series to share collections of working, not necessarily related, ideas that don’t (yet, anyway) warrant their own article or have another home.

Law and Order: Special Victims Unit receives its fair share of criticism, much of it warranted; however, here I want to mainly recognize some of Law and Order: SVU’s strengths. Writers of this ever-popular drama certainly make little effort to demonstrate (or allude to) the realities of the justice system and provide no articulation of the long-term struggles survivors and their loved ones face.

In contrast, Law and Order: Special Victims Unit creates a world where the pervasiveness and seriousness of rape are acknowledged; where no easy, one-fix solutions are suggested; where social problems ranging from homelessness and poverty, to sexism, to cycles of abuse are represented; where victims and perpetrators basically represent the ranges of ability, age, class, gender, and race; where police, investigators, doctors, courts, and juries take sexual violence seriously and don’t blame the victims; and where a White, unmarried heterosexual, able-bodied cisgender woman–Olivia Margaret Benson (Mariska Magdolna Hargitay)–is in an authority position.

Marking categories of privilege is important. Dr. Koritha Mitchell’s recent social media activity has emphasized the importance of “marking Whiteness.” I have been thinking about this and its connection to other identity categories — e.g., (dis)ability, age, class, gender, sex, religion. When experiences or identities go unnamed, we make them invisible. This contributes to the oppression of everyone. “Marking” Whiteness, for example, involves specifically stating assumptions, involves making the historically invisible, visible.

Thus, when describing Olivia’s character, I deliberately emphasize some of her identities, including her Whiteness.

Any identity explicitly marked for any person or group should, at the very least, be marked for all others within a given context. There are no “natural” or static categories of experiences. Moreover, the more categories that are marked, the more our understandings will increase and the unquestioned powers of identities will decrease. And, identities never exist within binaries but within spectrums.

Longing for friendly worlds. Ever since I watched Lars and the Real Girl (2007), I have been unable to stop thinking about it. In this movie, Lars (Ryan Gosling) is neurodivergent. He basically inhabits his own world and has trouble living and socializing as others do. Lars makes progress when he meets his girlfriend–Bianca–on the Internet. His girlfriend, however, is a life-size plastic doll. While sadly completely unrealistic in our world, every one accepts Lars and Bianca. No one teases him. No one tries to fix him. They don’t even really think he is crazy. They accept Lars. Bianca is greeted and served meals exactly the same as Lars and everyone else at social gatherings and at restaurants. Everyone attends Bianca’s funeral without any hint of sarcasm or meanness when she ‘dies’ an untimely death. Lars has unconditional support.

Lars and his personification of Bianca even generate a very real and new kind of loving bond between members of the community. I can’t think of any other film that shows such love.

What determines a text’s value? I sometimes think about why some blogs/movies/songs go viral and other do not. Which texts scholars study. Ignore. Which ones everyday society embraces and remembers. Only cherishes after-the-fact. Is it all chance and luck? Why is Lars and the Real Girl a film that will probably be forgotten and ignored? Why is Mildred Pierce (1945) theorized and studied but largely forgotten by the larger culture? Why is Gone with the Wind (1939) still popular among the public but basically always ignored by academics? Questions…

Dr. Andrew Joseph Pegoda 



Categories: Thoughts and Perspectives

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

2 replies

  1. On the last bit…I am teaching a rhetoric class this semester and I let/encourage students to pick things to examine that they are interested in and have questions about and I notice that many of them choose things that I think they THINK they should be interested in, while others are willing to choose something truly because they are interested in that thing and they aren’t trying to meet some expectations of an academic. Those who publish I don’t think are given that freedom much. They are driven by what their diss advisor was interested in or what they think the should be interested in for academics. It is interesting to see it so early in academics, when students aren’t publishing – they still will try to “fit” into what they think the academic box is.

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