Categories
Movies

The Role of the Protagonist in Dystopian Films

I wrote this essay in March 2004; I was in first year University and this assignment was for “FILM 1000B”. I recently found it while cleaning up my basement studio, and saw that I scored 18 out of 20 on the paper. I thought I’d share it online for all to see.

Stephen Gower
FILM 1000B
Genre Essay
Prof. Mark Langer
MAR 17 2004

The Role of the Protagonist in Dystopian Films

It is suggested that in the musical film, a utopian community exists where the protagonist acts as an active participant in its construction. The overwhelming result is that a situation, having wronged itself at some point during the film, rights itself in the end as a direct result of the protagonists’ actions. The musical community is often cheerful and there are no false pretenses surrounding it. Conversely, the dystopian community is based on control and power. There is often a strong policing force that keeps the population in line. In dystopian films, the protagonist is still aparticipant, however partakes in destryoing the oppressive society he or she lives in rather than working to preserve the community as it once was.

As mentioned, dystopian communities are usually structured governments, and are accompanied by some sort of policing force (or in cases like Nineteen Eighty Four, self-policing methods1George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty Four. (England: Martin Secker & Warburg Ltd, 1949).) to control the population. In A Clockwork Orange(1971), it is an actual police force; in Brazil(1985), it is the Ministry of Information; and in The Matrix(1999), it is the Machines/Agents who control the delinquents. On the surface, this is not something out of the ordinary; every society needs to be policed to enjoy a sense of personal security. But in the case of dystopian films, this policing force does more than just enforce the law. In the case of Brazil and The Matrix, the police force not only stops but eliminates errors within the system. However, since A Clockwork Orange is set in a modern time frame, it operates more like our society, using prisons. It is the government that uses its experimental treatment that eliminates the problem, while the police force works to try and correct it, and then benefits from the reversal of Alex’s conditioning. These are all quick and easy example-s of an outside force controlling the protagonist, but there is more to it than simply a policing force.

The idea of the outside force controlling the protagonis comes into play when he feels compelled to change the society for the better – whether to bring edown the government or shutting down the artificial intelligence controlling the humans. The protagonist is allowed to believe he is working to make the community better, or more than what it is, but in the end, he is stopped by the controlling force (usually the government). For instance, in Brazil, Sam Lowry thinks he is helping to bring down the government, and actually believes he succeeds in escaping the Ministry of Information. However, not only is Sam broken down by the series of torture performed on him by Jack Lint, but his grand escape (which takes up approximately the last five or ten minutes of the film) is all in his mind; this reinforces the notion that the protagonist merely undergoes the illusion of de-constructing the dystopian society.

Invariably, the protagonist also has a meaningless job2Fred Glass. “Brazil,” in An Introduction to Film Studies. Edited by Mark LAnger. (Pearson Custom Publishing), 2004. p.373. with no aspirations of advancing. In Brazil, Sam has a dull job with little to no advantages, and refuses every offer of promotion sent his way – to the point where his boss, Mr. Kurtzman, assumes that Sam still wants to turn down the latest offer of promotion and forges his signature. Since Sam has no initial desire to move beyond his current position (for he proclaims himself to be happy), there should be no problem with this (and there is no problem until Sam decides he needs a higher level of security clearance to locate his dream woman, Jill).

Likewise, in The Matrix, Neo/Thomas Anderson has a cubicle job at a nameless software company. He has no ambition or plans of advancing his career with the company, and it appears that it would not phase him if he lost his job. However, his meaningless job is not as important to the plot as it is in Brazil. What is important is that Neo, within the Matrix, conducts software piracy; he is under the impression that he is circumventing the system by performing this piracy. Of course, the machines who have set up the Matrix, who are ultimate responsible for controlling the actions of their crops, probably do not care that an insignificant human is conducting acts that are only illegal in a computer simulation of 20th century New York City.

A common relation between the protagonist and the dystopian society is that the protagonist is often watched closely by the ruling government. In the case of Brazil, Sam’s actions are watched immediately after he accepts his promotion in the Ministry of Information. For all of his efforts to hide his activities, the Ministry is always aware of what he does and is a step ahead of him. Because of this, he cannot escape his eventual fate of becoming trapped in his own fantasy.

Likewise, Neo is watched, even more closely. However, he is watched by more than just the machines; revolutionaries such as Morpheus and Trinity are watching him through the Matrix, and even guide him around his office, seeming to know Neo’s surroundings better than even him. In the sequence where he has to choose to leave with the Agents or leave with Trinity, Morpheus informs Neo that “they” have been watching him – indicating the Agents/machines – and that he is not safe. The scene immediately following Neo’s capture features a set of TV monitors watching Neo. We are not sure who is watching those screens, but it is certain that someone else is watching Neo (it is quite possible that these are the TV screens from the scene where Neo interacts with the Architect in The Matrix Reloaded(2003), but that movie is not in discussion).

The most important aspect of the dystopian film is that the protagonist is not in control of his actions, even though he thinks he is. This was touched on before, when the illusion of the protagonist being able to bring about change was mentioned. Sam’s manipulation at the hands of the Ministry of Information was mentioned; as in the novel Nineteen Eighty Four (for which Brazil was based on3Glass, 371.), this is key, because in the novel, the Inner Party knew Winston was going to commit “thought crime”, and eventually eliminated him when he had gone too far. In Brazil, the Ministry of Information knew Sam had committed the crime of aiding a suspected terrorist, and had him eliminated after he had gone too far. In both cases, the government knew of the protagonists’ actions, were watching him, and eliminated the problem.

As a point of reference, in the dystopian novel Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, the members of that particular society are controlled by their genetic conditioning from before entering the embryonic stage. Miscreants are watched by the government and are removed from society. All dystopian genre films and literature contain this key part, and that is what makes them a dystopia.

One could argue, then, that The Matrix is not a dystopian film. Neo is able to break free from the controlling machines and help rid the humans of the Matrix once and for all. In that respect, The Matrix fails as a dystopia4This is similar to Gattaca(1997). Even though most people are controlled by genetics, the protagonist defies his inferior genetic make-up to strive and reach his goals. This film does not qualify as a dystopia, despite being based on Huxley’s Brave New World.. However, if you looked at The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions(2003) as well as The Matrix, it can be seen that Neo – and other liberated humans – is still a pawn of the machines, even outside the simulation.

In A Clockwork Orange, this control comes from the conditioning Alex received after volunteering for the government-sponsored program while in prison. In effect, the government is able to control Alex. In the end, after removing the effects of the conditioning, the government in fact uses Alex for their own twisted purposes. Even in this, a film that just barely qualifies as a dystopia, exterior control exists. This control extends to a point where Alex has no choice but to commit suicide so he would not have to hear the music he was conditioned to hate (even though he loved music).

Lastly, the protagonist is concerned with changing his situation; this is why A Clockwork Orange is only vaguely a dystopia. Alex is simply concerned with getting out of jail as fast as he can. He could care less about his society – but what makes the film a dystopia is the message that it presents to the viewer. But in Brazil, even though Sam claims he is perfeclty happy in his job, he constantly fantasizes of a dream woman who he is sure he is destined to meet. When he does finally meet her in real life, he feels the desire to change everything, especially when he discovers his dream woman is a suspected terroirst.

In The Matrix, this desire for drastic change is most evident. The humans wish to destroy the Matrix and the machines, hoping to liberate all of humanity. The only difference between The Matrix and other dystopian films is that the dystopian film generally sees no change to the situation, leaving the viewer with a feeling of hopelessness. The Matrix, on the other hand, leaves the viewer instilled with hope that the machines will be destroyed. Again, this is another argument against the notion that The Matrix is even a dystopian film. It simply exhibits the general aspects of a science fiction film.

In short, dystopian films feature extremely well-structured, inescapable societies where the protagonist simply exists. He may try to change the world, or bring down the ruling power singlehandedly, but because of the ever-vigil eye of the ones holding power, he fails to accomplish anything but bring his life to term at a quicker pace. The protagonist is often watched, either from the beginning or at the moment of crimes against the state, and is controlled by an exterior force. It was just stated: the dystopian community is unavoidable once a society is locked within it.

In general, the dystopia is meant as a commentary on present society, rather than a story where the hero saves everyone. It is not meant to have a happy ending, only to stimulate the viewer/reader’s mind into asking questions about the current state of their own world. While The Matrix does cause us to pause and think on whether our world is real or not, it does not put social values into question. Films like A Clockwork Orange and Brazil both lay the groundwork for the curious mind to ponder their current situation, or what might happen should they continue along a certain path.

Bibliography

An Introduction to Film Studies. Edited by Mark Langer. (Canada: Pearson Custom Publishing, 2004).

Filmography

A Clockwork Orange. Dir. Stanley Kubrick. Perf. Malcom McDowell, PAtrick Magee, James Marcus. U.K., 1971.

Brazil. Dir. Terry Gilliam. Perf. Jonathan Pryce, Kim Greist, Robert DeNiro. U.K., 1985.

Matrix, The. Dir. Andy Wachowski and Larry Wachowski. Perf. Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss. U.S.A./Australia, 1999.

Categories
writing

Adding to the Cultural Landscape

I’m well aware I’m not going to be famous on TV in the immediate future – that’s never been a goal for me. I know I’m also not going to be “Internet Famous” either. I don’t have the follow through to make it happen.

All I want is just a small following of people that every now and then tell me, “Hey, I really like what you’re doing. Keep it up!” To that end I always have something swirling in my head to create something for the cultural landscape online.

All I know is what I don’t want to do: a recap show or a review show where I spend my time watching a TV show (new or old) and talk about it. I would much rather talk about that kind of thing with family and friends, and I don’t think my “takes” are interesting enough to put them online en masse.

What I want to do is offer up something that is more or less unique, find a way to contribute that hasn’t been done before (or at least hasn’t been done often). That’s one of the reasons I put Alternative Airwaves together. So I look to archive.org to see if there’s anything interesting I can use there.

Bottom line – I like to produce things, but I don’t know what I like producing. I rely too much on a personal filter that says, “Nope, that’s not worth completing, don’t bother starting this project”. Somehow Alternative Airwaves gets through that filter, I think because it’s something I just do.

Everything else – I just leave festering for too long and it doesn’t make it past the filter. I think that’s my new writing goal for 2019: create something and just put it out there. The point is no longer about whether it’s good enough or people like it, the point is picking a project (or multiple projects) and finishing it.

Categories
Life

Motivation

Last night I was washing the dishes. Not in order to feel good about myself – no, sometimes I need to clean to ward off negative energy instead.

Last night I was feeling ready to blow up at my dog, who was driving me a little batty. Instead, I attacked the dishes. As it tends to happen, I had a few thoughts pop in my head.

Lately I’ve wanted to get back into fiction writing. Just small stuff, short stories (probably flash fiction at that) – nothing lengthy. I’ve been doing some reading to brush up on my skills/habits; not other fiction right now but namely prompts, idea sources, etc.

Writing short fiction is easy – it doesn’t take long to write a story. Writing a good piece of short fiction is levels more difficult of course, but that’s not the issue I need to tackle at the moment.

The problem I’m having is one of motivation, and that’s the thought/realization that I had last night while I was doing the dishes. It’s something that I want to figure out how to fix but I’m not sure how to do it just yet.

Motivation in some fields of my life isn’t hard to come by. I can find the motivation to go to work, to put podcast stuff together, to work out, to eat right; but to write? It’s missing.

And I don’t understand why. I have a memory of maybe 6-7 years back at Christmas when I would write short stories in a notebook. Where has that inspiration gone?

I’d like to find it. I’ll see what I can do.

Categories
Goals writing

Notebook Habit

I’ve got what I consider to be a “weird” hobby (or habit?) – writing in notebooks.  I consider it weird, because I have no practical use for notebooks – other than my “bullet journal” set up, I don’t really write down anything of substance day-to-day.  And yet, it’s an extremely enjoyable thing to see my personal font jump out just right from the page.

Excerpt from a notebook
Excerpt from a notebook

OK, the picture I just included is a little on the messy side.  But what I hope it illustrates is just the right balance of colour and shape of the letters that seems to look…”right” on the page.  This is the part where I consider my hobby / habit weird.  I don’t spend as much time writing things out as I used to, but finding the perfect paper and perfect pen (or sometimes pencil) for that paper is fantastic.

Every now and then (and now is one of those times) I go on a little quest to figure out, “what can I use my varied selection of notebooks for?”  The question is often unanswered, because either I give up or the feeling just fades away before I get a chance.  Predominantly I use it for planning my day or writing things down I don’t want to forget.  But that is purely functional – I actually want to write something out rather than use a planner.

So my search has started.  At the absolute least I will probably start writing out my blog posts by hand before typing them out here.  Ultimately, I would very much like to use up the notebooks that I’ve spent good money on 😉

Categories
Meta

Trying Something New

As I type this introduction to the blog post after typing the title, I realize that this should be the perfect post title to match with a life experience that I’m trying new for the first time to follow up my post about acting a couple of weeks ago.  Disappointingly, it’s not about that (for now, anyway).

Instead this is just a post about the blog itself and a head’s up for what I hope you will see happening in the next little while.

I’ve cleaned up the blog categories and separated everything into 4 broader headings: Media, Life, Sports, and Meta (which houses stupid self-referential things like this).  So if you come here and are only interested in one topic, you can click on the one that interests you most.  Why you would want to read the meta posts, I don’t really know.  But people like weird things on the Internet.  In fact, I bet there’s a niche out there for blog posts about blogs.

The other thing I’m trying to do is automatically import posts from my other blog(s) into this one.  I’ll know tomorrow if it works – I have it set to import a post from Alternative Airwaves tomorrow morning.  I’m crossing my fingers.

Anyway, that’s all for today.  Nothing insightful for you to read!

Categories
Goals writing

Plans, plans, more plans!

OK, so it’s been a week since I wrote publicly that I wanted to get back into writing on this blog (writing in general, really) and yet, this is the first time I’m writing.  If I was serious about it, wouldn’t I have written some posts by now?  Maybe some actual content, instead of posts about posts, like this one?

Don’t answer any of those questions, they’re rhetorical.  Yeah, I’ve dropped the ball already.  Thank goodness those weren’t resolutions, I dodged a bullet there.  I just came in from a walk with my puppy and as I did it without headphones lodged in my ears, I had the opportunity to do some thinking and some planning.  Naturally when I’m walking and without anything to write with is when I do the most thinking.

My pledge as I write this is to work on getting at least 6 weeks’ worth of blog posts written (or at the very least, mostly written).  Next, I’m going to turn Facebook sharing on, finally; I want people to read this, and the most views I’ve seen have come from when I shared a post or two on Facebook.

There are some reasons why I haven’t shared with Facebook up to now.  One is that I am I guess shy about sharing my work with people I know (which is stupid, since I’m perfectly fine sharing with strangers).  The other is that I feel like I’d be spamming my friends feed.  Also a stupid reason, since I barely post at all.  Sharing an extra 1-2 links every week isn’t going to hurt anything.

I am at least hoping that having more people read it on a regular basis will motivate me to keep searching for more things to write about and share.  Wish me luck!

Categories
writing

Avoid creative block

It’s funny – just this afternoon I was feeling an urge to be creative – I just didn’t know what I wanted to create.  I still don’t, actually.  But I thought opening up my WP dashboard (for the first time in weeks, admittedly) would be a good place to start.

I figured, “Why don’t I type my way through?”  And then on my Dashboard I saw that I had this draft sitting around, with a link to a Reddit post from /r/Blogging called “How to Avoid Creative Block and Have A Good Supply of Writing Ideas”.   It’s been a while since I read it, so I had another go.

So, go on and read the article below.  I hope that it helps or inspires you!  I can’t say exactly that it’s helped me, but I’m going to take some ideas from it.

(Oh – and the image I uploaded for this post?  I was going to create a graphic using Canva and a creativity-related quote, and one of the templates I found I just happened to like.  So I didn’t even create this one!)

How to Avoid Creative Block and Have a Good Supply of Writing Ideas from Blogging

Categories
writing

Usefulness of Medium

I really like Medium.com.  There’s a wide range of articles available on virtually ANY topic – from the trivial to the very important.  And if I were feeling lazy, I’d end my post right there – those are reasons enough for me to publicly state my fondness for Medium.  But I’m not (too) lazy.

https://medium.com/the-mission/the-enemy-in-our-feeds-e86511488de

I recently read the above article, which is what prompted me to start writing about a website.  If for some reason you can’t see the link, it’s an article called “This Is How Your Fear and Outrage Are Being Sold for Profit: The story of how one metric has changed the way you see the world“.  To give you a brief summary, it talks about how journalism has changed for the worse because of online metrics.

What struck me about this article, and others like it that I’ve read, is the simple fact that articles and reading such as this exists in the first place on Medium.  I think that it’s important that different viewpoints exist and are easily read, especially when more and more news feeds are curated to show you what YOU want to read, and often give you a skewed world view.

But on Medium, there doesn’t seem to be any particular algorithm (that I’m aware of, at least) that aims specific content your way.  Their main page starts with a series of article suggestions, which as far as I can tell, is based on a combination of what you’ve read previously + content categories you’ve identified as what you’re interested in reading.

 

View post on imgur.com

It then goes on to suggest articles that are specifically found in your categories of choice.  OK, so it is curated, a little bit; but the fact that the “you might like” choices are based on what you’ve already read is still leagues better than news articles who change their headlines and content based on what people are more likely to read.

With Medium, I have a choice of what I want to read.  The articles that are submitted here aren’t done so in order to increase precious advertising revenue or clicks; they’re on the website because somebody wanted to write that particular article and wanted someone to read it.

I was about to call it ‘one big letter to the editor’ – but that’s the thing; while there ARE opinion pieces on the website, there are also some well-researched journalism pieces that are more about facts than opinion.  And then there are some nice stories to read as well.

Given the state of current journalism, we need a website like Medium to continue to thrive.  I myself need to make a more conscious effort to read it on a regular basis.  You should, too.

Categories
writing

I’ve Had Enough of You, Yoast SEO

When I started this new blog in January, my number one goal – and today it’s still the number one goal – was to engage readers.  That hasn’t exactly happened.  But that’s okay, and I’m still working on it.

But one of the reasons I pushed forward and bought a domain name with a WordPress installation was because I kept getting told I needed to be able to use plugins!  And that I’d never get anywhere without a domain name!

Sadly, I think I was oversold on the domain name.  Nonetheless, one of the plugins that kept getting pushed over on Reddit’s blogging subreddit was “Yoast SEO”.  The long and short of it is that Yoast SEO is designed to help you craft your posts to optimize them for SEO (Search Engine Optimization).

I’ve had enough of Yoast SEO intruding in my writing.

I’ve definitely noticed since activating the plugin that I’m changing the way I might traditionally write a post, and that my own personal voice is marginalized.  I don’t like it anymore, and tailoring my posts to perform well with search engines isn’t doing me any favours, anyway.

So I’m ditching it, officially.  Consider this a negative review, and not just a pat on my own back.

If you’ve never used it before, Yoast SEO prompts you for a keyword (apparently several keywords if you have premium) and scans your post for SEO efficiency, giving you a red, yellow, or green light based on what you’ve written.

You get more points for adding images, headings, etc.  Some of it makes sense to me.  But some of it absolutely doesn’t – and maybe that’s a fault of my not understanding SEO, but I can tell you with certainty that I don’t feel like searching for or creating a random image to insert just because it increases my Yoast rating.

I think this is just my personal use-case showing through here; I believe that for people with focused, niche-oriented blogs, Yoast SEO might in fact be extremely beneficial for them.  It’s just not for me.

If you’ve had better experience with Yoast, let me know in the comments!  I’d love to be proven wrong, and given a lesson or two on how to use it and avoid losing my writing voice.

Categories
writing

Story Idea Up For Grabs

I got a story idea a few weeks ago, but I haven’t really bothered to put pen to paper to develop it at all.  So it’s now up for grabs!

Take them.
Take them.

I was listening to Almost Educational Episode 131 about time travel.  At some point while I was listening, the idea for a piece of flash fiction popped into my head.  Unfortunately, as is usually the case with my ideas, if I don’t act on it fast, the motivation to do it fades pretty quickly.

The main premise is this: The phenomenon known as “frequency illusion” (also known as the “Baader-Meinhof phenomenon”) is actually a ripple effect caused by some kind of change to the timeline in the past.

That’s about as far as I got with the idea, so I’d love to see what someone can come up with here.  If it’s already been done, point me in the right direction!