Tag Archives: film

The Horror! The Horror!

haunted house

The horror flick. Meant to terrify, torture, disgust, and delight. Love them or hate them they are difficult to escape this time of year. In the coming weekend there are at least four horror/thrill movies to be released including the latest in the Saw series (Saw VI, if you’re keeping track), Antichrist, The Stepfather, and The House of the Devil. While some people are always up for a good scare, others are adamant about avoiding anything even remotely gory. But why? Johnston (2006) has highlighted four possible motivations for viewing graphic horror (gore watching, thrill watching, independent watching, and problem watching). Her study found these distinct motivations to be associated with fearfulness, empathy, and sensation seeking as well as the viewer’s level of identification with the killers vs. the victims of the films.

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Adolescents’ Motivations for Viewing Graphic Horror (Johnston, 2006)

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‘You are not welcome here’

For humans onlyThe science-fiction film ‘District 9′ is currently on cinematic release within the United Kingdom. Based on the short film ‘Alive in Joburg’, this feature film uses documentary style camera work to describe the plight of a large number of extraterrestrials that have become marooned on Earth. Referred to by humans using the derogatory term ‘prawns’, these aliens are confined to a militarised ghetto, where they face prejudice, discrimination, and exploitation.

With the film being set in South Africa, this has obvious parallels with the treatment of the black population during the apartheid era. This has been emphasised by the viral-marketing campaign for the film, which featured ‘humans only’ signs affixed to numerous public facilities, clearly mirroring the ‘whites only’ signs of apartheid. Consequently, the film joins a series of others that have utilised the medium of science-fiction to make social commentary on ‘real-world’ issues.

Rather ironically for an allegory about racism, however, ‘District 9′ has itself been accused of being racist, owing to its unflattering portrayal of Nigerians as gangsters, prostitutes and witch-doctors. This can be seen to follow the common practice of attributing negative characteristics to foreign nationality out-groups.

Whilst a return to the extremes of apartheid may seem unlikely , it is apparent that xenophobia is still prevalent within contemporary society. For example, the ‘Red White and Blue Festival’ of the far-right British National Party (BNP) took place recently only a few miles from my home. Clearly, the BNPs goal of keeping Britain British through the ‘repatriation’ of ethnic minorities has much in common with the ‘District 9′ tag-line of ‘You are not welcome here’.

Square-eyeOfficial ‘District 9′ website

Square-eyeFilm review from the Guardian

Square-eye£1.99 - smallPearson, A. R., Dovidio, J. F. & Gaertner, S. L. (2009). The Nature of Contemporary Prejudice: Insights from Aversive Racism

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‘Thinking outside the Geschwindigkeitsbegrenzung’

Ich bin Brüno!Brüno, the latest work by British comedian Sacha Baron-Cohen, has just achieved the highest-grossing opening weekend for an 18-certificate (i.e. adult-rated) film in the United Kingdom and Ireland.

This ‘mockumentary’ revolves around the reactions of various celebrities and members of the public to Baron-Cohen’s portrayal of the eponymous flamboyantly gay Austrian fashionista. Since those involved believed they were dealing with a genuine rather than fictional character, their responses to his outrageously exaggerated portrayal of stereotypical homosexuality provide a satirical comment on the prejudice and hypocrisy present within a supposedly enlightened modern society.

Extreme reactions provoked by the filming led to Baron-Cohen being both threatened with assault and arrested multiple times, as well as facing subsequent legal action. This mirrors the response to his previous controversial film of the same format, in which he played ‘Kazhakhstani’ Borat. Not only did this similarly result in legal action, but the ensuing furore culminated in an international diplomatic incident.

Whilst such films may claim to provide a revealing insight into homophobia, anti-semitism, and the like, they also raise uncomfortable questions for the audience themselves. For example, it is debatable as to whether they are truly viewed by all cinema-goers as a sophisticated piece of social commentary, or whether they simply allow the ‘politically correct’ an opportunity to laugh at otherwise unacceptable stereotypes.

In terms of their technical approach, many of the humorous scenarios featured within these films echo the ‘breach studies’ of ethnomethodologist Garfinkel, which examined the responses of unsuspecting participants to deliberate violations of social norms.

In a further psychological link, Sacha Baron-Cohen is the cousin of Simon Baron-Cohen, Professor of Developmental Psychopathology at the University of Cambridge.

(And in case you were wondering, ‘Geschwindigkeitsbegrenzung’ is German for ‘speed-limit’!)

Square-eyeBrüno’s official MySpace page

Square-eyeFilm review from the Guardian

Square-eye£1.99 - smallSmith, J. R. & Louis, W. R. (2009). Group Norms and the Attitude–Behaviour Relationship

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