A THE CULTURAL CONTEXT
1. “In any cultural context, deeply embedded values and attitudes can be difficult to change.”
Compare the extent to which the above statement is valid in relation to your understanding of the cultural context of at least two texts on your comparative course. (70)
The texts that I studied as part of my comparative course were ‘How I Live Now’(HILN) by Meg Rosoff, ‘Bladerunner’ (BR), directed by Ridley Scott and ‘A Doll’s House’(ADH) by Henrik Ibsen.
In any cultural context the value and attitudes present have typically been formed over many generations. They have evolved as a result of the influence of many people, events and circumstances. However, once they have become the standards over a period of time, they can become entrenched and unyielding. Not only did all three texts on the comparative course help my understanding of the cultural context, but they all also offered evidence that although attitudes and values are indeed slow to evolve, change on some level is possible in any particular cultural context.
In my understanding of the cultural context, one attitude that was particularly deeply embedded in all three texts was the traditional roles of men. In HILN, I wasn’t in the least surprised to see that it was the men who were at the heart of the war that envelops the characters. Throughout the text, we meet a variety of soldiers ranging from Major McEvoy to Baz; and although those characters in particular had warm and caring sides, ultimately they were at the forefront of a terrible war that claimed many innocent victims. One positive aspect was that along with maintaining the typical role of men in perpetrating violence, there was also considerable evidence of the involvement in another traditional role, that of farming. I really felt it was very interesting that by the end of the text many of the men showed signs of change and had returned to the fields, a positive and hopeful sign for the future. In BR too, we see the men occupying very traditional roles. Despite the facts that both texts are set in the future, little seems to have changed as like the soldiers in HILN, the men of BR are also heavily involved in fighting and violence. Deckard’s sole purpose as a blade runner is to ‘retire’ replicants, usually in the most ruthless and violent way. It is no surprise in a world of this kind that Roy is created purely for violence by the Tyrell corporation, where ‘commerce is our goal’. I quite liked the irony that Tyrell is eventually retired himself by a machine that he created to kill others. However both Deckard and Roy showed in their decisions to save lives that they had the ability to turn away from society’s expectations for them. ADH similarly sees Torvald take on a very traditional male role – that of provider and head of household. Of course he is very different to Deckard in BR and many of the men in HILN in that physical violence is not expected of him, as it isn’t for Krogstad or Dr. Rank either. One other interesting difference is that unlike the men in the other texts, Torvald shows few signs that he is capable of challenging the traditional role that he has occupied all his life and changing for the better. All three texts show widely varying levels of embedment of attitudes towards men.
Another attitude that was an important part of all three societies was that of the role that women were expected to play. In ADH, Nora is severely restricted by the narrow expectations that society has placed on her. It is clear from the start that her role revolves around her ‘most sacred duties….towards your husband and your children.’ Regarding her duty to her husband, she is reduced to playing the role of a shallow and superficial girl who acts in childish way to appease her domineering husband. Christine too has been reduced to penury by marrying a man whose death has left her penniless. I felt that the message from the world of the text was that the only possibility for prosperity for a woman was to attach herself to the right man, regardless of any true love or affection. The one positive at least was that by the end, Nora seems determined to change the embedded view as she leaves her husband and children behind in the closing scene. In one obvious way, women are represented in a very different way in BR. Here the only females we encounter are replicants. However, I thought it was quite interesting to see the type of artificial women that were created by the men at the Tyrell Corporation, with Rachel designed as a secretary-type assistant and Zhora as a stripper. These typical female roles give me a clear insight into how women were viewed in that world. Even Deckard’s aggression towards Rachel highlighted how vulnerable women were in a male-dominated society. At least however, Deckard does seem to have changed his views towards the end of the text, as he starts to treat Rachael as more of an equal, probably influenced by her acting in a traditional male way by shooting Leon to save his life. In some ways there are many similarities in the way women are treated in the world of HILN. Here again, the women, Daisy and Piper included, seem virtually helpless. However one key difference is that women clearly have more status in the society of HILN: Aunt Penn has a college degree and is involved at a high level in trying to stop the ‘imminent threat of war’ – although sadly in the end she becomes just another victim; and Daisy too has a level of independence and status that is completely alien to the other two texts. Overall though, I think its fair to say that apart from some incremental changes by the end, all three texts have deeply embedded attitudes to women.
One aspect of the cultural context that was deeply embedded in all three texts was the attitude towards power. In all three texts, power comes from very traditional sources. In both HILN and BR, power comes from the typical routes of money and violence. In BR, Tyrell is the wealthy mogul who lives literally at the very top of society in a luxury penthouse, far above the crowded, filthy streets. Money from ‘commerce’ has given him a huge degree of power in society. Down below him on the streets, we see the police exercising power in a different, but equally traditional way. Here as Bryant puts it, if you are not prepared to use violence to assert control, then ‘you’re not cop, you’re little people’. Violence is also used to assert power in HILN. Everyone from the ‘enemy’ with their bombs and guns, right down to the soldiers on the checkpoints, try to gain and maintain control through violence. I found this aspect to be one of the most disturbing aspects of both texts, and sadly very reflective of our own world. Similarly to Tyrell in BR, Torvald in ADH has obtained power through the traditional routes of money and social status. He acts like a local lord simply because money and status are such prized possessions in that society. Considering all three texts, apart from Tyrell’s gruesome death, none of the texts offers much hope that these traditional attitudes to power are likely to change at any point in the future.
All three texts highlight many typical attitudes and values that might be found in any particular cultural context. These were largely unsurprising to me, given that they were typical of so many different narratives that we encounter. The sad thing was that although much of these values are problematic and damaging, they were so deeply embedded that it was difficult to see how they might ever change.