An exploration of identity, difference, and memory.
An exploration of epistemological questions relating to the role of media in shaping identity. Those questions being the following: “How do we know the things we know are true?” and “How are physical pieces of media used to shape a nation’s memory?” I’ll be examining these thoughts and more through a lens of Difference, Power and Identity. More specifically, I hope to find examples of Stuart Hall’s analysis of the Other in horror and sci-fi media.
This presentation will use Stuart Hall’s Ethnicity and Difference to provide the framework in which we will analyze other media examples. Stuart’s Hall’s speech on Ethnicity: Identity and Difference covers a lot of ground. In this comprehensive overview he critiques the baggage that comes with language- and how the very words used to discuss identity fail to provide a neutral groundwork for discussion. He goes on to assert that an identity is as much learned as it is inherited. One passage that sticks out is his son’s relationship to his family’s past. His son, born in London, can’t claim to come from Jamaica. Hall explains that in order to actualize that part of his identity, he must re-learn his own history and invest in his culture. It’s a conscious choice to realize the historic parts of identity.
Hall goes on to explain the phenomenon of “The Other.” The Other exists to provide a contrast to one’s own experience. In his own words:
“Only when there is an Other can you know who you are. To discover that fact is to discover and unlock the whole enormous history of nationalism and of racism. Racism is a structure of discourse and representation that tries to expel the Other symbolically – blot it out, put it over there in the Third World, at the margin. The English are racist not because they hate the Blacks but because they don’t know who they are without the Blacks.”Stuart Hall
That is to say, there is an ever-evolving relationship between one’s identity and “Other.”
Defining Relevant Concepts
Fear in this context is used in relation with The Other. It is this Fear that media makers should be aware of and conscious audiences should be able to recognize. As our identity is shaped by our ideas of The Other, this use of Fear can have serious repercussions. As Kim Tallbear describes, it’s the fear of a reckoning of settler-colonial culture leading to an apocalypse. That dread is expressed frequently in media. For a generation born into 9/11, raised during the financial crisis, graduated into pandemic, and inheriting environmental disaster it can be cathartic to see Apocalypse represented on-screen- but we must be careful that it doesn’t shape the way we think about The Other.
She goes on to describe how Indigenous practices for environmental stability allowed those populations to preserve lands that were later destroyed by white settlers due to a variety of reasons. Only recently has the western psyche acknowledged that.
Relevant Media Examples
Media makers often critique this idea of the Other- which can produce some worthwhile discussion. Alex Rivera is a filmmaker that uses humor to cope with this fear of the other present in a lot of mainstream content. In his Dia de la Indepencia Spoof, he laughs at the conservative fear of the downfall of America due to immigration. Movies like Independence Day often provide a pro-America message with organizations such as the FBI or CIA driving out the invading aliens.
The experimental documentary All Light Everywhere explores race and power dynamics by challenging reality, the treachery of images, and Other. A large part of the film describes the use of the Axon body camera and how they are often used to alter the accepted reality in favor of the police officers that use them. The film shows a clear mentality amongst the officers that uses the residents of Baltimore as The Other. Their identity is formed through this polarization- those with the ability to change reality and those without.
Worthwhile subversions often come from self-awareness of this phenomenon. The 2011 Cuban-Spanish film Juan of the Dead sees the protagonists scheme their way through a Zombie apocalypse. In the film, the undead are labeled as Capitalist Dissidents. I interpreted this to be poking fun at the idea that many Westerns have of all Cuban people as being brainwashed, while also keeping the tongue firmly in cheek towards their own governmental shortcomings.
Your Kunst is Your Waffen is a short film packed with humor, allusion, and identity. The characters are defined by their relationship to each other, and the idea of sisterhood is represented despite their difference. This film could be a good example of Hall’s optimistic final remark on the “New Identity” being formed of Identity (cultural or ethnic background) and Difference.
At what point do labels for Identity lose their power? If the purpose of an identity is to ensure the safety of a group of people is there a point where the label becomes insufficient to represent that group?
“You have to position yourself somewhere in order to say anything at all. Thus, we cannot do without that sense of our own positioning that is connoted by the term ethnicity.”Stuart Hall
” Personally, I don’t think Latinos and other historically excluded groups will ever find ourselves participating in a kind of uniform and peaceful representational system… And furthermore, meaningful identity is formed not through semantics, but through the collective experience of violence…”Alex Rivera
- How is the dread of collapse represented in popular media?
- What are some examples of the Other in popular media?
- How can we use this understanding of Other to better realize our own identity?
- How can we analyze current events with this understanding of the Other in mind.