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Pancho Villa

February 14th, 2012 · Comments Off on Pancho Villa

Lauren Bowie, Sam Foster, Becca Sear, Nick Farr
And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself (2003)
15 February 2012
Director Bruce Bereford

Analyzing “And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself”

Collision of Media, Power and Greed


An extremely important television movie, And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself, gives us insight into the collaboration of the American media corporation. The film follows the life of Mexican bandit and revolutionary general José Doroteo Arango Arámbula, better known as Francisco Pancho Villa.

The movie is set in 1914 during the Mexican Revolution. Pancho Villa found himself in an unlikely situation.  Without the adequate funds needed in his war against the dictatorial president Victoriano Huerta, he could not continue financing his army. Villa, desperate for funding, reaches out to American movie producers in an attempt to sell the film rights of the war. American film-makers Harry Aiken and D.W. Griffith approach Villa, requesting to purchase the film rights to his revolution. Frank Thayer, a representative for Griffith and Aiken, is sent to tag along with Villa while he “directs” the film. A film much like a documentary is produced, where the viewers would be up-close and personal with the actual battles taking place in Mexico.

“And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself” was not a completely accurate portrayal of the actual history of the real Pancho Villa.  For instance, in the film, Juan Bruce-Novoa notes that the terms of Pancho Villa’s contract indicated that he would “carry out his attacks in the best light or angle for the cameras” in exchange for good pay (Bruce-Novoa).  In reality, the contract didn’t contain rules noting that Villa had to perform in battles in good lighting (Bruce-Novoa).

There is a connection between William Randolph Hearst and Pancho Villa.  Hearst was an enemy of Villa, and as such, he portrayed Villa negatively in his newspapers and films.  Hearst’s father, US Senator George Hearst, had originally acquired land in the Mexican state of Chihuahua. He was friendly with the Mexican dictator of the time, which made the boundary settlements more profitable for Hearst.  After his death, William Randpolph Hearst and his mother were given the land, which now reached over 1,000,000 acres.  During the Mexican Revolution, however, Hearst’s ranch was invaded and looted by men under the command of Pancho Villa.  Because of this, Hearst sided with the Mexican government in their attempts to outlaw Villa (Killian).  Further, Hearst produced a film about Pancho Villa casting a “midget” to play the part of Villa (Kilian).  Hearst complained that Villa stole his cattle and was a socialist (Kilian). As he was such a powerful man, it is clear Hearst had an extremely tight hold on the future and portrayal of Villa. It is clear that even today, Hearst is having an influence on our lives, as there was a movie created about Villa and the interaction they had during the Mexican Revolution.  He has created an image for us, which shapes our personal opinion of Villa and the political times of which the film was set. We base our knowledge of the historical events of Pancho Villa and the Mexican Revolution on films such as the one created by Hollywood, which reinforces the concept that film, and media in general, are what constitute and shape our current realities.

At first, newspapers portrayed Villa in a positive light.  But, this image was marred over time.  Nancy Brandt notes, “American newspapers increased the legend.  He was vain enough to enjoy the attention they gave him and modern enough to realize the value of a good public image” (149).  Eventually, the New York Times portrayed Villa as a savage, “The Times felt confirmed in its belief that Villa had reverted to savagery when Columbus, New Mexico, was attacked by bandits” (Brandt 152).  The following day, the New York Times printed a headline that noted that Americans would go after Villa, “Funston to Lead 5000 Men to Mexico with Order to Capture Villa Band” (Brandt 152).  When Pancho Villa was assassinated, the New York Times called him a “ruthless bandit” with “a record of violence that made him dangerous” (Brandt 149).  The Times article didn’t mention that they once portrayed Villa as a legend (Brandt 149).

It is extremely interesting to examine and analyze the history and film of both Citizen Kane and And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself. Having not researched both backgrounds, the average viewer would have rendered both of these films as separate entities.  We continue to perpetuate these ideas, stereotypes, and images that are presented to us by the media.  However, with our media literacy and our capability to look past the present images that Hollywood and Washington set in front of us, we are able to deconstruct these discourses and values that are being pressed upon us.  Media literacy has given us the ability and consciousness to realize that our lives have been constructed by an alternate, mass communication reality.  With Hearst and Villa together, these two films are a perfect example of how media and history collide, whether distorted or fact, and are disseminated through our culture.

 

Discussion Questions:

  1. After watching both Citizen Kane and And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself, how can we draw parallels between both movies with respect to agenda setting and propaganda? How did Hearst take advantage of Pancho Villa’s situation and the Mexican Revolution?
  2. How did the portrayal of Pancho Villa in newspapers change overtime? Initially, he was shown positive light.  Why did the newspapers decide to suddenly exploit him negatively?
  3. How did the negative press impact Villa personally? How did this shape our perception of Villa?
  4. This movie shows how the political and social times were a large impact on the filming of the Mexican Revolution and of Pancho Villa’s life.  How can we relate this film, then, to that of Reel Bad Arabs and the idea that Washington and Hollywood are intertwined?
  5. How does And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself demonstrate or reinforce the concepts studied in The Truman Show with emphasis on the social construction of reality?

Important Quotes:

  1. “Money is what is important here.  The more you make, the better.”- man to Thayer
  2. Thayer: “This is he battle of Otinaja” Pancho Villa: “This is the battle So many deaths in two little packets”
  3. Thayer: “You should write a book.”  Pancho Villa: “First I should read a few”
  4. “Could you possibly change your attacks so that you fire from the West instead of the East?   That would give us so much better of a picture.” –Director Frank Thayer
  5. “Jack Reed said that we made it so that Washington abandoned the idea to invade Mexico.”- Thayer

Works Cited

Brandt, Nancy.  “Pancho Villa: The Making of a Modern Legend.”The Americas 21.2 (1964): 146-162. http://www.jstor.org/stable/979058.

Bruce-Novoa, Juan. “Pancho Villa: Post-Colonial Colonialism, or the Return of the Americano.”

Kritikos:  An International and Interdisciplinary Journal of Postmodern Cultural Sound, 2 (2005): http://intertheory.org/pancho.htm.

Erickson, Hal. “And Starring Poncho Villa as Himself: Movie Info.” (2003): http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/and_starring_pancho_villa_as_himself/
Kilian, Michael.  “Pancho Villa Starred in Own War.” Chicago Tribune Online 4 September

2003.<http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2003-09-04/features/0309040184_1_pancho- villa-movie-camera-porfirio-diaz>.

 

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Citizen Kane

February 7th, 2012 · Comments Off on Citizen Kane

Lauren Bowie, Sam Foster, Becca Sears, Nick Farr
Citizen Kane (1941)
Dir. Orson Welles
8 February, 2012 

Citizen Kane: Destruction and Construction by the Media

Produced by Orson Welles in 1941, Citizen Kane is considered one of the greatest American films to be created.  In the film, Charles Foster Kane was taken from his mother at a very young age so he could become a rich man in a big city.  From his guardian, Walter P. Thatcher, Kane was taught that money and material possessions were the most important. Through his travels in life, he becomes a self-destructive individual who only cares for those who love him.  He gives the public what they want, stating in the film “We have no secrets from our readers” (as cited in Citizen Kane). In reality, Kane creates a product that he wants to distribute with information he wishes the audience to read. We see a serious progression in Kane’s character as he slowly spirals downward toward rock bottom.  In one of the many dinner scenes, Kane and his wife, Emily, begin to argue about the newspaper and what information is being distributed.

Emily: People will think…

Charles: …What I tell them to think (as cited in Citizen Kane).

We can relate this simple quote to how the media projects their influences onto us through different modes of communication.

There are distinctive parallels between the lives of Kane, the fictional magnate, and William Randall Hearst, the real newspaper scion.  Sarah Street (1996) notes that Kane and Hearst both operated newspaper empires, engaged in yellow journalism – distorting the facts of stories, encouraged the U.S. to go to war with Spain in 1898, and died alone in isolated mansions (49). Yellow journalism can be defined as a type of journalism that presents little or no legitimate well-researched news.  Instead, yellow journalism uses eye-catching headlines to sell more newspapers and make a greater profit.  Techniques of this can include exaggerations of news events, scandal-mongering or sensationalism (Wikipedia.org).  The term was first coined during the newspaper wars between Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer II (Yellow Journalism).  The similarities must have been intentional and purposeful.

Both Kane and Hearst were practitioners of yellow journalism.  At the beginning of the film, Kane promised to establish a newspaper that would “tell all the news honestly” (Citizen Kane, 1941).  Instead, Kane engaged in yellow journalism by printing newspaper articles praising the opera singing abilities of his mistress and wife, Susan Kane, even though she was terrible.  And, in a demonstration of political manipulation, Kane noted that his newspaper, the Inquirer, had already declared war on Spain (Citizen Kane, 1941), an act that reflected Hearst’s actions. Hearst, upset, recognized the parallels between himself and Kane.  Thus, he took steps to stop the distribution of the film.  Street (1996) notes, “The fact that the studios were worried about Hearst’s threatened anti-movie reprisals is testament to the pervasive power of the press in terms of advertising new film releases” (52).  As a result of the controversy with Hearst, RKO withdrew the film from distribution.  It wasn’t reissued until the 1950s (Street  52).

Citizen Kane illustrates the power that results from ownership of a major corporation and the accompanying greed.  At the end of the film, we learn that Kane’s life revolved around him and his wealth.  Susan slapped Kane and confronted him about his self-interested behavior.  After Kane died, appraisers greedily estimated the value of his possessions and then burned those possessions with little apparent value.  His Rosebud sled was one of the “no value” possessions that was burned (Citizen Kane).  Yet, it was a symbol of Kane’s more innocent life before his rise to power, a possession that was most prized by Kane.  Stanley J. Baran notes that critics of conglomeration predict that newspapers will die. As a result of the inherent conflict between profit and good news reporting, newspapers have been and continue to be more focused on making money as opposed to producing quality stories (Baran 103-104).

Citizen Kane reflected the 20th century conflict between greed and morality, a conflict that has been heightened today by the continuing consolidation of news and media companies under the umbrella of huge corporations.  We see in this film that Charles Kane had an enormous impact on the public and on the newspaper industry as a whole. Today, audiences are still being targeted by larger media groups projecting their ideals upon us.  In order to become fully aware of these conglomerations and their impact on our society and culture, it is important that we understand that media literacy is a fundamental skill for our generation and for those to come.

Important Quotes

  1. “If I hadn’t been rich, I might have been a really great man…I think I did pretty well under the circumstances.” (Kane to Bernstein)
  2. Emily: People will think…Charles:… what I tell them to think
  3. “You talk about the people as if you own them. As if they belong to you.… you just want to persuade people so much that you love them so they love you back” (Susan to Kane)
  4. “The news goes on for 24 hours a day” (Kane)
  5. “That’s all he ever wanted out of life… was love. That’s the tragedy of Charles Foster Kane. You see, he just didn’t have any to give.” (Leland)

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is the character, Charles Kane, created by Orson Welles, an appropriate or accurate portrayal of a media mogul of the time?
  2. According to this film, journalism was a major contributor in influencing societal views and shaping public knowledge. It is portrayed as an important institution in the construction of the culture at that time. Can we say, then, that journalism was to this time period what television and mass media/communication are to our current generation?  How can we draw parallels between yellow journalism and media during the time of the production of Citizen Kane and the media that effects us today?
  3. Propaganda can be seen all throughout history, even dating back to Martin Luther and his 95 theses. Much of Citizen Kane reflects the importance of media in the distribution of such information. Where do we see propaganda today? How is it used and by whom?
  4. Orson Welles’ film reflects a time when newspaper and print journalism were in high demand and were the main source of information for the people.  Now, our generations are much more dependent on web journalism and other Internet sources.  Are print newspapers dying? How does the decline of the newspaper impact us today? What are the implications of the increased digitization of content and the ability to get information instantly?

Works Cited

Baran, Stanley J.  (2010). Introduction to Mass Communication: Media Literacy and Culture.     New York:  McGraw Hill.

Street, Sarah. “Citizen Kane.” History Today 46.3 (1996): 48. Academic Search Complete.        Web. 7 Feb. 2012.

“Yellow Journalism.” The Interactive Media Lab at the University of Florida. Web. 07 Feb. 2012. <http://iml.jou.ufl.edu/projects/spring04/vance/yellowjournalism.html>.

 

 

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Reel Bad Arabs

January 31st, 2012 · Comments Off on Reel Bad Arabs

Lauren Bowie, Sam Foster, Becca Sears, Nick Farr
Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People (2004)
Dir. Jeremy Earp and Sut Jhally
1 February, 2012

Perpetuating Stereotypes

The Power of Film and Media

Stanley J. Baran defines stereotyping as, “the application of a standardized image or concept to members of certain groups, usually based on limited information.  Because media cannot show all realities of all things, the choices media practitioners make when presenting specific people and groups may well facilitate or encourage stereotyping” (382).  It is easy to see in the short documentary, Reel Bad Arabs, how the media and Hollywood work together to define and create an image and shape the perception of Middle Eastern culture.

We can begin by discussing the portrayal of Arab women as constructed by Hollywood producers.  Images of eroticized female belly dancers appeared in early films within the realm of “Arab-land.”  These films started with a barren desert, foreshadowing music, a palace dungeon, and a pasha surrounded by women (Reel Bad Arabs).  Jack Shaheen noted, “When we visit Arab-Land we must be aware of the instant Ali-Baba kit” (Reel Bad Arabs).  Shaheen delves further into the issue of the eroticism and disturbing depictions of Arab women citing films, primarily made during the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, such as the 1962 film “Samson Against the Sheik” (Reel Bad Arabs).  In his article “Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People”, Shaheen notes, “Not only do the reel Arab women never speak, but they are never in the workplace, functioning as doctors, computer specialists, school teachers, print and broadcast journalists, or as successful, well-rounded electric or domestic engineers” (Shaheen, 2003, 184).  This depiction of Arab women falls in line with the idea of the domesticated U.S. housewife, the “politically correct” representation portrayed by the media industry prior to the 1960s.

In contrast and reflective of the changing role of women in America, the film “Black Sunday” (1977) depicts an Arab woman taking on a more assertive role.  However, the role is that of a female Palestinian terrorist who kills anyone in her way and tries to blow up a football stadium (Reel Bad Arabs). This illustration further develops the negative image of ‘Arabs’ as the ‘other’ while conforming with the changing role of American women in the 1970s as active, self sufficient role models.  Shaheen (2003) notes that Hollywood hasn’t pondered Arab women in more civil roles such as the blind fencing athlete De’Al-Mohammad (184).

By the beginning of the 21st century, the representation of the “Arab” and particularly Arab women as the insidious “other” further reflected the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East.  In Rules of Engagement (2000), U.S. troops are shown shooting at innocent women and children in Yemen.  However, in a sudden twist, viewers learn that the Yemenese crowd fired on the soldiers first.  The little Yemenese girl, originally depicted as innocent and walking on crutches, is later shown to have fired a pistol (Reel Bad Arabs).   Shaheen (2003) notes, “Rules of Engagement not only reinforces historically damaging stereotypes, but promotes a dangerously generalized portrayal of Arabs as rabidly Anti-American” (177).   These representations of Arabs and Arab women in particular precede the 9/11/01 attacks.  As a result, the actual attacks further cemented the representation of all “Arabs” as evil and insidious as portrayed by the American media, a confirmation of sorts of the power of the media.

All of these findings can be supported by the idea of Islamohpobia, a term coined to describe the evolution of Arab and Muslim into threatening words.  As Shaheen says during the documentary, “if even the words are threatening, what, then, are the images?…This perpetuating stereotype has become so widespread that it has become invisible” (2003).  As previously stated, this constructed image can be observed in old, black and white films, all the way through to the 21st century, even including children’s films like Aladdin, where the lyrics of the introductory song described a barbaric  and violent place.
Shaheen continues, however, to describe how some films are starting to humanize Arabs, which will hopefully decrease stereotyping and profiling that we see outside of movies that Hollywood creates.  In movies such as Three Kings, Shaheen tells us there is mutual respect for the different cultures shown.  In her critique of the film, Lila Kitaeff writes, “according to the film, the United States is mistaken not because it intervened in the Middle East but rather because it did not follow through in its mission to save the good Arabs and crush the bad Arabs, a mission perpetuating neo-colonial ideals” (Kitaeff).  This supports the idea that movies are being produced depicting the Arab as human, and not as a collective group of people who have the same ideological views.

Hollywood and the media continuously perpetuate these concepts and stereotypes through the production of film, and with events like 9/11, people have become even more absorbed by these preconceived ideas of a people.  Although hate crimes and preaching of words such as, “Islam teaches violent subjugation of all non-Muslims,” “terrorists are offered an oasis,” and “violence is beautiful in the eyes of Allah” (Shaheen) we can be hopeful that these generalizations of the Arab, and Middle Eastern people on a wider scale, will eventually become nonexistent. This concept of Islamophobia mentioned by Shaheen would then remain something of the past, and the United States would then be more credible in its claim of being a “united” nation.
Important Quotes

  1. “25% of all Hollywood movies degrade the Arab.”
  2. “Hollywood defines and secures certain stereotypes through the Media and Mass Communication”
  3. “The Arab is created as a one dimensional character, as comic relief.  They are portrayed as incompetent.”
  4. “Washington and Hollywood spring from the same DNA” (Note: Important for understanding that movies reflect Washington’s policies, and that policy effects opinion)
  5. “This stereotype is so widespread that it has become invisible.  We have grown up with it.”

Discussion Questions

  1. Why does Hollywood continue to produce movies that support and reiterate stereotypes of groups of people, when we as a country want to be seen and portrayed as an accepting group ourselves? What does this say about the power of film and audience approval or acceptance of such atrocities? Why wouldn’t the media and Hollywood use that power of media more effectively to diminish these stereotypes that have been passed down generation after generation?
  2. How can we relate the words of Shaheen in the film and article Reel Bad Arabs with other stereotypes? Why and how is the image of an Arab different than other stereotypes formed?
  3. As stated by Shaheen and reiterated in our short essay, the attacks on September 11th increased hate crimes on Middle Eastern people and profiling became extremely controversial.  Besides humanizing the Arab and comedic relief, what are other ways we can break these stereotypes?  Do you believe comedy actually works to eventually rid society of a stereotype? What was done in the past to rid ourselves of other stereotypes? Are these stereotypes ever truly fizzled out, or are they still used in defining people by our culture?

Works Cited

Kitaeff, Lila. “”Three Kings”” JCsplash. Web. 31 Jan. 2012. <http://www.ejumpcut.org/archive/jc46.2003/kitaeff.threeKings/index.html>.

Shaheen, Jack G. “Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People.”Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 588 (2003): 177,184. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1049860.


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January 30th, 2012 · No Comments

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