Sunday, August 26, 2007
The Tin Drum - Paradox In Ideological Adherence
Should I or shouldn’t I?
I should, I must.
I will grow.
The last words of Oskar Matzareth which marked his transition from childhood to adulthood independence.
Growth (transition from youth to adulthood) involves time, change and transformation; thus, it requires ‘sacrificing’ or letting go of one’s past and present state/situation to fulfill one’s perceived expectation of his/her role in society in the future (being an adult). Generally, we have gone through the ‘youth’ stage as Oskar Matzerath wanted to remain and permanently be. In the movie Die Blechtrommel (the Tin Drum), Oskar’s fixated behavior on his tin drum portrayed our youth – highlighted by his roles, beliefs, ideology and actions. But the over-display and exaggeration of Oskar’s capability and behavior shown in the film simply intended to show how culture, society and environment defined an individual’s perception of the ‘world’ – his ideology. Captured by Oskar’s fanatical and aggressive manners, I will examine the external environment, culture and society affect the transformation of an individual identity (concentrating on the youth identity of Oskar). After looking at the micro-level impact of the socializing agents, I will also look how culture sets political priorities and how culture forms/cause political mobilization.
Under the Skirt Environment
The movie Die Blechtrommel (the Tin Drum) occurred in Danzig, during the early 1900s before the World War II. This period can be referred to the rise of Nazism (or National Socialism) in the region. In the film, after the birth of Oskar, his parents waved a tiny Nazi flag in front of him. This demonstrated the prominence of the Nazi status in Danzig during the start of the 1900s. More so, during this period of intrusion and domination by the Nazis, it showed superiority, violence and force in the region (that is why the novel of Grass raised serious issues on contemporary Germans, which involved the Germans responsible for the Nazi war crimes). Consequently, the Nazi superiority penetrated itself in the society and culture of the free city, Danzig, marked by intruding/interfering with individual ‘rights’ (privacy of Anna Koljaiczek), family struggles, military obligations (shown by Alfred, Oskar’s father), destruction of peace in community (damage done to infrastructures and businesses) and clash with the Polish (combat in the Polish post office).
On top of these effects, the movie points on the individual level – specifically Oskar’s youth identity – as the most striking implication of the repressive order. Oskar, at a young age (or even before he entered the world from his mother’s womb), have already witnessed and have been exposed to this dark society which causes him to hide in his grandmother’s skirt to escape this repressive, dominated Nazi condition. As a result, Oskar has created and made his own world known as ‘under skirt’ world – wherein his rebellious and defiant beliefs, attitude and behavior have been shaped. The point I want to make is that when external forces enter a certain culture and society, it may change (low or high level of effect) the society’s structure (attitude, ideology) and society’s direction (goals, motivations). Moreover, it did not only alter the structure of the society but is also defined and transformed the individual formation.
The Binding Triangle
We are immersed in what may be called the triangular socializing and limiting agents in life – the environment, the society and the culture. To further elaborate my point in the first part, environment refers to the external agents and forces that offer and provide a transformative and new line of values, ideas and behavior (which may directly or indirectly attack the population). Culture, on the other hand, may view these external agents/forces as a threat to the overall structure and organization of the community. Culture offers a worldview that explains why and how individuals and groups behave as they do, and includes both cognitive and affective beliefs about social reality and assumptions about when, where and how people in one’s culture and those in other cultures are likely to act in particular ways (Ross 1997). Culture then provides a shield/guard to resist the external threats through the norms, rituals, traditions and value system. However, knowing these norms, rituals and traditions are not enough to safe guard us from threats and dismantling our loyalty and unity; and therefore, we need society - society refers to a collection of people bound by shared institutions that define how human relations should be conducted (Ross 1997). This means that institutions build ties and bonds among us; it socializes and makes as aware of these norms, laws, standards and the roles we play in the community. The society and culture here may be considered as binding agents against the external forces (threats).
However, external forces still do enter and break the walls of culture and the society. Indeed, it is difficult to separate and distinguish the effect of each agents from the other especially in the modern multi-cultural and globalized world.
Inside the Bermuda Triangle (the dark society) – the Youth Identity
The triangular socializing factors (environment, culture and society) define our roles and boundaries. Furthermore, socio-cultural groups and institutions entail clear expectations about how people are to act depending on our roles. In the film the Tin Drum, Oskar revealed the general value and behavior of the youth. Youth, which was exhibited in the movie, is not a universal category of biology but a changing social construct which appeared at a particular moment of time under definitive conditions (Barker 2000). This means that youth can be understood as a spatial matter, that is, youth may be produced differently in divergent spaces and places. Furthermore, in abstract, youth is a social position between childhood dependence and adult responsibility can be seen in the institutions of the family and education (Barker 2000). Therefore, childhood dependence and reliance leads to subordination and under the control of adults in society (parents in the family institution, teachers in the academic world). The young are then given limited avenues of freedom and expression and even are restricted in their actions, values and behavior.
Oskar also experienced the same limitation and restriction in his beliefs, interests and in his character. His social experiences within institutions such as family, school organizations and military exposure all provided cultural messages which reflected his values and expectations. However, cultural messages allow different interpretations and internalizations. In the case of Oskar, he viewed and understood his environment and society to be a repressive and unjust state which established his outlook and values towards his life and the world. In this state of transition, Oskar has invested in it as a privileged site in which to foreground his own sense of difference marked with the refusal to identify with the perceived routinized everyday life and perceived subordination. Youth has now become an ideological signifier charged with ‘anti-society, pro-self’ perception of the world. His behavior and attitude is feared by others as a potential threat to existing norms and system. According to Barker, youth is an especially formative stage of development, where attitudes and values become anchored to ideologies and remain fixes in this mould for life (Barker, 2000). Also, the transition from childhood dependence to adult autonomy normally involves a rebellious phase, which is itself part of a cultural tradition transmitted from one generation to the next (Barker 2000). Therefore, when young people go ‘out of bounds’, they get noticed and become visible. This allows them to ‘play with the only power at their disposal – the power to discomfort, to pose a threat’.
Ideology is set of values and ideas regarding fundamental goals of social interaction (Oneil 2004). Our ideologies are based on our interpretations of particular social and political significance. Individual ideology has the ability to mobilize action and values. In fact, Oskar has demonstrated his ‘self-centered’ and ‘anti–socal’ identity through (1) his tin drum and (2) his high, glass-breaking scream. These two forces was a sign of his protest towards the hypocritical German-polish family and disgusted by the German society. He used both protest tools in order to control people (parents – Alfred, Jan and Agnes) and situations happening around him (confusing Nazi marches and bands, disrupt fascist rallies).
This individual protest/demonstration was built on his anger and perceived threat to his (selfish) values and personal favor. Likewise, cultural mobilization builds on fears and perceived threats that are consistent with internalized worldviews (against their high-group quality interaction and emotional solidarity).
Culture order political priorities (Ross 1997), meaning, it defines the symbolic and material objects people consider valuable and worth fighting over. Culture then defines interests and how they are to be pursued. Groups and sectors do have certain valued and observed norms, ideals and convictions. Once these ideals and convictions are threatened, they may organized collection action to foreground their own sense of difference and may demonstrate their disagreement and opposition especially to a repressive environment.
In relation to Oskar, his attachment to his tin drum symbolized him. The tin drum became part of him. You cannot separate him and his tin drum as you cannot separate his youth to his life. This showed who he was and what mattered fighting over – his life, his youth.
Should I or shouldn’t I?
I fought. I did.
I have grown.
Barker (2000). “Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice”, Chapter 11: Youth, Style and Resistance.
Oneil, P (2004). Essentials of Comparative Politics. NY:W.W. Norton and Company, Inc.
Ross, M. (1997), “Culture and Identity in Comparative Analysis,” Chapter 3 of Mark Lichbach’s and Alan Zuckerman’s Comparative Politics: Rationality, Culture and Structure.
J. P. Uy
The movie The Tin Drum (Die Blechtrommel) is about a young boy named Oskar who lived during the World War II in Germany and refused to grow up at three years old. He deliberately threw himself from the stairs in order to stop his growth; being aware of the unfaithful relationships and the unforgiving realities of grown-ups, Oskar did not want to take part of this ‘adulthood’.
On his third birthday, Oskar received a new drum. Whenever his parents or other people around him treat him harshly, he beats on his drum as loud as he can; and when his tin drum is taken away from him, he gives an ear-piercing shriek that literally breaks glass.
The tin drum here is used as a metaphor about refusing the Nazi regime. Oskar’s refusal to grow and give up his drum is a metaphor on resisting the Nazis. the manifestations of this are when he was forced to do something he did not want or there were situations he did not favor, he forcefully hammered on his drum, like in the classroom scene or when he followed his mother and her lover to the hotel. If analyzed closely, we will see that Oskar’s resistance and refusal to the unfavorable situation is like an individual’s resistance and refusal to the regime which he/she thinks is wrong. Another scene which is more obvious was when Oskar decided to give up his drum and to continue his growth after his father’s death. Alfred Matzerath’s death symbolizes the fall of Nazism. The screenplay is based on the celebrated novel of German author Gunter Grass.
In this movie, it is shown how ideology, a system of illusory beliefs—false ideas or false consciousness—which can be contrasted with true or scientific knowledge, affects the course of action taken by the individual. Ideology here is linked with the behavior of escapism.
This is exactly how Marxists view religion—that it is the opium of the masses. Religion gives false hopes to suffering people who expect that they will be saved from hell’s fire and will experience eternal happiness after their present lives. Another example would be how people believe that joining the lottery or game shows would instantly eliminate their poverty. Charms and crystals bring good luck and therefore should always be worn.
Man cannot face all its problems and solve everything that is why they create means to give an easy answer or a short-term solution, which is basically the nature of ideology.
Oskar’s belief that his tin drum could save him in times of trouble led him to somehow control his parents and the people around him. It serves as his protection from being accountable to his actions and being condemned. He used it to gain attention. During his teenage years, he ran away from home to leave his miserable life and relationships behind and joined the circus, performing with his drum and his glass-breaking talent.
The movie is political in the sense that Oskar used his tin drum to defend himself. The tin drum and the scream serve as his power—the power to control or change, and at the same time his sanctuary—to escape from the miseries and truth.
Sometimes, we run from the judging eyes of society by settling on a certain group of ideas which we can relate to and will be able to justify our actions. And we live our lives based on that ideology. It is a reaction or a response to the norms imposed by society.