Sunday, September 16, 2007

Bowling For Columbine - Objectives of Reality

“What is so different about Americans? Are we homicidal in nature?”

This important question was raised by Tom Mauser, father of a Columbine victim, when interviewed by writer/producer/director Michael Moore in his 2002 documentary “Bowling for Columbine.” As I understand it, the film wants to explain the cause of high gun deaths in the United States of America, but it went far to explaining what causes violence in general in the U.S. It named possible factors that could cause this… mass media, the president, history, etc, but Moore never really arrived into a conclusion.

With regard to the question raised by Mauser? Moore and Mauser ended up exchanging “What is it?”

But is it really possible to know the answer to begin with? The fact of the matter is: it is really hard to single out a specific factor (or factors) that cause violent behavior among Americans (and among all people for that matter). But I would like to assume that it is their culture that heavily influences people in the U.S. to do violent acts. After all, it is really hard to ignore the role of culture. This culture is cumulative of so many factors, and influenced by so many factors. There are so many of these I am sure the documentary failed to name all of them. For that, I have become interested in patching up the ideas in the film to make a broad framework that can help explain what influences (rather than cause) violent behavior: There is an interrelationship between a person’s behavior, the culture in the society where he is in, and other external factors (like formal institutions). Though these three factors interplay with each other, what I would like to give emphasis here is that the behavior of a person is heavily influenced by the culture in which he is in, and this culture is heavily influenced by the institutions around the people.

Behavior refers to the actions or reactions of an object or organism, usually in relation to the environment (Wikipedia 2007). In the film, the focus is on violent behavior. It featured moments of violence in the US, and have named some factors that possibly cause and influence violent behavior of the Americans. It’s definitely wrong though to assume that all Americans are violent. Most of them are just paranoid in the sense that they don’t trust their neighbors (so they have to lock their doors), they don’t trust black people, they don’t trust the police, etc., leading many to carry a gun.

As the film suggests, those examples of behavior are highly influenced by the culture where Americans are in. As defined by Williams (1983), culture consists of patterns, explicit and implicit, of and for behavior acquired and transmitted by symbols, constituting the distinctive achievement of human groups, including their embodiments in artifacts, the essential core of culture consists of traditional (i.e. historically derived and selected) ideas and especially their attached values, culture systems may on the one hand, be considered as products of action, and on the other hand a conditioning element of further action. From this definition, we find out that culture and behavior (action) actually have a mutual relationship, but what I want to emphasize here is the influence of culture on behavior. In the U.S., as emphasized in the film, the dominant culture influencing the violent behavior of Americans is their “culture of fear.” Adapted from the title of Barry Glassner’s book, this kind of culture explains why Americans fear the wrong things. Many Americans identify with this kind of culture and some of them may even act (behave) in accordance to this. And how does one react to this kind of culture? It’s a spectrum of actions that include being simply paranoid, carrying a gun, or doing violent actions. A gun has even become a part of the “American identity” since it has already been embedded in the American culture. It represents an “American responsibility” in the perception of Americans as well, as a man from the Michigan Militia stated that “If you’re not armed, you’re not responsible.”

There are formal institutions that fan this kind of culture. The film suggests that some of these institutions actually benefit from fanning this culture of fear (and violence). Some of these institutions are the government, (some) corporations, the mass media, the school, the family, and the constitution. These institutions may also directly affect the behavior of the people (as opposed to influencing the culture, and letting the culture influence behavior). According to Marsh and Stoker (2002), seemingly neutral rules and structures actually embody values and determine appropriate behavior within given settings. Institutions influence actors’ behavior by shaping their values, norms, interests, identities, and beliefs. Through the process of socialization, these people adapt with the ways of these institutions, or adapt with the culture that these institutions influence.

In the film, the American government was portrayed as a violence-and-war-loving body. There was even a series of clips showing the American government’s participation in international conflicts, and a clip of the president endorsing military action. Some may have problems with Moore’s biases in portraying the government, but I should say that to a certain point, he has got a point. And if I live in a place where “violence is endorsed by the government” (as I perceive it), then I’d probably think that it is fine to solve conflicts through violence.

The American constitution also provides a basis for American people to bear arms. The second amendment of their Bill of Rights states that: “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms should not be infringed.” Think about it, if the citizens have restricted rights in bearing arms, then there should be less gun deaths in the country (emphasis in “gun deaths”, since they could use other primitive weapons to kill). I think their constitution allowed a tradition of carrying weapons, which in turn fans their negative culture. The U.S. has very loose gun laws. I can’t imagine getting a gun by opening a bank account here in the Philippines. Also, I can’t imagine Hi-Top or Shopwise selling handgun ammunitions.

The school was also pointed to be one of the bad influences of Eric Dylan and Harris Klebold, the young killers in the Columbine massacre. As it was said by one of the creators of South Park, Matt Stone, who used to study at Columbine High School, their high school teachers scare the students by saying that “if you are a loser now, you’re gonna be a loser forever”, and by doing this, they induced fear to the students. He said that Harris and Klebold were called fags and were made into thinking that “I’m a fag now, I’m gonna be a fag forever.” After doing the massacre in Columbine, both Harris and Klebold ended their lives, probably thinking that there they have already avenged themselves from Columbine and that there is no more future for “fags” like them.

The (broken) family was also pointed to be a factor that causes violence, where parents are not there to guide their children. In the film, this was portrayed in the case of Temarla Owen’s son, a 6 year old who shot another 6 year old. This specific case, as shown in the movie, was caused by other contributing factors: poverty, racism, and corporate interest bringing black women into work.

But the institution that I think was most emphasized for fanning this culture is the mass media. For example, in the news, while crimes in America were falling in reality, the crimes shown in the news were rising. There were scares about the Y2K (millennium bug), the Africanized bees, and the blade in the apple at Halloween, but none of them really happened. It has also been an instrument for further diversifying and dividing America by portraying the black people as bad and the white people as their victims. This was particular in the show “Cops”. Because the news has a legitimizing effect on us, we tend to believe them, and it even came to the point, as said by Moore, that they don’t need to give a reason at all. The mass media just loves to inflict fear to the American people that the Americans now tend to become afraid of the wrong things. Marilyn Manson said that people are made to be afraid so that they will consume. If they have bad breath, no one is going to talk to them. If they have pimples, no one is going to have sex with them. Just imagine how the mass media plus other corporations benefit from inflicting fear.

Of course the behavior-culture-institutions relationship is not only applicable to the American society. And I think the film should inspire us to start thinking: Are we also in a culture of fear? Are we in a society that endorses violence? Is our society in threat of being just like the Americans’? It should serve as an impetus for us to stop scaring ourselves of the wrong things.

And as to the Americans being homicidal in nature? I do not think so, because if yes, all Americans would be killing each other. I especially disagree with it if what we mean by ‘in nature’ here is that Americans are born violent or born to be violent. I do not know how much the nature-nurture debate could be of applicability here. But I would like to stress the point that violence in the American society is undoubtedly a product of “nurturing.” With a culture that makes people afraid, and with socializing institutions that ‘allow’ people to be violent, Americans are socialized to be really violent beings. But despite this kind of culture that America has, it is still unfair to say that all Americans are violent. After all, sharing a culture does not mean that people are necessarily in agreement in specifics (i.e. “This world is making me paranoid, maybe I should get a gun to protect myself and kill those who are going to be a threat to me”). Only they possess a similar understanding of how the world works (i.e. “This world is making me paranoid”) (Williams 1983).


Behavior. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 16 September 2007.

Marsh, David and Stoker, Gerry. “Theory and Methods in Political Science, 2nd ed.” NY: Palgrave Macmillan. 2002.

Williams, Thomas Rys. “Socialization”. NJ: Prentice Hall. 1983.

- J. Asama

The title stems from the events that took place on that 20th of April, in Littleton, Colorado, when two armed students went for an early morning bowling class just before they began the catastrophic Columbine massacre where 12 students and a teacher died. Everybody were shocked at the thought that two teenagers could master using a gun for such a mass killing. Michael Moore begins his documentary with a lot to say on his subject of violence in America with a much bigger focus on gun-related issues. His quest to find answers takes him into Littleton and to the Beverly Hills estate of Heston. He tries to corner the NRA's Charlton Heston making a statement as to why America is so in love with guns and why there is so much violence compared to other countries. One part that was incredibly moving in the film was when Moore interviewed the survivors of the massacre and telling the story of a six-year old Kayla being murdered by another preschooler. However, in his attempt to chew over the forces behind America's culture of violence, Moore sometimes draws some associations that seem quite airy.

The thought-provoking documentary seems not that much convincing in terms of Moore's arguments. His thesis on American violence ends up rolling a complete gutter ball (J. Heilman, 2002) as he ends up unmasking his willingness to ambush interviewees emotionally and in some way distort some facts. He seems to not realize that his guide lightsare similar to the one's that he is attacking. For example, he compares the raw number of crimes in America with no regard for population differences, instead of just saying that it's five times as bad as in Canada. The documentary seems a one-man crusade. I was thinking why he did not invite other anti-gun activists with him.

There was indeed a cohesive theme that glued all the pieces of the documentarian's questions together- that being the question of 'why the strong relation in the US proliferation of “arms” and violence (versus the Canadian context). As a thesis statement, Americans live in a culture that uses fear as a mechanism of social control, the way guns are used, and the way people treat each other and act out their discussion about gun control.(Glassner, 2000) Its not just the mere presence of guns that makes the country or any culture violent; in the US, it is the manipulation of its population through fear, propagated by media, gun manufacturers, the government, etc...

Bowling for Columbine illuminates both the perils and the potential political interventionist strategies in a media-saturated society in which film, network television and the Internet interact. (Mattson, 2003) Media is both shaping and is shaped by the public opinion. ( Heywood, 2002) The perception of viewers and spectators, as well as the course of action that actors may apply are input for the media. On an equal sense, media is also an influence to the viewers. What we see on our screens may manipulate our perceptions on issues. Media manipulation can only be solved by free thinkimg in the public. Although the film was a documentary and it is supposed to be a documentation of facts, the film itself is a form of media that the director intentioned to edit for the viewers to see what he intended for them to see. The director or the film maker has his own bias, even the lenses of his camera. In a way, the director intentionally or unintentionally manipulates the facts and edits the film so that his audience can only realistically be expected to see the information presented in the film in the light that he desires. In the film, I assume that Moore was expecting that his audience are drawing their own conclusions. Later, its quite not as such. At some point it made me think it was a connect-the-dots puzzle.

There is a lot to chew on, intellectually, in the film. Michael Moore which happens to be a first-year college drop-out before has asked an important question that open up discussions and debate surrounding his arguments and assertsions. Overall, the film is certainly thought provoking and oddly entertaining.


Heilman, Jeremy. Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine. Movie review posted on MovieMartyr.Com on October 27, 2002. Accessed on 8 September 2007.

Mattson, Kevin. “The Perils of Michael Moore”. Dissent; Spring 2003, Vol.50 Issue no.2, p.75, 6pp.

- R. A. Gaspar

Monday, September 10, 2007

Our Lady of the Assassins - Dimensions of Relevance and Meaning

The independently released film by Barbet Schroeder "Our Lady of the Assassins" (La Virgen de los Sicarios) in 2000 attacks the very core of identity. We are pushed to explore questions on identity not only in terms of gender and race but on the actual essence of self—who we are as individual human beings, and furthermore, charges upon the fundamental concern of identity which respectfully interrogates the purpose of our existence. “Our Lady of the Assassins” proves to be an effective medium of political socialization: the film engrosses its audience into acquiring certain political orientations amidst the backdrop of a society—which, although based on historical events in Colombia, could also easily be related to contemporary times in many other countries like ours, the Philippines. The unraveling of the story is an effective learning process which the audience can acquire the juxtaposition of socio-political beliefs and values of both the past and present generations. This was executed by presenting a plot development in which the main protagonists reveal their (varying or similar) outlook on existentialism through the everyday situations they experience together, all of which is weaved beautifully and supported by the director’s choice of varying audio-visual techniques.

A central concern of the film is the real, everyday lives of individuals as human beings. The film immediately exposes this through the use of natural lighting (no spotlights, special effects) which gives the cinematography a very crisp quality like that of an amateur recording or perhaps a television drama series (or telenovela, as popularized in Latin American countries). Furthermore, reality is emphasized by the casting of actual Colombian street kids to play the role of Alexis, Wilmar and the other boys. As the audience monitors the encounter of Fernando, a successful writer who has gone back to his hometown Medellin to die, and 16-year old ex-gang member Alexis and their eventual pedophilic, homosexual relationship, it is easily recognized that their surrounding environment is that of a city life which has diminished into individualism; the supposed sense of community is abolished as shown in scenes where the public shows extremely little concern about the youth being shot dead in broad daylight. The motto in the streets is centered on the individual and anxiety lies solely on keeping one’s self alive, irregardless of what happens to anybody else.

This mirrors the ideology of liberalism, which is a product of the breakdown of feudalism and the eventual growth of a capitalist society. Individualism is the core principle of the liberalism; the film’s terrifying scenes as a result to the individualistic nature of present-day Colombia could be a subtle attack on the ideology of the industrialized West. Liberalism’s core value is freedom, which is even given priority over equality, justice and authority (Haywood 44). Liberalists advocate “freedom under law” but in societies like Colombia where the law is highly skewed, the value of freedom to do as one pleases takes on a highly contestable facet. The attack on this Western ideology is reinforced through Fernando’s open criticism of government—he doesn’t care who the public official is, he thinks they are all the same. This is also put into context of Colombian history since their government officials revolve around a composition of a corrupt, elite group. All of this can be compared to the socialist ideology which hails community, fraternity, social equality, need, and common ownership—all of which can be exemplified in the film. The relationship of Fernando and Alexis (and later, Wilmar) put into extreme the value of fraternity or ‘brotherhood’; the gang wars would not occur if gangs were not so individualistic since the sense of competition with rival gangs pits individuals against each other which breeds resentment, conflict and hostility (Haywood, 52). Sympathy for equality also reflects the socialist belief that material benefits should be distributed on the basis of need rather than merit (Haywood, 52) as was shown when one of the street boys shares his food with beggars, satisfying their basic need of alleviating hunger.

The daily lives shown in the film touch upon the aspect of existence or purpose of everyday people, when Fernando states, “If you’re not on television, you don’t exist.” Once again this attacks the Western concept of media wherein Hollywood glamour has somewhat become a basis of one’s importance in this world. The soundtrack of the film shows contrast between the very cultural-sounding songs of the past which reflected on their Latin society, while today’s music is but a blur of loud, Western instruments to make some sort of noise—there seems to be a nostalgic plea to challenge today’s youth to be more supportive of local, non-pop culture. Additionally, since television proliferated only in the recent decades, Fernando’s view symbolizes the contrasting lives of people in the past generation and those of today. The daily television shows of violence mum the hypothetically-deafening sounds of gunshots and dismiss the supposedly-devastating loss of life: Fernando mourns when he hears a quiet rendition of an old song which reminds him of his family’s death, while Alexis, who is easily an example of many of today’s youth, sets aside the loud shots of his weapon and only trembles at the sight of death when it is of a dog.

This brings forth the queries regarding existence, which the film presents as having an ultimate outcome of absolute despair. Fernando constantly lamented on the degradation of the quality of human life in Medellin, which is ironic since it is a starch contrast on the fundamental realities of the religion that his culture is heavily rested upon—that of Christianity—which declares that "for God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life" (Bible, John 3:16). The director specifically chose a society that is highly influenced by Christianity because this is the one religion that advocates salvation through faith alone, “that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ” (Galatians 2:16), and that “it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not of yourselves. It is the gift of God, not as a result of works, that no one should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). The film challenges the audience to rethink about our existence and the consequent concept salvation. Presented are characters who are generally regarded as highly immoral—homosexuals, murderers, pedophiles—yet Christianity states that even “all liars… their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death” (Revelation 21:8) which therefore includes every single person—pope, saint, average teenager. By accepting that “Jesus is the only way, the truth and the life and no one goes to the Father but through Him” (John 14:6), one is given the promise to be relieved from hell—and yet Fernando found himself in a circular pattern of despair. Interestingly, Fernando did not understand the workings of the society he lived in—he did not exercise his God- given freewill to choose and accept Jesus Christ, and similarly, did not use his state-given freewill to be proactively involved in changing the dire circumstances.

Another central concern of the film is the everyday lives of individuals as citizens of a country. Fernando dismisses the problems with regards to the government, not allotting any of his precious time to criticize the obvious failure of their political system; he, however, allocates much time in criticizing his fellow citizens, particularly the poor. He condemns poverty as a self-inflicted punishment since he observes that when "you put two poor together… pretty soon they'll spawn ten more"—the poor complain about their situation yet they do not do anything to uplift their conditions. This must, conversely, be thrown back to Fernando, who does very little to transform his pitiable country; rather, he wishes to leave his native land once again and this time, even drags along with him a failed hope of their country. In today’s world where emigration in search for a better future is alarmingly prevalent, especially in less developed countries, the film presents the ideal situation of how fate seems to forbid Fernando to leave once more—the ideal situation wherein whiny, highly critical yet indolent citizens are shoved back into their home country, with the pains of reality thrust at them and the irrevocable responsibility to help in any way severely slapped into their beings.

The film portrays despair at its peak—not in times of war and other highly enthralling events but during the dullest days of our existence. The film shows life being devalued to a lower status than that of a street dog. Fernando, who in spite of being a well-traveled, highly cultured and educated older man, is plagued with the basic and elementary (to some) inquisitions of our existence in this world. The film also presents the stench of the individualistic nature in societies like ours—that in order to uplift the quality of life, we must turn our backs against selfish desires and work in unity. In essence, the films zooms in to each and every member of its audience—we are left to ponder upon the desperate realities of our lives and asked what we are doing about this, and then puts us in the perspective of an individual citizen in the plethora of people of our beloved nation.

- S. Tan

Dynamics of Social Elements in the Perpetuation of Misery - La Virgen de los Sicarios or better known as Our Lady of the Assassins is a film by Barbet Schroeder released in 2000 with cast Germán Jaramillo as Fernando, Anderson Ballesteros as Alexis and Juan David Restrepo as Wilmar. The film is set in present day Colombia in its third largest city, the city of Medellin.

In this film, we are taken into a journey alongside Fernando, a writer and a native of Medellin who has come back into this changed society after three decades of absence and his reason for coming back—to die. Upon his return to Medellin, he is introduced by his old friend to Alexis, a young boy rumored to be the lone survivor of a gang that was wiped out. Their meeting turns into a budding relationship where both find themselves “in love” and sharing each other’s company as they explore Medellin from church to church, appliance stores to appliance stores, and murders to murders. All throughout their journey, they portray the brutality, the hopelessness and the lawlessness of Medellin, the birthplace of Colombia’s most powerful cocaine cartel.

As we immerse ourselves into this movie, we immediately get the hint of the movies’ powerful and saddening theme—the misery of a hopeless society. A society where life is cheap, crime is the norm, cocaine is the lubricant, evil triumphs and the “good” is left doing nothing. These are all manifested throughout the film in subtle portrayals as well as striking and graphic scenes that really show us and slap us in the face of the utter misery of these people’s lives.

In tackling this film, especially for a political science course, we shall do away with focusing at the main characters themselves but instead we shall use them as our medium in analyzing the elements of this movie that we intend to analyze. For this brief article, we shall be dealing with the theme that we had just mentioned above—the misery of a hopeless society, wherein we shall dissect the elements (as found in the film) that perpetuate the existence of such a condition. To clearly state it; we shall look into the dynamics/interaction of the social elements that contribute to a condition of misery as related within the film Our Lady of the Assassins). In our dissection of this film, we shall frame our approach within the post-modernist model in the view of Michel Foucault (The Carceral, 1977). Whereby in such a view, provided in the core aspect of post-modernism which is the dismantling of all forms of knowledge, Foucault (1977) adds, based on his “The Carceral”, the conditions arising from the Mettray penal colony reaches a state in which “the power to punish is made natural and legitimate” and the existence of a fixed source of power and authority dematerializes resulting with each having the capacity to exact power and punish those who resist/disobey. For our dissection of this film, such provisions would elicit the kind of analysis that we aim to achieve.

Using the aforementioned paradigm, we now tackle each social element and situate them within our analysis and see how each element contribute to the existing conditions of Medellin. A key element we can derive immediately out of the film is the culture of violence. We first encounter this in the film when Fernando and Alexis come out of the church and suddenly find themselves in the midst of a gunfight between two gangs that ends up with many of them killed. As Alexis mentions, these gangs have been at each other’s throats since the death of Pablo Escobar (head of the Medellin cocaine cartel) and the sadder thing is that both gangs share the same neighborhood of Santo Domingo Savio. This culture of violence is further manifested in the movie as Fernando heads for the drugstore and sees a man gunned down by a carjacker. Fernando then realizes that such violence is not only committed by those barbarians in the streets but also by his partner Alexis as he shoots their “hippie” neighbor as they encounter him in the streets. The violence continues all throughout the movie—the taxi drivers’ death, the men in the train, the Kawasaki and Yamaha riders who tried to kill Alexis and even the riders that finally got Alexis. This violence is a result, in the post-modernist view of the absence of authority and in the state of chaos in the equal capacity of each in exacting power and punishment and is perpetuated by another factor that we shall now discuss (we shall revisit this element later).

Another element that is subtly manifested in the movie is the cocaine trade of Medellin and as mentioned, this perpetuates the violence within the city. We consider this as an element for our analysis since, as can be assessed, the cocaine trade or the cocaine itself has become the currency in Medellin—where money materializes as a result of the cocaine trade and thus making it the fuel that continues the fire of violence. As the cocaine reaches North American territory, almost the entire city celebrates with fireworks and celebrations as what Fernando and Alexis saw from the balcony. In a way, the cocaine trade is portrayed as the whole economy of the city, it is what keeps the city alive and this is further implied as Fernando and Alexis talk about Escobar and the hero nature of Escobar’s endeavors in the cocaine trade. Situating this element within our frame, in a way, the cocaine trade is an actor within this paradigm that has allocated enough power from the post-modernist chaos of and perhaps implemented ample punishment to the point that it has established a certain degree of authority within the city of Medellin. Thus we have gangs that owe their allegiances or simply work for these businesses and in many instances, they kill for the continued existence of their business thus violence is perpetuated. From these two elements, we can already see an interaction; we further expand this with our next element.

Colombia after all, is still a state ergo a government that runs it, and Medellin is not an exemption from that governments’ control. However, that control has already waned to the point that we see very little of it in the movie. In a subtly manner, the role of the government was shown in the small screen of Fernando’s TV and its waning power is further implied with Alexis shooting the TV showing the president of Colombia with the boy cursing at the president for all the lies and empty promises. The decreasing authority of the government, as explained within the post-modernist view is basically the result of the diminishing concept of a single authority, in a way; it is denied functionality though (with our assumption) it still has a little function. This function could possibly be the regulation of the cocaine trade and thus, the government is a counter balance to the previous element we discussed.

Finally, the last element we shall use for our analysis in what perpetuates the misery of Medellin is the element of reproduction, basically the never ending breeding of the people that results in the constant increase of people in and around Medellin. Another subtly presented component; where Fernando remarks about the constant breeding of the poor, when 2 breed, they spawn 10. As well as manifested with the beggar lady with her kids—where despite the harshest of living conditions, she still brought two more mouths to feed under the same harsh and cruel conditions.

With these elements from the movie, under the post-modernist frame, we now sew all these together to get a possible explanation of why such conditions persist in the movie’s setting. With the cocaine trade getting most out of the chaotic state of Medellin and being the established means of survival (by way of it providing jobs, money, etc) for the population. It is basically a major determining component in the existing condition of misery in Medellin, whereby, through the cocaine trade, aside from people being mostly “crack heads”, gangs and people in general end up killing each other for it. Thus adding and perpetuating the condition of misery (coke + violence=miseryx2) while the government, with minimal functionality still exerts a measure of regulation to the coke trade and thus, the coke trades’ power is limited to a point where it is not terminated but also does not excess in the accumulation of power thus the danger of Medellin becoming coke country (even more chaotic) is hindered while all the killings also becomes a mechanism by which to balance the misery contributing element of reproduction. An increasing population under those conditions portrayed in the film results in miserable conditions and its non-regulation would result in, as Fernando remarks, “the world would go boom!” hence, in that context, the existing culture of violence counters the reproduction aspects thus limiting misery caused by the increase of the population. So, at this point, we have the government limiting the coke while the coke perpetuates the violence that also counters the misery of overpopulation, thus, in the totality of this rather simplistic approach, the conditions of misery is neither getting worse nor getting better but instead is constant since the elements that exist within this society (from a post-modernist view) continue to interact with each other and out of all the total chaos that exist, there is instead the level at which it settles and thus becomes the existing and persisting condition—and in this case, the condition of misery, where life is worthless, death everywhere, and existence is miserable.

Foucault, Michel, The Carceral in Part 3 of Reading in Social Theory: The Classic Tradition to Post-Modernism (McGraw-Hill Inc). 1993 edited by Farganis, James
Our Lady of the Assassins reviewed By George O. Singleton accessed on September 6, 2007 from
Microsoft ® Encarta ® Premium Suite 2005. © 1993-2004 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

- R. Ruaya

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Raise The Red Lantern - Hierarchy of Societal Priorities

Based on the film “Raise the Red Lantern,” politics within the home is hierarchical and is bounded by family rules, custom and tradition. Before I discuss my report further, I would like to clarify what I think is the underlying concept in my thesis statement – politics. According to Colin Hay, politics is concerned with the distribution, exercise and consequences of power. In other words, politics concerns power relations. To explain further, according to Hobbes, power is the probability that one actor within a social relationship will be in a position to carry out his own will despite resistance, regardless of the basis on which this probability rests. Therefore, let us examine the power relations within the home.

First, let us focus on the power of the head of the family (Master) over his mistresses. In the patriarchal structure of the home, power rested most on the Master, who was a male. The Master had relatively more power than his mistresses, who were females. The Master had the power to decide on whose quarter he would stay for the night or whenever he wanted to, thereby choosing among his mistresses who would get a foot massage, who would be allowed to decide what food she wanted to eat, and who would receive the most attention from him and from the servants. In fact, power rested most on the Master to the extent that he could manipulate events within the home in accordance with his interests. This was evident in the film when the Master talked to Songlian after she saw Meishan hanged in a room at the rooftop.

“What did you see?”
“You killed Meishan. You murderers! Murderers!”
“ No! You saw nothing! You’re mad!”

Of course, it was not in the interest of the Master to be called a “murderer,” that is why he attempted to “brainwash” Songlian and to manipulate the details of the incident by saying that she saw nothing, and that she was mad.

Second, let us talk about the power of the mistresses over the Master. Although relatively less powerful, power was also held by the mistresses – who were females – because the physical desires of the Master, and his desire of having children (particularly male children), would not have been satisfied if it were not for their help. This was very evident in the character of Songlian. She was able to deceive the Master, the mistresses and the servants that she was pregnant, until, of course, Dr. Gao told the Master that she was not pregnant. Before the discovery of Songlian’s fake pregnancy, everything was happening according to her plans. She certainly held the power over everyone else, including the Master, and, especially, over the other mistresses. This leads us to the competition for power among the mistresses.

Third, let us focus on the competition for power among the mistresses. I did not include the first mistress in the interplay of the other mistresses for power because she did not do anything – implicitly or explicitly – that would have implied that she was also trying to win the Master’s attention. It was probably because she already served the Master, and the Master already got what he wanted from the first mistress by giving birth to their son, Feipu. Aside from that, the other mistresses were way younger than her; therefore, I would have to assume that they could give more pleasure to the Master than her because of their youth.

The three mistresses had to compete against one another for the Master’s attention and for all the benefits that come with it. In the competition that the mistresses were in, only one among them could emerge triumphant every night, or whenever the Master wanted. All the mistresses with their respective servants had to wait at a common area outside their respective quarters for the announcement on whose quarter the Master would spend the night in. For instance, when the housekeeper announced: “Light the lantern at the fourth quarter!”, it meant that the fourth mistress emerged as the winner – and therefore, the “powerful” – in the competition, leaving the others powerless as of that moment. One mistress’s triumph was very temporary, that is why they all had to continue formulating and implementing ways on how to emerge and/or how to maintain herself as the winner and the powerful. The mistresses even resorted to deceiving others in order to win in the competition. For instance, when Zhuoyun initially befriended Songlian by praising her beauty and by giving her an expensive silk as a gift, she didn’t want Songlian to view her as an opponent. Zhuoyun hoped that that strategy of hers would help her win the Master’s attention over the other mistresses. Unfortunately for Zhuoyun, Songlian soon knew about her deceitful acts. Competition was so intense among the mistresses that serving another mistress who was equally in pursuit of the Master’s attention was certainly not a part of the plan of any of the mistresses. This was highly evident in the scene when Zhuoyun was very reluctant in giving Songlian a back massage. Nevertheless, Zhuoyun was convinced to give Songlian the back massage she wanted because it was the Master’s order. Just like what Meishan told Zhuoyun while they were eating with the first mistress, “maybe the Master will like you more if you give a back massage to Fourth Sister.” When a mistress would temporarily win the Master’s attention, the other mistresses would be left with nothing. This was highlighted in the scene when Zhuoyun asked Songlian why she was drunk. Songlian said, “What do I have to lose?...I have nothing! Nothing!” Hence, for the mistresses who do not win the Master’s attention, they look for “other sources of pleasure.” In the case of Meishan, she had Dr. Gao. Fortunately for her, her feelings towards Dr. Gao was reciprocated. Unfortunately for Songlian, her affection (although not explicitly shown in the film) toward Feipu was not reciprocated. In the scene where Songlian was let herself get drunk while celebrating her 20th birthday, I, as a viewer, felt her desire for someone to make her feel loved, or to simply to be her company. In Songlian’s case, I think that Songlian desired to have Feipu as her company with the aim of getting rid of her feelings of loneliness and lack of purpose.

Fourth, let us discuss the power of the mistresses over the servants. Based on the hierarchical relations within the home, the mistresses had power over the servants. That is why when Songlian had to be subjected to the family rules for claiming that she was pregnant (although she as not), she revealed Yang’s secret about the red lanterns in her room. Songlian would not allow herself to be subjected to the family rules without Yang being subjected to the rules as well. There was barely anything that a servant could do to defy or resist the mistress’s demands, except to do petty and even pathetic acts of resistance, just like when Yang forcefully spat on Songlian’s clothes before washing them.

Finally, let us focus on the politics of the home. All the actors in the conceptual diagram were bounded by family rules, custom and tradition. That is why those who attempted to challenge those rules had to deal with the consequences of their actions. For instance, Yang had to kneel on the snow until she admitted that she was wrong in secretly lighting lanterns in her room; Meishan had to be hanged secretly in a room at the top of the roof after the discovery of her affair with Dr. Gao; and, Songlian did not win the Master’s attention anymore after deceiving everyone about a fake pregnancy. Moreover, family rules continue despite resistance. At the latter part of the film, Songlian ended up losing her sanity after challenging the rules. The same rules would continue to be observed even in the coming of the fifth mistress. Just like what Dr. Casambre mentioned in our PS 110 class, rules endure even if warm bodies come and go.

The film “Raise the Red Lantern” was an effective medium for political socialization in an “emotionally cold” way. The film portrayed marriage without any “intimate affection” toward one’s partner. This feeling was aggravated because there were four mistresses who competed against one another for the attention of one person, the Master. After watching this film, the viewers would acquire political beliefs and values that would be either in favor of or against the portrayed power relations of actors within the home in China in the 1920s. Hopefully, those political beliefs and values would lead to better power relations within the home (by “better,” I mean more opportunities for each actor to acquire his wants within less constraining rules, customs and traditions), and would be transmitted from generation to generation.

- R. A. Alejandro

Why is it that whenever we win a competition we express our outright gratitude to someone else other than ourselves? Instead of thanking ourselves, we appreciate the role our family, coach, even God, etc. had taken part in helping us in our endeavor/s. We somehow tend to forget ourselves for our innate talent/s, effort, and determination for the accomplishments we have achieved. And whenever we fail, we often blame ourselves. Are we just being unselfish or has society dictated us in doing so? This particular circumstance highlights the ascendancy of macro-structural processes over that of individual preferences in the course of our [political] socialization.

The film Red Lantern (Da Hong Deng Long Gao Gao gua) depicts the struggle of four concubines for the limited amount of attention of the Chen household's master. In particular, it captures the life of Songlian (Gong Li), who, despite having attended university becomes one of the concubines of the master of the wealthy Chen family at a young age of nineteen. Upon entry, she quickly learns the rules within the symmetrically-designed compound, which represents equality among the concubines: whoever wife the master presently favors into sleeping with is graced by his attention, lavish foot massages, and scores of red lanterns which are lit in front of her house. The passionate competition among the concubines for the master's rewards soon entangles Songlian in a fierce struggle for the red lanterns, those of irresistible foot massages, and the master's attention. What starts out as a harmless internal strife soon turns to deception, backstabbing, and worse – death. The film exposes patterns of intrigues, deceptions, and exploitation within the Chen household. The political dimension within the film is represented by the competition of the four wives for their husband's favor.

Ultimately, rules prescribe and fashion our roles/functionality within the society. In reference to the film, the role performed by women within the household is dictated by the hierarchical-character of the hundred-year traditions and customs of the Chen family. They define how concubines within the house should socialize with the master and with one another. For example, in the concubine-master relationship, the concubines should always bear in mind the fact of their lives of enticing the master using their wits, skills, looks, whatever they have, into sleeping with one of them. In addition, the presence of certain facets of the norms and traditions reinforces these macro-structural household rules. The embededness of incentives and rewards, such as the lavish foot massages, scores of red lanterns being lit, and the favors of the master, within these family norms and traditions greases the engine of competition among the four wives and at the same time, affirms the stability of such rules. The character of these rules, being at societal equilibrium, is further buttressed by the historical determination of the lives of these concubines, for example, Songlian's economic situation before her entry into the household. On the other hand, non-compliance with these rules can result to something worse – death, as what became of the fate of the third concubine. For Songlian's part, she cannot accept the reality of the third concubine being murdered by the master, and in retort, one way for her to stop responding to the dictation of society while protecting herself from punishment for non compliance (death) is through becoming insane.

On a general note, these rules are governed by society. However, society, in this sense, is not seen as a static structure but rather as a constant process. According to evolutionary game theory, the constant strategic interactions among `bounded' rational players within a societal setting produce outcomes with respect to their preferences (or utilities), more often than not, none of which might have been intended (intention versus predestination) by any of them. The interdependence of the strategic players `bounded' rational choices tailor-make the shared character of macro-structural rules. Accordingly, to such macro-structural rules is the human behavior generally ascribed to, where our actions depend on what several agents choose to do and where our choices depend on what others choose to do. However, we cannot discredit the fact that other players can be dominant against the others within society. Primarily, the possession of wealth and power levels the playing field to a player's advantage, to the point where he/she can set the parameters of the rules of the game and define the behavior of others. With regard to the film, the wealth of the master affirms his superior position over his concubines and servants within the hierarchical (patriarchal) character of the household. This circumstance justifies the master's right to command the individuals within his household. In a nutshell, the established social roles accorded to women are all penned by society. In reference to the film, the shared aspects of socialization, in the form of household norms in the story, defines the behavior of individuals within the Chen compound. Society, with the master penning the rules, is seen as the main culprit behind the oppression of concubines. Moreover, individuals who do not conform to culturally defined standards of normalcy because they were "abnormally" socialized, which is to say that they have not internalized the norms of society are usually labeled by their society as deviant or even mentally ill. Accordingly, in this strictest intuitive sense, sharing the suggestion of many existential philosopohers, we can label society as evil.

On the issue of women's rights, it was hard to recognize any violations perpetrated by the master in the very beginning of the movie simply because Songlian had a choice not to concede to the offer tendered by the master to become one of his concubines. However, at the request of her dying mother and because of their economic situation she decided to become one of the concubines of the master. At the moment Songlian joined the bandwagon, she also consented (not forced), at least, to the terms of becoming one of master's concubines. And having received a certain level of education at a university, she must possess some knowledge about how concubines are being treated. In light of this, we can identify the mother as the primary offender of women's rights in the film. She does not have the right to dictate her daughter's decision since Songlian, at the age of nineteen, is already mature enough to decide for herself and has even received education from a university. This instance can be seen parallel to John Stuart Mill's assertion `tyranny of majority'. As the film progresses, the audience can see how the concubines are being pampered by the master. They are provided with their basic needs and wants: housing, food, clothings, servants, medical services, etc. Although one may notice that in exchange for all these things is their liberty. At this point, one can label the master a violator of women's rights. Their confinement within the thick and towering concrete walls of the Chen's compound is an indicative circumstance. In the end of the film, the master's decision to kill the third concubine further implicated him as a violator of women's rights.

The film can be interpreted as an allegory for the corruption of modern society in China. We can perceive of Songlian's mother as the submissive people who during the communist revolution did not even question the legitimacy of their revolutionary government thus rendering the absence of checks and balances within the system, Songlian as the exploited individuals, the master as the government, and the customs of the household as the `anti-human-rights' laws of the country. "It's an archaic system that rewards those who play within the rules and destroys those who violate them. And, when an atrocity occurs (as it did in Tiannamen Square), not only is culpability denied, but the entire incident is claimed not to have happened" (Berardinelli, J. 1996).

Berardinelli, J. (1996). Raise the red Lantern: A Film Review.
Accessed on August 30, 2007<>.

- L. Tamondong

Ma Vie En Rose - The Wellspring of Identity

Society as a Determinant of Gender - Nominated and recipient of numerous awards including Best Foreign Film, Ma Vie en Rose mainly points out the irrevocable powers of society in affecting personal preferences such as gender. The dichotomy between gender and sexuality has been largely interchanged in the film. The distinction between them is crucial to social and political theory. The term gender is used to refer to social and cultural distinctions between males and females, while sexuality is used to highlight biological, and therefore ineradicable, differences between men and women. Gender is therefore a social construct, usually based on stereotypes of ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ behavior. And that’s where the complication in the film arises. For example, at a very young age, Ludovic has no concept of beautiful for females and handsome for males. For him, when he wanted to look good, he applied cosmetics and put on earrings and dress. The social construct which separates the idea of beauty for females different from males makes Ludovic unaware of such distinction, which resulted to different reactions and offensive treatment he obtained from society.

Sexuality’s biological base is always experienced culturally, through a translation, and is inevitably expressed socially. But how society specifically shapes sexuality and/or gender still remains abstract. The most popular perspective on the social shaping of gender focuses on individuals in the family context. This is most powerfully exemplified by psychoanalytic theory, which attempts to bridge the seeming gap between the social and biological worlds by describing human personality as a product of the experiences of love, hate, power, and conflict in families. As manifested in the film, the several conflicts between Ludovic’s parents have affected him in one way or another although those conflicts were a by-product of his personal choice and actions. Due to these consequences, Ludovic was caught between his personal preference versus the repercussions of his actions, resulting to his own personal struggle which seemed to be suicidal in a sense. The analysis of psychosexual development is a complement to the study of society, not its historical replacement. Gender and sexuality both generates wide social relations and is refracted through the prism of society. Gender can be visualized in the image of an onion, as we peel off each layer (economies, politics, families etc.), we may think that we are approaching the kernel, but we eventually discover that the whole is the only “essence” there is, it cannot be abstracted from its social layers.

Ludovic’s family was his primary outlet in his struggle for acceptance. His family, especially his mother, was the main actor that was present all through out his battles in the film. Recent feminist revisions of psychoanalytic theory have focused on the social construction of motherhood under conditions of male dominance. They reveal the centrality of female parenting in the psychic structuring of gender identity. Ludovic’s bond with his mother was not just ‘innate’ but rather ‘developed’ to the point where he declares himself as a girl patterned after his mother. Another outlet that contributed in molding Ludovic’s gender identity is his peers. Peer groups are found in many cultures and they serve a variety of functions. They organize intergenerational relationships outside the family itself. Peer groups are often age based, and as was evident in the film, Ludovic’s peers were of his age, they go to the same school, they live in the same community and most notably his fantasy relationship with Jerome emphasized his conviction that he is indeed a girl trapped in a boy’s body. Upon moving to a new neighborhood, Ludovic found a sense of parallelism in his new-found friend Christine. He also felt a sense of belongingness to the new neighborhood and to his new-found peers. It only goes to show that determining gender can be found at a very young age. It knows no inhibitions, no malice, and no controversies. And the role of society in gender-formation was demoralizing and tormenting as far as Ludovic and his family are concerned. Other social factors such as the media in the form of the TV show Le Monde de Pam also contributed to his socialization in determining his gender identity.

The film as a whole is full of symbolism and is the most innocent film as far as the roster of films in Political Science 167 is concerned. The role of society in gender identity was at play. The cutting of Ludovic’s hair is a sign of losing his identity. His hair is what separates him from the others and cutting it would leave him with no distinction from the rest. The struggle of his gender identity is marked by certain instances of resistance fro his part; when he attempted to kiss a girl but he was turned down, and his refusal to swap clothes with Christine. These were due to trapping situation where he caught himself in between. But these instances only focus on a certain period in the life of Ludovic. That’s why it’s very difficult to determine the success of gender identity despite its origins at a very young age.


Heywood, A. Economies and Society. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. 2005.
Allansk, R. Sex and Society. New York Publishing. 1995.

- J. Repato

“ I wanted the child's innocence and his amazing certainty make his questions touch our hearts and allow us to understand them “ (Alain Berliner).

I start my paper with the statement made by Alain Berliner, the director of the film Ma Vie En Rose, for from it and through it that we can examine what the director wants to portray in the movie, and what message it wants to convey to its viewers. This paper tries to read between the scenes the ‘questions’ that the director and the film want their viewers hearts to be touched.

The film begins with scenes showing women wearing dresses and high-heeled shoes and men on trousers. From this, the viewers are already introduced to a set-up that emphasizes masculinity and femininity and the difference between the two. Ma Vie En Rose allotted a few scenes showing different couples preparing for a party. However, the differentiation among the couples still is restricted to heterogeneous ones, which only further highlights the exclusivity of masculinity to men, and femininity to women. This is perhaps the reason why the picture of Ludovik, a seven year-old boy walking into the party wearing his sister’s princess dress and later declaring his desire to marry Jerome shatters the completely perfect picture of the normal-loving neighborhood.

The film shows the interactions between culture, nature and society focusing on the issue of gender and how the main character and his family faces complex social constructs in contrasts to their own values. It focused on the interplay between social meanings, personal values and the synthesis of these highlights the process that Ludovik and his family underwent in their socialization. People are born to a world which already has meanings attached to a given sex showing how society limits a person’s individuality. Culture dictates a person’s gender role. A culture and nature dictate an individuals gender identity and at the same time people constantly shapes and reshapes culture giving new meanings to gender roles. This dialectical relationship creates a society that either accepts or stigmatizes deviance to gender roles and this reflects the process of socialization.

Sex is solely concerned with the biological aspect of an individual. It is based on a person’s external genitalia. Ludovik, having been born with external genitalia of a male and an x and y-chromosomes is biologically a male. Culture attaches meanings to a given sex. A given culture has its own meanings of gender roles. Gender roles are the activities and actions that a society dictates to be acceptable and proper given a person’s external genitalia. In this Belgian community gender role includes men liking women. Thus his parents expects him to like girls and wear clothes that other ‘normal’ boys his age wear. However as Ludovik and this film prove, gender identity does not end there.

“ I’m a boy now, but one day I’ll be a girl” asserts Ludovik.

Ludovik is certain he is a girl. Though Ludovik does not conform to meanings of norms in his society, it does not however imply that he does not play a certain gender role himself. In here we see how meanings attached to a gender role is change. Society and to some extent an individual is able to reshape its culture giving new meanings to gender roles. Difficulty arises when the current social meanings contradicts and creates tensions in the process of changing meanings. In the movie as the family of Jerome faces threats of isolation, we see the process of socialization of the family and Ludovik himself.

The context by which Ludovik and his family is important in the development of the film and the characters. It is thus important that the film spent a great deal of effort on the sub-urban neighborhood where the family leaves for it serves as an influential agent by which how the family and Ludovik himself faces his issue of gender identity. This neighborhood is the primary agent of socialization of Ludovik’s family. The constant physical interaction hones the relationship between Ludovik’s family and their neighbors, and entrenches their ability to influence the family’s opinion. In Ludovik’s part it is his family together with their family friends that affected his opinions most. Though, the television shows of Pam serves as his secondary agent of socialization, the physical constraints of Pam as a fictional character and her incapability to console and communicate with Ludovik also restrain the television show’s influence.

Focusing on their primary agents of socialization, their primary groups are also revealed. Primary groups are formations, groups that individuals are consciously member of and they constantly integrate with. It is important to identify the primary groups that Ludovik and his family are members of in order to fully understand their opinions, feelings and more importantly later their decisions. In discussing the primary groups of Ludovik and his family, we will be able to see how their decisions reflect that of the opinions of the society they are in. Primary groups exert a certain degree of pressure among its members for uniformity.

There are three reasons why individuals conform to uniformity. One is that their membership into a specific group restricts the information that they get, limiting their opinions to opinions of the other members of that group. The neighbors of Ludovik’s family see the issue of gender identity negatively. This pose as a symbolic threat to the other members not to contradict these norms. These are the feedbacks that the family receives hence they base their opinions on the opinions of their neighbors. Ludovik on the other hand, being a member of the neighborhood and his family only experiences repression from them. He draws into a conclusion that indeed it could be the reason for god to send him to hell. Another reason is that people value their membership to that group. The family being financially dependent to one of their neighbors highly value their approval. The approval of the neighbors forces the parents of Ludovik especially his father to seek a professional help. This approval also pushed his brothers not defend him when their friends started to beat Ludovik. Ludovik loves his family and do not want to indirectly cause any harm to its members. He values his membership to his family. Lastly, people generally want to be considered as normal. However normality is also a social construct. Society dictates what are considered normal and abnormal, what is acceptable and what is not. Unfortunately for Ludovik and his family, the ‘normal’-loving neighborhood considers being ‘bent’ an abnormal and unacceptable condition. These reasons push Ludovik and his family to conclusions that abhor Ludovik’s assertion of his gender identity.

However, Ludovik’s family finally accepts him towards the end of the film and this reflects the limitations of the influence of the primary groups. It should be noted that the capability of a primary group to influence its members is still primarily based on the importance of the group to its members. As the family grows more financially independent on the neighborhood, the latter’s importance also diminishes.

The film, having used vivid colors to mirror the emotions in the movie, being highly entertaining to watch, having a clear focus on childhood, and having a relatively new point of view on an issue is an effective medium for the socialization of it’s viewers.

It leaves viewers hanging as questions of an innocent child pokes their hearts forcing them to re-examine and reconsider their orientations for that possibility of acceptance into the social norms. It leaves the viewers to rethink that perhaps one day we would realize that Ludovik is right and that it is all but a scientific error. After all it makes perfect sense that way.

- J. Agpalo

Ludovic Fabre, the central character of the 1997 Belgian film “Ma Vie En Rose”, is probably one of the most resolute personas ever brought to life, remarkably despite his young age. However, it is unfortunate that the world around him has been very certain as well, only to make sure that Ludo does not belong.

This essay aims to mainly assert that social control has indeed heavily affected Ludovic’s childhood, or the childhood of any kid, for that matter. The discussion of this writer’s main thesis is taken from the perspective of the framework of panopticism, which was postulated by philosophers Michel Foucault, Jeremy Bentham and John Berger. The corresponding conceptual model depicts the child (Ludovic) as its center. The child is operating within certain a social environment. Consequently, he or she is constantly interacting with his peers, his “significant adults” (coined by this writer for lack of a better term denoting adults whom children are dependent upon), and the society as a whole. Specifically in Ludovic’s case, the social environment focused on is the neighborhood they first moved into, as opposed to Clermont-Ferrand, the next neighborhood they were later compelled to transfer to; the latter will not be discussed here because only the former will be used to establish society’s controlling character. In this analysis of “Ma Vie En Rose”, the nature and relationships of the elements within this conceptual model are to be discussed within the panopticon framework.

The panopticon, a term which in Greek denotes “all” (pan) “seeing” (opticon), is a “design for an ideal reformatory” (Wood, 2003) According to Foucault (who studied at the University of Clermont-Ferrand, ironically), “it is a segmented, immobile … space. Each individual is fixed in his place. And, if he moves, he does so at the risk of his life, contagion or punishment. Inspection functions ceaselessly. The gaze is alert everywhere: …the slightest movements are supervised, … recorded, … [and] power is exercised [within] a compact model of the disciplinary mechanism. Generally speaking, all the authorities exercising individual control function according to … binary division and branding; and … coercive assignment of differential distribution...” to alter the abnormal. (Cartome) Foucault’s work, “Displine and Punish” explains “the micro-power structures that developed in Western societies since the eighteenth century.” ( Bentham later asserted “the major effect of the Panopticon: to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power,” and that “the principle that power should be visible and unverifiable.” To clarify, power as unverifiable means that the surveyed must never know when they are being watched, but must be sure that they may always be so. (Cartome) According to Berger, panopticism is a feeling that one is always being watched, and this creates a pressure on him or her to conform by the guidelines and rules set by society. ( In other words, this is the fear that in all moments they are being judged in their actions and if they fail to go along with societal “norms”, which are oftentimes unnatural and irrational, then they will not be socially accepted.

At the first level of interaction, Ludovic’s peers are his siblings, their neighbors, and classmates. Their interaction was initially characterized by acceptance and friendship. This is evident with Jerome, when he tried to return Ludo’s earring during recess at school. It was then when they became instant friends, and also when Ludo resolved to marry Jerome. It is also evident when Ludo and Jerome held their ‘wedding’ at Jerome’s dead sister’s room. This depicts a positive interaction because, firstly, they were in a place where they were not allowed to be in, and secondly, they were acting out a ceremony which is known to only wed heterosexual couples; however, despite these, Jerome still played along in what must have seemed to him as a game. Ludo’s eldest sister Zoe also manifested accpetance, which is expected from her more, as she is family. Evidently, she hugged Ludo at the football net in school when he was crying, and also when she defended him at the dinner table when their father reprimanded him for the wedding debacle. However, the more Ludo expressed his strong belief in being a girl, these interactions changed. Even at the beginning, there was always some petty bullying by Ludo’s classmates, evidently when he brought his Pam and Ben dolls to Show and Tell, indicating the established view that it is inappropriate for boys to play with dolls. But after further adult control, this led to Ludo being physical assaulted by his teammates in soccer, while his brother Tom chose to conform to peer pressure when he prevented their brother Jean from defending Ludo. Sophie pushed Ludo away when he tried to kiss her, saying she does not kiss girls, a remark reflecting her father’s control that Ludo was a “bent boy”. Finally, Jerome’s remark on “going to hell” if he sat beside Ludo in class also reflected his parent’s control, perhaps to stay away from the ‘sinful’.

His peers, being children, are still heavily influenced by their significant adults, namely their parents, through power relations within the home. They are also influenced by their fellow peers, by means of direct social control, but their parents still have greater overall influence since their fellow peers are also subjected to the same politics at home. The children’s parents, in turn, are heavily influenced by the society as a whole, which dictates hetero-normative restrictions. As a result, they impart to their children these rules, leading them to act correspondingly among their peers. Therefore, the inter-peer relationships of the children were impinged by the inter-peer adult relationships, and more so by the societal norms. Specifically, the peer-controlled change is evident in Tom, while the adult-controlled change is evident with Ludo’s peers who are not family, namely, his neighbors and classmates. Nonetheless, society, at this level, is seen to react to Ludo’s actions through the adults, hence only indirectly. Therefore, at this level, the scope of the panopticon is still quite distant, because the intensity of adult social control, which is said to be more stringent and ironically intolerant, is still quite indirect.

The second level of interaction concerns Ludo’s significant adults, who remain the same for both social environments, are his parents Pierre and Hanna, and his grandmother Elizabeth (whom he called Granny). With Granny, Ludo initially saw acceptance, though not necessarily approval, as is evident when she fetched him at school and Ludo declared that he would marry their neighbor Jerome “once [he’s] not a boy”. In fact, she tried to talk him out of his strong belief in being a girl, as evident when she corrected Ludo that he was “not pretty, but handsome”. A parallel can even be drawn from Granny’s character, as she evidently challenged norms by acting too youthfully despite her age; nonetheless, she still indirectly advised Ludo that “we all have to face reality.” However, as the story progressed, she eventually understood the intensity of Ludo’s convictions and even supported him in his wearing a skirt, while at the same time hoping very deeply that such an indulgence would eventually banalize such strong belief, all for Ludo’s sake, because she also wanted him to be accepted in society. Therefore, Granny is not a panoptic character in Ludo’s life; in fact, she even approves of his attitude, though not necessarily in being a girl per se, but more in being admirably steadfast in his beliefs, and she never faltered, taking him in especially when he was most shunned by everyone else.

Ludo’s relationship with his parents is the third level of social interaction. At the beginning, Pierre and Hanna took Ludo’s actions lightly, maybe even to the point of trivializing them, justifying that he “meant no harm” and that “we search for our identity until we are seven”. This is evident when Pierre almost nonchalantly said that Ludo acted like a girl “every so often”. In other words, Ludo’s expression of being female was never an issue in the Fabre household. In fact, this writer believes that the scene where Ludo was embraced by his mother and grandmother while they were dancing at the housewarming party symbolizes that they provided him with tolerance and protection from the real, harsh and panoptic world outside. Therefore, since there was initially little or no panoptic atmosphere in the Fabre household, Ludo felt free, maybe even encouraged, to express his believed gender more widely, out to the society level.

However, as the story progressed, the more society condemned Ludo and his family, specifically his parents, for his actions. In fact, the changes in the Fabre household were catalyzed by his parents’ interaction with society as a whole, inevitably entailing the discussion of the fourth level of social interaction. Society is stipulated in this essay as being comprised of individual members who are living and operating within each of the social environments. It is at this level where Ludo was being most tormented. This is gradually evident in increasing stages in the story. Initially, during the housewarming, Ludo received incredulous gasps and an uncomfortable silence when he came out in girlish hair, outfit and make-up. Also, at Show and Tell at school, his teacher worriedly, though tactfully, tried to confirm with Ludo that he wanted “to be like Ben”, perhaps trying to get an assurance from him. Society’s panoptic character worsened to a more cruel stage. It is evident in the school play where Ludo only playfully grabbed the role of Snow White, and when he was found out, cold condemning stares followed the Fabres out the gates of the school. In fact, in the technical terms of this film, such disapproval was shown in the colors that washed over the scene, specifically hues of grays and blues. Finally, it reached a most oppressive stage when Ludo was expelled from school because “his tastes are too eccentric”, posing difficulties for the Fabres. Therefore, since it is society directly interacting with Ludo, the former’s panoptic character quite firm and distressing.

Consequently, it is at this level when the Fabres, especially the parents, were most ostracized. This is evident in three scenes. The first is the barbecue with Jerome’s and Sophie’s parents, when Sophie’s mother, Monique, commented that Ludo was a “real little housewife” (connoting the wedding fiasco), and when Jerome’s mother, Lisette, remarked that Albert thought “if society were not sick there would not be any loony bins” (connoting Ludo was sick and loony). Hanna defiantly said that Ludo was “not a loony”, and tried to steer the conversation away for Ludo’s sake. The second was when Albert told Pierre that Ludo was that way because he let Hanna control the kids; Pierre defensively replied that they raised their kids well. In these two scenes, all the other parents offer solutions, evoking doubt in the hearts of Ludovic’s parents regarding their family life, parenting skills, and even their marriage. And the last, most oppressive draw for them was the driveway vandalism, “Bent boys out”. At this stage, society’s panoptic quality is at its height, explicitly ordering them to ‘straighten up’ Ludo, or else they are driven out.

As a result of society’s reaction to his parents, their reaction to him worsened, with the wedding fiasco as the turning point; this was the first time when Ludo’s actions were seriously maligned by the panoptic society, effectively leading the parents to suddenly try to conform him to it. They were alarmed for the first time: Hanna vehemently shook Ludo; Pierre impatiently explained the consequences to his job if it happened again. However, alarm escalated to distress for Pierre when Ludo asked what “bent” meant: Pierre violently insisted to refer to a flyswatter, when it was really meant as the French slang for a homosexual. But when Pierre was fired at work, it was Hanna’s turn to cave in: she blamed Ludo for Pierre’s unemployment; and she also made him shut up at the bus stop on the way to his new, less exclusive school, because Ludo’s educational concerns added to their problems due to the breach of the family’s economic well-being. At this level, they now conformed to the panoptic character of society, disciplining Ludo.

In turn, their transformation affected Ludo’s relationship with himself. Initially, he confidently expressed her femaleness to all, wanting to “look pretty”, watching “Pam’s World”, wearing his pants backwards, etc. The wedding fiasco was also another effort for expression but, as it brought society’s first sign of serious disapproval, it perplexed him as to why they disapproved of a simple identity expression. Threatened by society, he flew to Pam’s world, where there are no other citizens, perhaps symbolizing a world without social control. But when his parents themselves rejected him, that was when he resolved to please them by being sent to a psychiatrist, and when he asked them to confirm if he really was a boy, it was when he first saw the relief in his parents. Disappointed that his parents felt that way, but wanting to be loved by them and guilty to go on with his belief, he chose to try hard to live like a boy and obey his parents by putting away his dolls and joining the football team. Now more timid and withdrawn, consequently, he himself has transformed into his own panopticon.

Therefore, as the main thesis is now established, “Ma Vie En Rose” is an effective agent of political socialization, by using a portrayal of a controlling and bigoted society for three reasons. Firstly, it depicts an issue of fantasy versus reality, of youth versus adulthood, as the latter’s power is depicted through the politics of the home, effectively making harsh reality prevail, limiting society’s possibilities, and controlling the former. Secondly, it poses an issue of normalcy, as the basis of social inclusion and stability, effectively compelling society’s members to conform, and implying societal repression and eventual stagnation. And finally, “Ma Vie En Rose” conveys a message of tolerance, rather than judgment, and belongingness, rather than ostracism, of a seven-year-old girlboy who only wanted to be recognized and appreciated just the way he believes himself to be, because, at least in his book, being oneself has never been a crime.


Wikipedia. “Michel Foucault”. Date published: 11 August 2007. Date retrieved: 22 August 2007. From:

Wood, David. “Foucault and Panopticism Revisited.” Editorial, Surveillance and Society. Year published: 2003. Date retrieved: 22 August 2007. From:

- A. Felicia