BladeRunner City Themes

The movie Bladerunner is filled with portraits of a future city landscape. The year is 2019, the place is Los Angeles. Much of the rendering provided is of a science fictional city which has as much as to do with a rendering of the current city at the time of production. As science fiction has been described before as a metaphor of current affairs this could be said of the city in Bladerunner.

Salient Lights

In the beginning and throughout virtually the entire film we are introduced to a city always being portrayed in the dark, at night. But there isn’t an obvious answer to this as most would assume that the city is dark, evil, ominous, and foreboding. No that argument could be refuted by the fact that the city is greatly lit and full of colors the entire time. For instance, in the very opening scene we are introducted to a factory producing flames amongst a numerous amount of other lights, 2 pyramid lights, a spinner( hover car), individual dispersed white lights, and machinery lights.  This rendetion of lights isn’t just prevalent in the opening scene but throughout the film and throughout different scenes and spaces as opposed to the panoramas. The camera view shown in small perspectives like inside the caravan reveal a myiard of neon signs. But the most striking testimony to this observation has to be the neon lit umbrellas, the most unexpecting place for a light. These umbrellas were so prominent that they even began marketing them and are sold today on the internet.

Another prominent light source, is the searchlight that is noticeable in most scenes.  A white light panning left to right. What comes to mind first is an emphatic prop used to accentuate the narrators search for replicants but could also represent enlightenment which I believe the replicant Roy finally reaches in the end in a spiritual sense as he experiences his final human emotion. Both of these can extend to what a city provides. For instance, one could conflate the enlightenment idea with Zimmel’s argument that professes a stimulation of the mind due to the city. With the second idea, it could be argued and supported by the Pan Opticon Idea. Deckard the Bladerunner could symbolize that watching essence, that eye in the sky that keeps people under restraints in the city.

Link of City Landscapes in BR: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dMw_0mlBV2I

The Plot and the City.

The story in Bladerunner also makes some serious inquiry into the city. The city in the beginning is portrayed as an industrial city, pictures of factories producing, technology teeming through the city, the Tyrell company and it’s replicants. But the city is also at a maximum point. Residents have gone to the new world to look for better opportunities. Consciously, this idea redirects to the transmigration of residents from the old world to the new world in the 16th and above centuries. But the reason back then wasn’t whiteflight or antiurbanism but the overcrowding population and diminishing resources. The latter ideas could be tied to the scenario of the Bladerunner city; replicants are forced to the new world as slaves as a sort of colonization which in history, were used  to bring gains and resources back to mother counties. We don’t know wheter is the case in the movie, but it reveals a troubling and disruptive city in BR nonetheless.

This idea of colonizing could mean the city in the film will no longer be viable. And viewing science fiction as a metaphor for modern time it can be viewed that the Los Angeles city of the time was sought to be overcrowding and would have to restort to colonizing to provide more room and resources for an ever increasing population. The depeltion of resources can also be viewed from the fact of the sun never appearing in the city, a natural resource gone. The city is viable with technology but only in the short run. Technology is a problem and a solution. It created replicants but replicants also rebelled. Technology created the city and luxuries but is also depleting resources. This is also relevant today with America’s addiction to oil. But this theme could apply to all cities, thus BladeRunner serves as an allegory on technology and the city. Technology in the city is left ambiguous just as the city’s function is. The city is dark but filled with light. The city provides millions of homes, but depletes sources.  But then again, Technology and the city don’t have to be treated as two separate entities. Since the city can be considered Technology itself, a man made invention to better enhance the lives of human beings. But that topic is broad and I hope to expand it in my research paper.

 

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The House on Mango Street City Portrayal

Among many themes in The House on Mango Street including gender oppression, white flight, anti-urbanism, culture, and immigration, the theme of a wild city is prevalent through most chapters of the book. The epitome of the metaphorical trope between the jungle and the city is evident in the “Monkey Garden” chapter. However the function isn’t clear cut. Is the jungle proposing a wild atmosphere trope? Is the city interfering with nature in the city? Which one came first?  These questions don’t have clear answers but I will hope to try to come up with a more ambivalent answer that takes not just one side. What is concrete however is the presence of animal tropes and a chapter revolving around a natural jungle/garden habitat.

I will first start out with trying to accurately conceive the garden chapter and see how this affects the portrayal of the city. The monkey garden which was the backyard to residents has since been abandoned after their departure. The garden flourishes with sunflowers “big as flowers on Mars,” and “yellow spiders” before the monkey family leaves. The prevalence of wildlife is emphasized  with descriptions of plants and animals. The narrator, Esperanza thereafter proclaims, “after the monkey left, the garden began to take over itself. Flowers stopped obeying little bricks that kept them from growing beyond their paths” (95). This reveals the cities dominating and interfering presence over nature which hinders nature’s true form. Furthermore, Esperanza indicates after the departure of the monkey family that abandoned cars have loitered the area. A short time after she states that a rumor claims the “monkey garden had been there before anything” implying some truth. So to recap,  the natural garden setting came first, then the city which occupied and hindered it then in the absence of humans  slowly returned to its natural setting of growing without boundaries except the piece with the cars not interfering now.

What a sleep car might look like:

How I interpret this is rather then serving as a historical monument of what used to be the city, the garden serves as a metaphor of the city’s wildness illustrated by the crime and unconventionality of the residents.  The jungle/garden happens to be in the city and can be conceived just a part of the city just like how the poverty in the vicinity of Mango street is just one aspect of the city. Also  the garden is subtly more specific than nature and is more than a garden it is a jungle. The narrator refers to describing things as giant mushrooms 3 times in the chapter. Also to emphasize this theme are the many animal similes and metaphors throughout the rest of the book that I will demonstrate.

For instance, after the narrator reveals the makeup of buildings on her street, (neighbors, basements, bars, grocery stores),  and other constructs of the city she describes a giant and salient tree, “But what you remember most is this tree, huge, with fat arms and mighty families of squirrels in the higher branches. All around the neighborhood of roofs . . . (22). Sequentially, Esperanza tells of their “First Annual Tarzan Jumping Contest”. Furthermore when Esperanza describes her experience riding inside a stolen car that ends up crashing into a lamppost, she comments, “The nose of that yellow Cadillac was all pleated like an alligators….”(25).

Many more examples include children bending trees,  kids swinging upon roof tops, children imitating noises of Parrots,  and a simile describing Rutine as “looking around like a wild animal” to name a few. These tropes serve as to compare the inhabitants of the city as wild animals in the jungle like city. This metaphor could serve many functions, to artistically and emphatically convey the craziness of the city or in this instance the impoverished area Esperanza inhabits. This concept of a city being compared to a jungle is also somewhat around today. Harlem is sometimes described as being a jungle for various reasons. This is exemplified in a song called Jungle Nights in Harlem by Duke Ellington which resonates a fast paced rhythm and stylistic animal noises.

 

 

 

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Another Invisible Man Theme

Another theme I have witnessed in Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison, is the one regarding anti-urbanism. I would like to elaborate more on this theme and to discuss the importance of this theme in the context of the story as well as society during the early 1900’s and some background information on the  inception of this phenomenon. In both scenarios, anti-urbanism is a means to control the minority population economically and consequentially spawned from another phenomenon called “white flight”. In Invisible Man both are prevalent within the story and reflect control over the minority from white people. But white flight is more subtley mentioned in the novel. The Brotherhood, an organization used to control the minority in the story and non-coincidentally ran by white men, is controls and oppresses the black community in Harlem through, what I consider a figurative, guerrilla warfare.

Anti-Urbanization’s Genesis

The spawn of anti-urbanism started with the white flight occurrence after WWII. Writing about the latter topic, Avila states, “As racialized minorities concentrated in American inner cities during the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s, millions of ‘white’ Americans took to new suburban communities to preserve their whiteness.” This is exemplified within Invisible Man and today with the city of Harlem being the epitome. Within I.M. the minority concentration is concentrated in Harlem and the Brotherhood acknowledges this fact by recruiting the narrator and later in the story, Brother Clifton to rally control over the black citizens within that district. The Brotherhood ultimately controls the two leaders of the Harlem district. Even though white flight isn’t mentioned in Invisible Man, it’s presence is implied under the conditions presented; the minority concentration, brother jack assigning black leaders instead of white leaders to exhibit control, and the riot against exhibiting aggression toward whites. With this, the leaders of the Brotherhood  in response to white flight use black men as a tool, another theme that is prevalent through out the story. White flight clues in this part of the story functions as a means to use black people as tools to control the black population. In short, with the anti-presence of a white population in the city, the Brotherhood exhibit an indirect control on the minority population of Harlem by spewing out how they should think through black political leaders who they also control.

The minority and white flight geographical order was also and is today enduring, exemplified here with sport representation as one can see from the Harlem Globetrotters. In my view, an athletic team represents the city.

The Harlem Globetrotters: Clowns of the Court, Serious Athletes

Furthermore, in response to white flight and segregation, the Brotherhood tries to control the black community with black political leaders and with anti-urbanism.

This oppression over the black community is emphasized in the novel, for instance, when the narrator gives a speech for Clifton, the Brotherhood view it as a plan of action against their white control and respond to the narrator about what to do, “[…]  We do not shape our policies to the mistaken and infantile notions of the man in the street. Our job is not to ask them what they think but to tell them!” (473). This quote reveals the treacherous attitude the Brotherhood has against the people of Harlem. When the narrator rallied up the Harlem people to question the disparity they have against white authorities in the city, the Brotherhood became indignant because it was against their agenda. The narrators act created the opposite of their goals and challenged the power rather than exhibit power over them. Back in the 1950’s and in the novel, political leaders were a great source of media towards the public. And as one can see the black leaders of the novel are used in order to tell the community what to think. This is also prevalent within the actual time period, for example the science fiction films of the time were used subtlety to impose  a belief that the cities were being invaded by foreigners, this lead to aggression toward blacks and deeper segregation as shown by white city inhabitants fleeing the city.

The situation of the Brotherhood in the novel also reveals itself as an Illuminati figure. They have their agenda meetings with the narrator but the narratation also tells us their is a hidden agenda and implies exclusive meetings which exempt the narrator. Historically, the Illuminati are the masters who pull the strings and are ultimately in command and are known to deceive. This control is illustrated in the novel when the narrator reveals that the riot was all part of the Brotherhoods plan, obviously an action ironic of the Brotherhood, that is because the Brotherhood is decietful and portrays a different light, one that the narrator was in tune until he found the truth.

Anti-Urbanisation

My second topic I would like to discuss is the control exemplified over the Harlem residents in the novel with economics. To further clarify the inception of Anti-Urbanization, the white flight was the starting point where white folks left the city to move into the suburbs with discriminatory loans, loans that were only given to white folks. This created an invisible wall to constrict minorities into the city like cattle and also investment into inner cities was devoid at the same time. (Avlia). This lead to the deterioration of inner city  capital. This theme of anti-Urbanisation is also prevalent within the novel and is also used as to the spark of riots and destruction of housing projects and can be interpreted as a means of a solution.

For instance, in the novel when the riot carries oil to one of their own housing projects, one of the rioters remarks, “Goddam you rotten sonsabitches. you didn’t think I’d do it but there it is. You wouldn’t fix it up. Now see how you like it” (548). This quote reveals a direct reference to the neglect of housing buildings in the Harlem vicinity.  This passage in the book also reveals the narrators sentiments on the occasion as he reacts to revelation of the rioters burning down their own house, “I couldn’t believe it, couldn’t believe they had the nerve.” (545) and afterwards asking the rioters, “Where will you live?” (545) further not believing nor understanding the logic. The narrators perplexion (state of being perplexed- not yet a word) reveals a logical fallacy that perpetuates the anti-urbanization occurring in the inner city. The rioters are attacking the problem at the wrong angle. Rather than finding the forces responsible for the maintenance of the building they have attacked the building in hopes of it being rebuilt but the building will only be built under conditions as the previous building if rebuilt at all.

The anti-urbanization is clearly prevalent in the novel, but what is the point? I believe with the narrators commentary and the whole nature of the riot against anti-urbanization reveals a subtle message of the whole scenario. While the book expresses the obsurdity of the riot through the burning of the building, the hellish scene created during the riot, and other instances during the riot, it reveals at the same time the obsurdity of the action. For instance, when the narrator confronts Ras the Destroyer he reveals his views on the whole scene, stating, “They needed this destroyer [Ras] to do their work. […]  They [The Brotherhood] want you guilty of your own murder, your own sacrifice!” (558). The narrator reveals what the author’s opinion on riots are and since the riots in the story reflect the actual riots of Harlem in previous years, his commentary can be shone on those riots too. The narrator is articulating that their method of fighting oppression is counter-intuitive and an act of regression.

The narrator afterwards doesn’t provide a definte solution to the problem of anti-urbanisation but only emits a starting point, “Look, they’ve played a trick on us, the same old trick with new variations–let’s stop running and respect and love one another . . .” (560).  It is great to note the striking difference of solutions proposed between the message of Ralph Ellison and Eric Alvia. Both are aware of the problems, Ellison believes the problem starts with the people noticing whereas Alvia indirectly reveals a more economical and political approach towards the problem by exposing the problem. I believe both of these prospects toward a solution are necessary toward the refinment. If economically, the cities, do get fixed and the people remain uneducated they will be liable to riot for the wrong solutions like noted before. And if they riot without the economical changes they only further dig a hole for themselves.

In conclusion, I believe another element of the solution resides in accurate representation of the Harlem community in public office that can actually bring about change. The narrator thought this was his actual role in the community but then realized he had no legitimate power to change things. It was the corruption and racial attitudes that remain in the city which oppressed the narrator as well as the rest of the community. If a person can have actual representation in city council he/she can bring about change for anti-urbanization but only if his/her power is legitimate.

 

 

 

 

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Invisible Man City Theme

A passage I want to first talk about is the idea of disconnection between neighbors within a city. This concept is brought out in Invisible Man, and the two other essays (Simmel and Bentham’s). The passage begins in chapter fifteen when the narrator is running away from the police after giving his breathtaking speech, he questions the metropolis home structures: “Why? If only it were like at home where I knew someone in all the houses, knew them by sight and by name, by blood and by background, by shame and pride, and by religion” (286).  This idea is consistent through all three pieces. Therefore all three are in consensus and agreement with this concept of detachment.

Respectively I will start off chronologically with George Simmel’s Essay. His notions of the metropolis affect on the human mind are  noted. For instance, in his essay he argues, “This mental attitude of metropolitans toward one another we may designate, from a formal point of view, as reserve…. Partly this psychological fact, partly the right to distrust which men have in the face of the touch-and-go elements of metropolitan life, necessitates our reserve. As a result of this reserve we frequently do not even know by sight those who have been our neighbors for years. And it is this reserve which in the eyes of the small-town people makes us appear to be cold and heartless.” (416-17).  Simmel argues that due to the “touch-and-go” of city life people tend not to know each other compared to the rural life and thus this creates a sort of distrust among people within the city and even ultimately with their neighbors in the city. This “reserve” in this context meaning to keep to oneself is evident within the city and rural city people witness this and is thus the reasoning for mocking urban city dwellers. This concept is illustrated in Ralph Ellison’s novel when the narrator’s family who live in the south in a small town comment on the city being wicked,  “I had already written home that I was working for a member of the trustee board, and the only letter I had received so far was one telling me how wonderful they thought it was and warning me against the ways of the wicked city” (169). Furthermore, later in the novel a female who lives in New York also makes comment of the city being within adjectives of wicked, heartless, and cold. When the narrator inquiries about staying in the city his landlord, Mary, replies, ” And you have to take care of yourself, son. Dont let this Harlem git you. Im in New York, but New York aint in me, understand what I mean.”(255). This and the last quote reveal the understanding of the corruption of the city. From both perspectives, from the city and outside is an opinion or more so, a general truth of the city’s nature. This is just one aspect of the city, Ralph Ellison and Simmel make note of. Even though they have different reasons their consensus is the same. One, because of the predator nature implied by Mary and two because of the solitude and distance caused by the cities’ interruptions. In respect to George Simmel’s “touch-and-go” argument, there is also an example of this phenomenon in Ellison’s novel. For instance, when the narrator first visits the city he makes note of the atmosphere by saying, “The streets were full of hurrying people who walked as though they had been wound up and were directed by some unseen control.” (164) In this case, the unseen control is just the nature of the city, the consumerism, the business, the appointments and etc…  This quote also reveals the “touch-and-go” of inner city communication within city dwellers. It is what the narrator is experiencing that Simmel makes point of remoteness between people and distrust which is then further emphasized in the former quote that makes note of the narrator not knowing neighbors to go to when in distress. The quote  also reveals  a subtle hint of consumerism of relating to a game. The verb “wound” and preposition up only evoke thoughts of toys which thus spawn thoughts of either purchasing/consumerism or playing a game. But back to the points, these quotes reveal a connection between Simmel’s essay and reinforce an argument concerning city dwellers relations with another due to the cities environment and architectural set up.

Furthermore, the article on Panopticism also illustrates a  similar connection of this idea. Since the Panoptic prison can be applied to an array of situations, plague, modern life, a prison, and etc… it is best to look at the Panoptic view towards a modern city.  When discussing the connection of Panopticism in the modern city we came to the conclusion of the cameras always watching in the city and create an overwhelming power to not commit crime to do this very fact even if no one is actually watching. But another point I would like to make that ties together with Ellison’s and Simmel’s point on disassociation within the city are the cells within the prison and then ultimately in the city. For instance,  when the article claims, “they are like so many cages, so many small theaters, in which each actor is alone, perfectly individualized and constantly visible”(200) it can be applied back to Ellison’s narration. When the narrator makes note of the people not knowing each other it can also be applied to the Panopticon jail cell.  Even though totally visible, they are separated from each other, in this case not physically but emotionally distant. The reason of this remoteness and distant can be explain by Simmel’s explanation, the “touch-and-go” of the city causing underdeveloped relations that lead to indifference and distrust. So in all, this idea of Simmel of about the effect of the city can now be conceived of a general truth of the city according to all the other descriptions of the city. And even though the Panoptic prison is describing a prison it metaphorically can represent the modern city. The modern city has similarities to a prison, authority, hierarchic, surveillance, cells, and etc…

 

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Sister Carrie and Vanity

A reoccurring motif that I would like to report thoroughly, is the mirror in Sister Carrie. Briefly summed up, the mirror is used to represent vanity of the character Carrie. Throughout the story Carrie’s physical appearance is acknowledged and she is sporadically looking in a mirror. Her appearance is the result of trouble and helps further advance the story. Vanity itself is a deep and antique subject that has been under scrutiny since biblical times. As a function in the book, I believe Dreiser is making a statement throughout the story on superficiality and the mirror is one thematic element; many others include the lavish windows, the elegant clothes, the buildings, window panes, and mannerisms. Here are some quotes dealing with vanity within the story. “Like all human beings, she had a touch of vanity.” (165). This commentary by the narrator is said in reaction to Carries wanting of being an actress. She is lured by the outer appearances of the actresses. In this case vanity is being shown to Carrie and ends up attracting herself to become vain. In this next passage, Carrie returns to her room to quickly look into her mirror:” She undid her broad lace collar before the mirror and unfastened her pretty alligator belt which she had recently bought.” (127). This quote reveals Carries vanity in her physical appearance as well as her outer appearance, her clothes.  The first thing Carrie does when returning home is to look in the mirror, she is obsessed with appearances. As we are told Carrie is a beautiful and attractive woman, this is where her vanity has spawned from. It is not enough that Carrie is attractive naturally, she also manipulates her appearance to lavish clothes to present an appearance of higher status and wealth as exemplified by the alligator belt.  Mention of the alligator belt being recently bought serves to clarify that she hadn’t procured this item before moving into the city. Safe to say, when she moved to the city, which also emphasis appearance in its buildings, windows and people,  she went from shabby clothes to donning alligator belts and other lavish clothings, and also going from low status to high wealthy status. But in particular, the mirror makes note of this explicit vanity of her appearance. I would like to add a common picture that is associated with vanity and coincidentally could render Carrie in the above quote.

Following the quote, Carrie says emphatically, “I’m getting terrible” and the ensuing lines follow: she said, honestly affected by a feeling of trouble and shame. Even though these lines aren’t explicitly directed towards her subject of vanity and are making reference to a prior event in the story, they can also be a hint to Carries vanity. Carrie could also subconsciously be making reference to her vanity when she says she is terrible while feeling troubled and shame due to the fact of her looking in a mirror and the mention of vanity earlier.

Furthermore, on page 123, the narrator states: “She was quite disturbed for the moment as to her appearance, but soon satisfied herself by the aid of mirror, and went below.”  This quote among others, reveals her satisfaction from receiving her appearance from the mirror. The frequent act of her looking into the mirror reveals her concern of her appearance. Furthermore, the narration quotes, “One evening Drouet  found her dressing herself before the glass. “Clad,” said he, catching her, “I believe you’re  getting vain.” (115). Once again, the glass, being referred to the mirror, shows Carrie obsession with her physical and outer appearance. Being beautiful enough, Carrie insists on bolstering her image further with elegance clothes, like a dress, which can be safely assumed, being a dress of high value and status. Drouet also makes note of Carrie, observing her obsession with the mirror and makes direct notice of her vanity by telling her she is becoming vain. Safe to say, the motif of the mirror reveals the theme of vanity within the story. Particularly dealing with Carrie and her vanity. Other signs of vanity occur with other characters as well, also with the city and its buildings. The mirror in this case thematically reflects (pun intended) the theme of vanity and its nature. When it comes to vanity, I believe it is an important theme to ponder when dealing with the wealthy and upper class. It is only natural to bring up this theme in Sister Carrie which I believe is a result of the urban lifestyle and the city. Only because I don’t think in rural areas people are concerned with pride and appearance or status.

 

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