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Theories of Culture in a Point of View of “Brazil” by T. Gilliam

Culture and works of art are influenced greatly by social tastes, preferences and unique vision of the world. During the 20th century, artists have been engaged in an anxious and harassed attempt to manage presence and views under conditions where everything threatens to fall apart. The concern surrounding the artistic formation of presence usually results in coping strategies for holding anxiety. The work of art selected or analysis is a movie “Brazil” (1985) directed by well-known Terry Gilliam. This film can be seen as parody of totalitarian regime and consumerism reflected in personal failures and destruction of the main heroes. The best theory which helps to analyze and explain this film is P. Bourdieu’s theory of Taste and Class. Bourdieu explains that in some cases class location may lead to an avoidance of social contacts and that could help the person to sustain his or her self-concept through not revealing it to disconfirmation.

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The movie “Brazil” is a fiction story based on postmodern methods of visual images to produce a rich, complex, and ambiguous exploration of many of the factors typical of modern fictions. The main events set in a near-future London. The film is a work that joins dark setting with satire, parody, and multipart ironies that open a number of dialogues with the traditions of postmodernism. Main characters of the movie are Sam Lowry, low class employee, Jill Layton, a neighbor, Harry Tuttle, the suspected terrorist, etc. In terms of Bourdieu’s theory of Taste and Class, higher social classes try to disposition themselves from lower social classes and create a unique authentic culture and art. In this case, movie, “Brazil” is a goof example of postmodern movie draws a great amount of energy from its parodies of a whole range of predecessors. The movie can be seen as a mixture of styles and genres, and “aesthetic dispositions” of different historical periods that lead to a number of social contradictions and presents a number of benefits for the kind of “ironic rethinking of history” that Bourdieu sees as central to postmodernism (Algeria1960).

“Aesthetic dispositions” are evident from the very beginning of the movie when the main character, Sam Lowry, dreams of a beautiful girl visualized in his mind. In terms of Bourdieu’s theory, he is a careful and well-connected character but insignificant and even irrelevant official who works in the gigantic organization charged not only with keeping tabs on the society but also with distributing bureaucrat propaganda to encourage the ongoing obedience of that society. This theme can be supported by the following quote from “A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste” where Bourdieu writes: “Whereas the ideology of charisma regards taste in legitimate culture as a gift of nature, scientific observation shows that cultural needs are the product of upbringing and education: surveys establish that all cultural practices” (p. 1). As one might expect, the work of the bureaucracy demands the culture of consumerism. However, the state of consumerism in this future society is anachronistically backward; the available machines use clunky automatic typewriters and small televisions for monitors (Fowler, 1997; Jenkins, 1992).

The taste in “Brazil” is affected by means of archaic values and principles. All of the technology London is similarly backward, relying on a variety of bulky automatic devices that recall the technological backwardness and also suggest that totalitarianism, in general, is inimical to scientific and technical progress (Austin, 1962). This backward technology also resonates with the overall inefficiency of Brazil’s dystopian regime. Perhaps the major contrast between the dystopian visions of 1984 and of Brazil is that the Party of the former is coldly efficient, while the ruling structure of the latter is incompetent and inept, depending on the equipment that functions poorly and on a massive bureaucracy of clerks and other workers who take every opportunity to avoid their duties (Eagleton 1983). Terry 1983. Following Bourdieu,

Consumption is, in this case, a stage in a process of communication, that is, an act of deciphering, decoding, which presupposes practical or explicit mastery of a cipher or code. In a sense, one can say that the capacity to see (voir) is a function of the knowledge (savoir), or concepts, that is, the words, that are available to name visible things, and which are, as it were, programmes for perception” (Bourdieu 1984, p. 2).

As part of the social state and relations between classes, the technology of Brazil also centrally contributes to the plain atmosphere of the movie, which features industrial landscapes, rotten urban slums, and dark, crumbling buildings. All people are liable to sudden and unexpected arrest at the hands of the state armed troops charged with keeping security, and (given the technology available to the Ministry of Information) people are sometimes arrested (and even executed) through administrative errors (Swartz, 1997). In terms of the theory of culture, this oppressive atmosphere stands in stark contrast to the bureaucrat propaganda produced by the Ministry, which typically features smiling, happy families in peaceful settings. That this misinformation is but a thin veneer of optimism over the true dimness of life in this society is emphasized by the recurrent depiction in the movie of roadways lined by solid walls of billboards that block the view of the blighted scenery beyond (Eagleton, 1983).

In terms of Bourdieu’s theory of taste, there are many signs in the movie that this campaign of bureaucrat propaganda is not entirely effective. If state employees seem indifferent to the mission of the ruling class, the society seems downright hostile (Calhoun et al 1993). There is apparently a substantial underground, and terrorist bombings have become such a common occurrence that most citizens simply ignore them. In one episode, for instance, a bomb demolishes a restaurant, but most of the clientele goes on calmly eating their meals of simulated food unaware of the rubble around them (Foster. and Blau 1989). Most prominently, the rulers of this society and political regime seem unable to capture the hearts and minds of their citizens, despite their best efforts to do so. The taste and culture of this society are based on capitalistic assumptions and values when Lowry enjoys a rich fantasy life in which he entertains dreams of romance and heroism that allow him to develop an identity apart from the atmosphere of dullness and conformity that surrounds him (Shusterman, 1999).

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In the movie, the taste is created and influenced by class ideology and traditions rather than artistic authenticity and uniqueness. The most obvious method to look at a sequence of actions is in terms of means-end relations. Viewers can make sense of what someone does if we know what s/he is aiming to achieve, the result s/he is seeking to bring about (Fowler, 1997). Following Bourdieu:

The fundamental proposition that the habitus is a virtue made of necessity is never more clearly illustrated than in the case of the working classes, since necessity includes for them all that is usually meant by the word, that is, an inescapable deprivation of necessary goods” (1984, p. 27).

The actions of the state can be understood in terms of the exigencies of overcoming the sales resistance in a customer and making a sale. The message is that it is not sufficient in order to describe adequately the cultural process. The same sequence of taste and culture can also be referred to as its ‘intrinsic’ or sensuous logic. Viewers might describe it as energetic, tense, aggressive, warm, etc (Staniszewski, 1995). That culture is very much what Bourdieu is acting from; it is a ‘readiness’, a capacity that accompanies human values of culture. Aesthetic work is consequently essential to everyday life and to the most ordinary daily acts. Tastes are broken down into elementary units that are alienated from any kind of creative or expressive subjectivity (Harker 1985). These cultural values of art are then subject to a complex process of construction that is ‘mechanical’ rather than ‘organic’. To the extent that the presence of the taste and culture in the situation is purely an adaptation to the extrinsic demands, then this attendance, too, can be seen in the same way (Robbins, 1991). Following Bourdieu: “The members of the different social classes differ not so much in the extent to which they acknowledge culture as in the extent to which they know it.” (1984, p. 65).

In “Brazil” the culture of taste is evident in the contrast between the dreams of Lowry’s inner life and the reality of his outer life. Moreover, the movie clearly suggests that fantasies like Lowry’s are more than escapism (Harker et al 1990). Granted, Lowry’s fantasies are at least partly inspired by the regime’s bureaucrat propaganda, but at the same time, they provide Lowry with an independent point of view that allows him finally to develop a critical perspective on the cultural world around him (Schirato and Susan 2000). Lowry’s inner and outer feelings are not entirely separate: much of the movement of the movie involves a gradual combination of these two issues, resulting in a blurring of boundaries that finally makes it impracticable at certain points for the viewer to distinguish between “dream” and “reality.” This theme of the movie can be supported by the following statement: “The chances of entering the dominant class, and fertility rates, by a class fraction” (Bourdieu 1984, p. 76). So, the construction of action that can successfully master the object is an action that has ‘copied’ its resistances into its inner structure (Hawkes, 1977).

In terms of Bourdieu’s “aesthetic dispositions”, Lowry attempts to secure Jill’s release as a part of class relations and the desire of the lower class to reach the high position and acceptance. The movie describes that Lowry mysteriously meets her again on the street, after which Lowry takes her to his mother’s vacant apartment and himself goes back to the Ministry to modify her file to show her deceased and beyond the interest of the authorities. At this point, though, government arm forces burst into the apartment, arrest Lowry, and accidentally kill Jill. In terms of cultural theory, it is a natural process as dominant classes neglect and diminish the role and importance of lower social classes. Lowry is subsequently taken for interrogation to the Information Retrieval section of the Ministry of Information. While he is tortured, the elegant Tuttle and a band of guerrillas burst in to rescue him, blowing up the Ministry building (Lane, 2000).

In general, the director of the movie tries to be independent and objective in the description of events and political realities, but he is apparently influenced by communist and other totalitarian regimes of the 1980s. “The pure intention of the artist is that of a producer who aims to be autonomous, that is, entirely the master of his product, who tends to reject not only the ‘programs’ imposed a priori by scholars and scribes, but also — following the old hierarchy of doing and saying—the interpretations superimposed a posteriori on his work “(Bourdieu 1984, p. 4). This process extends to the structure of presence inasmuch as this same set of resistances is copied into the initial readiness to act and not just into the actions themselves. Construction, in the sense which is used in the movie, is closely identified with ‘copying’ (Kauppi, 2000). The claims concerning the culture industry and the products of consumerism would bring it within the realm of ‘constructed presence and action’ as theorized here, Bourdieu points continuously to an increased dependency behavior, a resort to the irrational’ in modern culture, de-individuation, and the loss of personal accountability and direction. Though, the same exclusive focus on cultural process can be seen to have its own cultural possibilities (Laclau and Mouffe 1990).

In sum, the movie “Brazil” vividly reflects cultural preferences and relations between two opposite classes. In terms of Bourdieu’s theory, it is possible to say that tastes are formed and influenced by class relations and the location of a person. Freed from their ‘class ties to an outer reality, the main chat caters are subject to a process of ‘reformation’. Such a development of sensibility holds out the view of a changed cultural relationship to cultural objects and with it a transformation of possibilities in outer reality. More often similar cultural values and tastes are attained by careful selection of interpersonal contacts; those relations are more likely to provide cultural support for participating people and to offer a safe means of comparison with cultural values of others that is useful and which leads to convenient efforts at self-improvement.

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Algeria 1960: The Disenchantment of the World: The Sense of Honour: The Kabyle House or the World Reversed: Essays, Cambridge Univ Press 1979.

Austin, J.L. 1962, How to Do Things with Words, Clarendon Press, Oxford.

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Eagleton, Terry 1983, Literary Theory: An Introduction, Blackwell, Oxford.

Foster, Arnold W. and Judith R. Blau (eds) 1989, Art and Society: Readings in the Sociology of the Arts, State University of New York Press, Albany.

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Fowler, Bridget 1997, Pierre Bourdieu and Cultural Theory: Critical Investigations, Sage, London.

Frow, John 1995, Cultural Studies and Cultural Value, Clarendon Press, Oxford.

Harker, R., C. Mahar and C. Wilkes 1990, An Introduction to the Work of Pierre Bourdieu, Macmillan, London.

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Jenkins, Richard 1992, Pierre Bourdieu, Routledge, London and New York.

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Lane, Jeremy 2000, Pierre Bourdieu: A Critical Introduction, Pluto Press, London.

Robbins, Derek 1991, The Work of Pierre Bourdieu: Recognizing Society, Open University Press, Milton Keynes.

Schirato, Tony and Susan Yell 2000, Communication and Cultural Literacy: An Introduction, 2nd edn, Sage, London.

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Staniszewski, Mary Anne 1995, Believing is Seeing: Creating the Culture of Art, Penguin, Harmondsworth.

Swartz, David 1997, Culture and Power: The Sociology of Pierre Bourdieu, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

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