Independence Day

In one of those odd coincidences, I finished reading Mirtzoeff’s introduction to visual culture in which he discusses science fiction, in particular the movie Independence Day.  I’ve only ever seen bits and pieces of it so it was a pleasant surprise to find it just beginning as I say down late last night.

According to Mirtzoeff, the film includes all previous forms of science fiction: “Its cueing of the audience is both a symptom of visual sophistication in an audience nurtured on video rental and a means of supplying a short-hand visual history to its target teenage audience” (p. 208).  Mirtzoeff ties the film to a present-day concern with America’s global authority.  The president in the film is modeled on Bill Clinton and the ideas of colonization and assimilation are tied to immigration reform.  But, Mirtzoeff admits, “Yet for most viewers Independence Day was not a political film” (p. 209).  In fact, as I watched what wasn’t a great film, I wondered if I would have even thought of the political angles if I hadn’t just finished reading about visual culture.  Walter Jacobs would say that I was not media literate then, if I missed the larger themes and references.   I did think it was interesting that the Africans were portrayed just for a second in tribal dress, shaking spears in the air.  It was certainly cinematic shorthand but is it racist, perpetuating images that were not even real in the 1930s, according to Mirtzoeff.

I think what bothered me about the film was the somewhat cavalier attitude towards the death of the average American.  The president kept saying little things about people dying, but if you think about the scope of this…literally millions dead…and it was just too coincidental and silly that the two women survived along with that dog.  I kept thinking…where did they get gas to drive that truck?  Maybe I’m just too realistic for the movies.

So, is this part of media literacy, the interpretation?  There is a part of me that is a little cynical: let’s kill off the fun of movies by having classes in interpretation, just as we managed to make Shakespeare dull by pulling apart every phrase and idea, hunting for Meaning.

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