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To conclude our discussion of Manchurian Candidate, how do you respond to the book’s analysis of the film’s representations of race, sexuality, and gender? How do you characterize these approaches in the context of our course? And are there any issues from the film that you think the book neglects to analyze?

6 Responses to “Discussion Questions for 4/30”

  1. Emre Sahin says:

    For me, the most interesting section in the second half of ‘What Have They Built You To Do?’ was the sixth chapter ‘The Red Queen.’ In this section, the authors explain how communism was linked to subversion to unorthodox familial and gender arrangements during the 1950s; and how The Manchurian Candidate also makes this linkage through Raymond and his evil mother Eleanor. Eleanor’s power as a woman is shown as perverse and this perversion is confirmed even more to us when we discover Eleanor’s role as the American operative. Raymond’s sexual awkwardness (i.e. his stupid question in the opening brothel scene) hints at his homosexuality and this unorthodox gender role somewhat ‘justifies’ his involvement with the Soviet regime (not to suggest that it does so more than the experiment of the evil Chinese doctor Yen Lo). Matriarchy, homosexuality and Marxism are diagnosed as the roots of evil and the first two serve to ‘promote’ the latter one in American society.

    I agree with Lilian when she said in her post that “the book’s focus on the film in its context certainly leans towards a post-structuralist analysis, in that the film meant what it meant in 1962 because it is shaped by 1950s society.” There is a lot of feminist analysis in there too, but the book overall is marked by its attempt to study both the movie itself, and the systems of knowledge which were coordinated to produce the movie.

    If I were the authors of the book, I would also focus on Jocie in the discussion of gender roles and ‘female over empowerment’ in the movie. Unlike the evil and too-powerful Eleanor, Jocie is the ‘fragile/vulnerable beauty’ who is meant to take care of Raymond. She is the ‘ideal American woman: the caring housewife’ and is even reminded of this by Raymond in the scene where Major Marco meets the couple right after their wedding. I think Jocie is the perfect example of further feminization of women in the media during wartime, which is the Cold War in our case.

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  2. atolstoy says:

    In addition to the themes explored by Emre, I want to point out the Althusserian structures implicit in Jacobson and Gonzalez’s analysis of Cold War sexuality. Postwar governments in the United States led an ideological battle against the Soviet Union for the minds of their own people, whom they believed to be easily swayed either way by strong propaganda. In this context, various state apparatuses cooperated to produce discursive links between dissent and non-normative behavior. “The Manchurian Candidate,” among other examples Jacobson and Gonzalez cite (specifically, the chapter about Strangers on a Train), illustrates the relationship between politics and sexuality as portrayed during that time, linking, for example, sexual deviance and political deviance.

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  3. Will Van Heuvelen says:

    just to go off Andre’s point — i feel like the film was very deliberate in constructing Raymond as an inherently shifty untrustworthy character, thereby implicitly emphasizing the role of heteronormativity as an ISA. his accent, mannerisms, aversion to ‘normative’ soldier behavior (specifically in the brothel scene at the beginning), not to mention his bouts of self-loathing, construct him as a largely unpredictable, weak character susceptible to corruption; someone the audience cannot trust by virtue of his failure to comply with simple social norms. in a tip-of-the-hat to the “nuclear family” ISA, the film draws fairly clear connections between raymond’s mental susceptibility and his weak, unconventional familial background (i.e. his domineering, opportunist mother). ironically enough, the construction of Raymond as sexually suspect fits the context in which The Manchurian Context was produced, as more gay men than actual communists were purged from government institutions during the McCarthy witch-hunts.

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  4. Toren Hardee says:

    Althusser has come up a couple of times now, and while this doesn’t address the question of race, sexuality, and gender, I felt connections to his theory most strongly in the last two chapters, in which Jacobson & Gonzalez discuss the Reagan Era and the Demme remake/the Bush-Cheney Era. In light of this connection, I saw the book more as a structuralist analysis then a post-structuralist one (unless I’m confusing post-structuralism with deconstructionism here); it puts forth The Manchurian Candidate (in all three incarnations) as a sort of metanarrative for “the repressed history of modern America”. In the book’s last sentence (which is just a cracker-jack sentence, I might add), they reference the Kennedy assassination and the Reagan and Bush Eras, saying “The Manchurian Candidate feels less like a vision of the Cold War than a waking, recurring dream”. Psychoanalysis/Problematique, anyone? A great little book overall; I personally can’t think of any aspect of the film that didn’t receive satisfactory treatment.

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  5. James Schonzeit says:

    Jacobsen and Gonzalez’s chapter, ‘Like Fu Manchu’, on race relations in the United States during the Cold War was a thorough analysis of the commentary on race in The Manchurian Candidate as well as looking at the film as a ‘racist’ film. While watching the film I was particularly struck by two scenes. The brainwashing sequence which used relatively advanced editing techniques to “convey a black consciousness” as well as a white consciousness. This was very much a poststructuralist approach as it was seen as progressive at the time to include such a point of view. This scene serves to pose the Americans as non-racists. However, in the same scene we see the caricatures of Yen Lo and Chunjin. At a time when black characters were no longer played by white actors in blackface (as we saw in Bamboozled), why were these characters played by Khigh Diegh (real name: Kenneth Dickerson) who was of Anglo-Egyptian-Sudanese descent and Henry Silva, a Puerto Rican from Brooklyn? The answer given by Jacobson and Gonzalez provides a thorough examination of U.S. Orientalism which I acknowledge does provide an interesting cultural and historical context. Yet I can’t help but be left frustrated by how vilified Asians were and how exaggerated Asianness was. Not that Jacobson and Gonzalez should have written more on the subject, rather what they have written has opened my eyes to an era in popular culture I was somewhat naively not familiar with. We can still see such exaggerations of asianness in contemporary works as well, although the asian character is no longer vilified but rather viewed as rather passive and timid. Hiro from Heroes comes to mind.

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  6. Sarah Pickering says:

    I just wanted to say something I didn’t get the chance to say in class today. In the second scene we watched today, Eleanor Iselin declares the effect she hopes the assassination at the Convention will have on the audience. She categorizes this national audience as “television viewers”. She wants to make her impact and gain power through television and the media, using the media to mislead and brainwash audiences. In this scene and in the other scene we viewed, the television represents the connection between the public and political spheres and that of the domestic (the television set in the previous scene evokes the depiction of politics into the home, of brainwashing into the home, and of communism into the home, which is relevant for the McCarthy-like figure). I think the creators of The Manchurian Candidate were telling their viewers to be wary of what they consume and simply accept, whether what they consume is American propaganda or communism, and in this way the film is both anti-communist and anti-anti communist.

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