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Analysis of the Althusser Ideas Essay

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Updated: Apr 16th, 2020

The ideas of Althusser have evoked many discussions and are still disputable. Of course, he considered very important issues, concentrating on the “triad of economic, political, and ideological practices” (Braun & McCutcheon 283). He dwelt upon the correlation between individuals and state; he also analyzed the influence of media on individuals. His theory on the ideological state apparatus has found many supporters.

There can be no surprise that his specifications on ideology are so popular since his major ideas can be illustrated by numerous examples from the real life, and to greater extent from various art works. Cinematography can be called a reflection of the modern life, revealing the major trends and ideas of society, and Althusser admitted that art is (and cinematography) is the creation of ideology which is ruling in this or that society (Grant 76).

It is possible to analyze any film in terms of Althusser’s theory and single out some examples of his concepts. For instance, it is possible to consider the film American Beauty which also can be associated with the issues of ideological state apparatus influence on individuals.

However, in the first place, it is necessary to mention the major theoretical concepts of Althusser’s theory of ideological state apparatus. First of all, it is necessary to stress that Althusser suggests that ideology plays an essential role in human life, being an indispensable part of every society of all times (Montag 78). People are “interrelated, addressed, judged, and punished as the authors” of their actions, people’s “bodies are caught in a very real apparatus of subjection” (Montag 78).

Althusser stresses that there can be no society without ideology, which is composed of various attributes and creates social relations (Holmes 31). It is very important to point out that “the centering structure” of ideology is its possibility to be guaranteed (Althusser & Matheron 52). Thus, ideology creates some patterns of social relations, and people follow these patterns.

Such obedience guarantees some status. Speaking of ideology state apparatus, it is necessary to point out the main institutions which play an essential role in society: education, family, religion, media. Of course, all these institutions contribute to the creation of this or that ideology. Nowadays, media is the most important supporter of existing ideologies promoting particular values.

Thus, in the film American Beauty, the values of the American middle-class are described. The film deals with the depiction of life (a year) of an ordinary representative of the middle-class, Lester, who changes his values during the year (during the film).

First, Lester is an employee having a model family (a wife and a daughter) and a good house. However, soon, he starts averting the ideology of such well-being. He starts changing his life trying to break the rules, or rather stop being an obedient individual within the commonly accepted system.

The film deals with the ideology of well-to-do middle-class, which is revealed in status. The reflection of this ideology is the presence of the following: job, family, house. The main character, Lester, is a good example of the individual within a certain ideology. He has a well-paid job which enables him to have a good house. His daughter goes to a good school, and Lester is an obedient individual. He goes to school when it is necessary and accompanies his wife on social occasions.

His model family has its own traditions, a family dinner, which is also an attribute of the ideology. At least, Lester’s wife thinks that a model family should gather during their dinner. Thus, it is possible to trace the influence of media which creates or supports a certain ideology. Media promotes an image of successful individuals who cherish some values: family and social status. Of course, Lester tries to be a good father who supports his daughter and respects her individuality.

He plays his role as a caring husband and father, which is expected from him. He fantasizes about his daughter’s friend, but in public, he tries to hide such inappropriate thoughts. Ideology does not support such patterns. He has to be an ordinary individual who acts like others, promoted by media, schools, and church.

In this film, the role of the church is very little and the main characters do not occur in the church and do not visit sermons. However, the church was also mentioned to be an important component of the ideology. The main component of the ideology depicted in the film is still family, a model family promoted by media. However, Lester feels that something is wrong, the ideology does not fit his inner world, or he does not suit the ideology.

Soon his daughter’s boyfriend inspires him to put an end to such situation and start living differently. Thus, Lester violates the rules of the system (ideology) one by one. Lester’s first rebel is his quitting the job. He is not a respectful employee anymore. One of the attributes of a prosperous individual within the ideology is missing. Lester’s wife cannot understand her husband’s actions since she is still one of the representatives of the ideology. She still tries to fit the accepted social relations patterns.

She does not want to accept that her husband does not obey the necessary rules. She still forces him to act in a way which will let them maintain their social status. Lester accompanies his wife to some important event. However, soon he starts resisting ideology and as has been mentioned, Lester’s first strike is his quitting the job. Then Lester continues disobeying the system.

In the first place, he lets his wife having an affair. Despite the ideology presupposes that a husband should interfere in such relationship, Lester does not do anything. Of course, this is not accepted by other representatives of the ideology. He is regarded as an odd person: his neighbors start getting annoyed with Lester’s transforming. Finally, Lester takes courage to break another rule of the existing system and is ready to seduce his daughter’s friend.

At this point, it is necessary to define the reasons for such actions. It is necessary to note why Lester resists the ideology. In the first place, it is important to admit that the ideology depicted in the film has many shortcomings.

The values of the throwaway society are very biased. In spite of the fact that the existing ideology promotes prosperity and eternal values of a model family, Lester sees that his family’s way of life does not exactly follow the basic rules of ideology, it only shows up the implementation of the necessary rituals: job, house, social occasions. This understanding makes Lester rebel, and he tries to resist the ideology. Of course, his way to do it is quite incorrect.

Lester’s rebel leads him to understand the major real values of life. He tries to share his ideas with his wife and daughter, he tries to build a heartfelt relationship with two important women in his life (his wife and daughter), but he fails. Eventually, his rebel is ended with his death. Lester is murdered. It is quite a remarkable ending of the film in terms of the ideological state apparatus. It turns out that the system is stronger than an individual.

Such ending proves Althusser’s statement that individuals are subjects of ideology and they act creating the ideology and they are punished when they do not obey the commonly accepted rules. Lester, being an individual within the ideology, created it: he created an image of a well-to-do middle-aged happy husband and father. He maintained the traditions of a model family. However, when he decided to resist the system and disobey the ideological state apparatuses, he was punished since it is impossible to exist beyond the ideology.

Thus, it is possible to conclude that Althusser’s concepts exist not only in his articles and books; they work in real life. His ideas about ideology can be traced in every-day life and media. It is necessary to point out that the latter plays a very important role in proving Althusser’s theory.

Works Cited

Althusser, L., Matheeron, F. The Humanist Controversy and Other Writings (1966-67). New York: Verso, 2003.

Braun, W., McCutcheon, R.T. Guide to the Study of Religion. New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2000.

Grant, B.K., Film Genre Reader III. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2003.

Holmes, D. Communication Theory: Media, Technology and Society. Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE, 2005.

Montag, W. Louis Althusser. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.

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