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Robert Altman: Global Popular Culture Critical Essay

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Updated: Aug 22nd, 2019

Throughout the course of recent decades, the rise of a global popular culture and the manner in which it is being reflected by movies have been discussed from a variety of different sociological perspectives.

As a rule, the individuals that discuss this particular socio-cultural phenomenon do agree that the emergence of such a culture has been dialectically predetermined – that is, the very of laws of history created objective preconditions for people to grow increasingly cosmopolitical, which in turn causes them to relate to the global culture’s presumed values emotionally.

At the same time, however, there is a specific rationale in believing that the very process of a perceptual cosmopolitization inevitably results in them becoming ever more intellectually marginalized and consequently, in growing dispossessed of certain psychological qualities, which allowed their ancestors to ‘fuel’ the ongoing socio-technological progress (Elhefnawy 2007).

Therefore, it can be well suggested that many of the contemporary Hollywood (British) films do in fact contain some themes and motifs, which suggest that, as of today, the Western civilization is being rapidly deprived of its former vitality, in the figurative sense of this word.

The reason for this is simple – as it is being subtly implied in many of these films, once people are being allowed to prioritize addressing their individualistic anxieties, it becomes only the matter of time, before they transform into essentially social parasites, incapable of acting as the society’s productive members.

In this paper, I will explore the validity of the above statement, in regards to what can be considered the discursive significance of the films ‘The Player’ and ‘Gosford Park’ by Robert Altman (director).

Probably the most memorable aspect of the film ‘The Player’ is that fact that, while working as a studio executive, in charge of selecting the best screenplays to be put into production, the film’s main character Griffin Mill is represented as an individual with utterly tight daily schedules. Thus, Mill’s ability to lead a luxurious lifestyle appears to be warranted to an extent.

After all, it is namely the main character’s harworkingness, which formally explains his high social status. Nevertheless, as the film’s plot unravels, it becomes increasingly clear to the audience members that, even though Mill is indeed a rather busy person, his ‘busyness’ appears to have very little to do with the character’s presumed ability to contribute to the society’s well-being, which would have justified his riches.

The rationale behind this suggestion is quite apparent – it is Mill’s talent in selecting individually those screenplays that correlate with the viewers’ animalistic urges, which made it possible for him to attain a high status within the Hollywood movie-making industry.

As it is being revealed in one of the film’s final scenes, in order for a particular screenplay to be selected for production, it must feature the elements of suspense, violence, sex and above all – it needs to function a ‘happy ending’ (01.42.32).

In other words, it can be well suggested that the line of Mill’s work was concerned with making the ‘Hollywood reality’, seen in the movies, to be fully consistent with the workings of people’s unconscious psyche. On their part, they are being defined by the fact that, physiologically speaking, the representatives of Homo Sapiens species are nothing but hairless primates (Dawkins 1976).

As such, they are naturally driven to strive to be put in the position of having to work as little as possible, without experiencing any material/emotional discomfort, as a result, so that they would be able to preoccupy themselves with experiencing sensual pleasures.

After all, it is namely the ‘activity’ of bellyful idling, in time free from abusing the pack’s weaker members and having sex, in which the alpha-male apes indulge 24/7 (Propp 2004).

Therefore, by applying an effort into ensuring that, when put into production, the selected screenplays will prove commercially successful; Mill contributed to the process of the American society becoming ever more intellectually marginalized.

Apparently, he was well aware of it, which explains why in the scene where the film’s main character is having lunch with his business-associates, he asks for the topic of the ensued conversation not be concerned with the industry, because according to Mill, “educated people do not discuss Hollywood movies” (00.13.16).

However, being an individualistically minded individual, Mill could care less about the fact that, while exposed to the movies produced by his studio, people do grow ‘dumb’.

The same can be said about the rest of the high ranking representatives of the Hollywood movie-making industry, seen in ‘The Player’ – these people’s endowment with the strong sense of individualism was naturally causing them to adopt hypocritical attitudes in life.

This explains why, despite being aware of the fact that the most successful Hollywood blockbusters are in essence the instruments of the citizens’ continual ‘dumbing’, these people find it thoroughly appropriate to refer to what they do professionally in terms of art (01.26.13).

Even the character of Tom Oakley (a British screenwriter, who came up with the idea to make a ‘realistic’ film about the functioning of the American legal system) ends up allowing his screenplay to be ‘improved’ to the extent of featuring Bruce Willis with the shotgun in his hands, who in the end ‘reestablishes justice’.

Thus, there is indeed a good rationale in referring to ‘The Player’, as such that promotes the idea that, contrary to what neo-cons believe, there are some socially counter-beneficial effects to the American people’s endowment with the acute sense of individualism.

After all, as it can be seen in the film, it is such their sense that weakens their ability to act as the agents of progress, which in turn undermines the integrity of the American society from within. The reason for this is simple – once people allow their individualistic anxieties to delineate the manner in which they address life-challenges, they turn into ultimate hedonists, completely deprived of the sense of a social responsibleness.

The consequence of this is that, despite remaining ‘respectable’ on the outside, the American society continues to regress to the era when it was named the citizens’ varied affiliation with the ‘laws of jungle’, which used to define their chances of social advancement.

The validity of this suggestion can be illustrated in regards to the fact that, as ‘The Player’ implies, people associated with the American movie-making industry, have long ago been turned into essentially the representatives of one of the country’s parasitic social classes, whose ability to enjoy a high-quality living does not even slightly reflect their factual worth, as individuals.

Therefore, it is fully explainable why the currently dominant social discourse (global culture), reflected by the mainstream Hollywood movies, promotes the values of a blind consumerism, when people are being made to believe that it is possible for them to be able to enjoy prosperity, for as long as they succeed in ‘striking it lucky’.

However, as the realities of a contemporary living in America indicate, these values cannot be referred to as anything but counter-productive, in the social sense of this word, because it is specially the citizens’ assumption that they can well lead a socially parasitic existence, which created objective prerequisites for the outbreak of the current economic recession in America (Schelkle 2012).

The earlier deployed line of argumentation can also be utilized, within the context of how one may go about defining the discursive significance of the film ‘Gosford Park’. After all, just as it happened to be the case with the earlier analyzed Altman’s movie, ‘Gosford Park’ does convey the subtle message that there is something utterly unnatural about the practice of having people stratified along class lines.

What allowed us to identify this message is that, as it being shown in this particular film, the rich and powerful simply do not have any reason, whatsoever, to believe in their factual superiority over the ordinary people.

This poses us with the question – if the socially disadvantaged/poor citizens (such as the characters of servants in ‘Gosford Park’) do consciously realize that the ‘nobles’ are by no means superior, what prevents them from adopting an active stance, while exposed to the social injustices?

‘Gosford Park’ provides a thoroughly sound answer to this question – this is because, the upper-class people succeeded in creating a popular culture, which serves the purpose of legitimizing the hegemony of the latter (Katz 2006).

The validity of this idea can be explored in regards to the scene, in which the earlier mentioned servants do not only situate themselves at a dinner table (down in the basement) in exactly the same way as their masters did on the upper floor, but they also strive to mimic the mannerisms of those they serve (00.31.46).

Apparently, throughout the course of their lives, these servants never ceased being indoctrinated to think of their subservient social status, as a ‘natural’ state of affairs.

What it means is that, just as it happened to be the case nowadays in America, the qualitative subtleties of popular culture in pre-war Britain never ceased being reflective of what accounted for the actual agenda of the representatives of social elites – namely, ensuring their continual dominance in the society, divided along class lines.

As such, this agenda could not possibly be justified, in the discursive sense of this word, due to having been concerned with the rich and powerful trying to slow down the pace of a historical progress – all for the sake of being able to enjoy high living standards, without even having to move a finger (Tomlin 2013).

However, as sociologists and historians are being well aware of, when due to their high social status, people are allowed to lead an essentially parasitic lifestyle, it becomes only the matter of time before they turn into the bunch of degenerates – just as it happened to be the case with the ‘socially-upstanding’ characters in ‘Gosford Park’.

Thus, it will only be logical to conclude this paper by reinstating once again that there is indeed a good reason to refer to both films, as such that imply that there are certain overtones of decadence to the rise and the considerable refinement a global popular culture, as we know it.


Dawkins, R 1976, The selfish gene, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Elhefnawy, N 2007, ‘On Dark Ages’, Futurist, vol. 41. No. 6, pp. 14-19.

Gosford park 2001, DVD, Shepperton Studios, London, UK.

Katz, H 2006, ‘Gramsci, hegemony, and global civil society networks’, Voluntas: International Journal of Voluntary & Nonprofit Organizations, vol. 17. no. 4, pp. 332-347.

Propp, W 2004, ‘Acting like apes’, BR, vol. 20. no. 3, pp. 34-46.

Schelkle, W 2012, ‘A crisis of what? Mortgage credit markets and the social policy of promoting homeownership in the United States and in Europe’, Politics & Society, vol. 40. no.1, pp. 59-80.

The player 1992, DVD, Avenue Pictures, Los Angeles, US.

Tomlin, P 2013, ‘Choices chance and change: luck egalitarianism over time’, Ethical Theory & Moral Practice, vol. 16. no. 2, pp. 393-407.

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