Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Arbitrary Faces in Politics

“Trauma makes good storytelling and, as journalistic common sense constantly reminds us, it puts a ‘face’ on an otherwise abstract issue.”

Berlant, Lauren. "On Being Normal, Average, Common, Ordinary, Standard, Typical, and Usual in Contemporary America." The Queen of America Goes to Washington City: Essays on Sex and Citizenship. Durham: Duke University Press, 1997. 180-87.

Berlant’s above explanation for the “kind of emotional and analytic paralysis in a public that cannot imagine a world without poverty or violence” is one idea that I think she expresses well. However, I do not think she takes it far enough. Forest Gump does put “faces” on political issues through protest groups, soldiers, and Jenny’s exploratory lifestyle, but it also downplays those issues. Without a working knowledge of American history, Gump’s exposure of Watergate, attendance at a Black Panther Party meeting, and participation in a military expedition to look for some guy named Charlie each lose their meaning. These events hold no particular significance to our protagonist; they are arbitrary. The only thing Gump seems certain of is his care for others. Political events receive attention, but the people in them are insignificant. Gump’s success in so many fields shows how history is composed of a series of accidents and chance connections. Faces are put to these events, but Forest Gump seems to show that it does not matter which faces they are.

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