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Choice in relation to representation and ideology

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A cultural text can be anything from film to music, or art to books, such things only become a text after they have been decoded through critical interpretation. Each individual interprets text differently and it is through such things that we can experience culture. What exactly is culture though? The word culture comes from the Latin to mean ‘tend and grow on land.’ Over the years it has come to mean other things, we can see this by looking at the dictionary which shows us there are eight different meanings to the word culture and it is the more traditional meaning which is put near the end of this list, making way for new and more important meanings. It is the first four meanings which are of most importance to us; “1. the ideas, customs and art produced or shared by a particular society. 2. a particular civilization at a particular period. 3. activity or interest in the arts in general. 4. knowledge of refinement resulting from an interest in the arts.” The text I have chosen to study, looks at a group of people and how their lives were affected by the industrial revolution, an extremely influential movement in history.

Raymond Williams, an early pioneer in the field of cultural studies shows us how industry among other things has produced a developing culture. In his book ‘Culture and Society,’ he highlights five key words, industry, democracy, art, class and culture. He states that “the changes in their use, at this critical period bear witness to a general change in our characteristic ways of thinking about our common life,” and therefore these changes bring about a new meaning in the word culture as well as producing new cultures themselves. He says that two general responses emerge from culture, “first, the recognition of the practical separation of certain moral and intellectual activities from the driven impetus of a new kind of society; second, the emphasis of these activities as a court of human appeal, to be set over the process of practical social judgment and yet to offer itself as a mitigating and rallying alternatives.” Therefore we can see that culture is not only a response to the changing meaning of the other key words but rather, culture goes hand in hand with the development of the other words.

The film I have chosen to look at, The Full Monty shows the types of culture a group of people experience. The film looks at the lives of the working class community in the North of England during the 20th century. The film looks mainly at the lives of a group of men struggling to find jobs after the closure of the steel factory they used to work at. At the start of the film we are reminded that Sheffield was a boomtown during the industrial revolution; a ‘Steel City,’ twenty-five years later and the film looks at how this has changed. The essay shall look at how the film is a representational film, which also contains an ideological function.

There are three models to representation; transparency, correspondence and mediation. Representation most commonly means, “a typical example” or “serving to represent; symbolic.” We can see however, that it is not always that simple. Transparency; a transparent relationship between words and things. For example, if someone says ‘here is a cat’ and points to a cat, that is a transparent representation, it is clear and obvious what that person meant. Not all text however is like this or here would be no misunderstandings or any need for critical analysis. A correspondent representation would be when something would have a specific meaning to one culture but not to another. Mediation is the representational force behind the media. There is always someone choosing what to put in or leave out and therefore not always representing the truth but rather some ones opinion. It is this last two models which is of most importance to us when studying his film.

The Full Monty represents the working class within the North of England. A number of themes run throughout this film, such as masculinity, dignity, money, industry and sexuality, the film represents the importance of these things to the particular culture represented in this film. One theme, which is clear right form the start to the end of the film, is sexuality and masculinity. Gaz; the main character is especially proud to be male and he believes strongly in the loyalty between friends. Near the start of the film Gaz and his friend Dave walk past a group of women queuing to see the Chippendales; a group of male strippers, he uses the most offensive words he can think to the abuse the strippers with by calling them ‘puffs’ and insulting the size of their penises. Throughout the film we see evidence of male bonding through discussing problems ‘downstairs’ to playing football, something they use at one point to learn a dance move. We also see Gaz having problems with telling his son he loves him and looks around before doing so as if the be embarrassed about showing his emotions. Each one of the men we see have their own problems, firstly Gaz, whose idea it was to strip so that he can get enough money to pay maintenance rears and keep seeing his son.

Dave has issues with being fat and believes his wife is having an affair, we are also lead to believe that he maybe impotent, exactly the opposite of the problem Gerald has. Gerald is a middle class man and his main concern with stripping is loosing his dignity, he is also far more worried that the others about finding a job because of his age and because he has not yet told his wife of his job loss. The ginger one (we don’t learn the name of) is obviously depressed when we first meet him because we find him trying to commit suicide, he has no friends and his only purpose seems to be looking after his elderly mother who later dies. ‘Horse’ has issues with his small penis and the other man (we don’t learn the name of) doesn’t seem to have any problems but represents homosexuals. We see then that each of them with their individual problems together represent different types of males; divorced, fat, black, gay, different classes, they are all representational for the men in Britain, mainly the working class (this is show through accents and language which is discussed later.)

The film also represents the industrial revolution, how it produced the working class and the bourgeoisie. A classic example of this in the film is when we see a shot of Gaz’s accommodation; a huge bloke of flats, each one of the individual apartments being very small. In comparison we see that Gerald, once Gaz’s boss has a detached house with a small garden and car park in the drive, very similar to the house Gaz’s ex – wife lives in with her middle – class partner. We also see that Gerald has gnomes, Gaz and Dave make fun of this and it seems that the gnomes represent something only middle class people would have, some may descried these as tacky, it is almost as thought they are making a statement that they are not working class by buying things they don’t need, yet, they haven’t quite got it right. We also see this later in the film when we enter the house (this shall be discussed in more detail later.) It can be seen how much industry has taken over the town when the men sit on the hillside looking at the view of old brick buildings and chimneys. However, we learn that industry has not completely died off since Gaz’s ex – wife is working in a clothing factory, it is clear though, that such jobs need no skill as workers only receive ÂŁ2.50 per hour.

A couple of ideal representational scenes come fairly early on in the film when the men are in their old factory and Gerald is trying to teach the others how to dance. Firstly this scene reminds us of the industrial theme that runs through out the film because it is their old factory they practice in, this setting reminds us of why they are doing this. Dance is a form of art generally associated with the higher classes. Gerald takes up dancing because his wife wanted to, she seems to be a woman who wants to better herself by trying to pretend she is more than working class changed middle class by joining activities which one would normally associate with higher classes i.e. dancing, skiing and attending health spas. The other men are clearly far more interested in football and it is only when Horse explains that the dance move is like a football move; the Arsenal off side trap, do they understand. Here we see the difference in classes by their interests, it also seems like they are trying their best to keep their masculinity, it does not seem right that they should be dancing but if it is like football, it is not so bad. Another reason for them accepting that it is alright, is the drive for ÂŁ1,000. As Gaz said (in another scene,) “folk don’t laugh so loud we you gotta grand in your back pocket.”

The scene, which follows, also reminds us of the difference between middle and lower class, they all go round to Gerald’s house. It is a fairly large, detached house, overly decorated with floral wallpaper and pink curtains, another example of his wife striving to be of a higher class by trying too hard. One of them comments; “it’s a bit posh in’t it” and Gerald reminds them that “this is a good area.” We see clearly here how the men are representational of people from the North of England by the language they us, examples in this scene are; “if tis can’t getta kit off in front of ourselves, what chance ‘ave we got in front of all ’em lassies?”, “and the kegs”, “hows come you’re so brown any road” and “A only owe ‘im ‘undred un twenty quid.” We see that through their accents, the way in which words are shortened by missing letters out and the use a slang words such as; kegs meaning underpants or quid meaning pound (in the money sense) they are representational of the North of England.

These two scenes clearly have representational qualities, they include two of the representative models; correspondence and mediation. It is correspondent because it represents a group of unemployed males from the North of England, although they are all in the same situation all of them are different so that they represent a wide number of people. They show the behaviour, the attitudes and characteristics of this type of society, that it is not the same as other societies. The film also includes mediation because the writers and makers of the film obviously chose what to put in and what to leave out. It is unlikely all these men would find themselves in a situation like this and there seems to be a need to have and to emphasis the differences between the men for comedy value, the make the film varied and therefore entertaining.

With the film representing the working class we notice an ideological function emerges. Ideology is “the doctrines, opinions, or way of thinking of a person, group or nation.” The ideology intended here is that of Marx, an important philosopher who brought about a coherent theory of the modern (industrial) world. Marx uses the word ‘ideology’ to descried the different ways of thinking about the world, he defined ideology as ‘the ruling ideas of a ruling class.’ Over the years the term has changes some what and is now conceived as processes of cultural signification and personal formation that cannot be summed up merely as ‘ruling ideas.’ The Marxist theory explains how classes have been divided up and how the system determines that they stay separate because it works. Marxism says that, by large, “literature and culture are about things which do not challenge the basic assumptions of the class structure of society” and if these class divisions are talked about, they are done so as to be amusing.

Marxism is the theory of how our everyday routine lives are writhen from within with what Marx called ‘class struggle.’ The people with wealth are the ones with the means for making wealth, in a system which is unlikely to collapse. The people at the bottom of the chain need to keep working despite the fact that they are paid very little for manual labour because of the threat of starvation. The only way in which this system can collapse is if all the workers stopped working. A total holt in every single industry is almost impossible and people who have attempted this in the past have been kept in line by the police, for example in 1968 protestors against the system were threatened with imprisonment or even death.

Using the police or army is part of the superstructure to keep workers in line. It is however not ideal and there another three ways of doing so. The first being to send children to school, here they will learn manners; to obey those in authority and therefore, hopefully they shall be kept in line later in life. Here, some shall be used in labour, but others, probably those with wealthy parents shall be the ones who go on to higher education before joining in with the other middle and upper class workers higher up the chain. A second way is through the church, here they learn to accept who they are, this is what God intended them to be. Both of these tie in with the third and possibly most important way to keep workers in line; culture. Marxism sees culture as “capitalism’s way of getting people to construct domination as freedom.” Marxism argues that people are put into their place historically for example, if you were born working class, that is where you are likely to be stay. Basically then we see that people are trapped within the system with out even knowing it, they are afraid to step outside of it either because of fear of starvation or fear of the police.

How then do we see ideology through the Full Monty? All of the men are stuck within the system, most of them being manual workers they do not have the right education to move on to higher jobs and are left being working class. They are however skilled and Gaz refuses to working in a £2.50 per hour factory and Dave believes himself to be better of a security guards job at a supermarket. They try desperately to keep their dignity which is why it seem odd that they should strip for money, where is their dignity now? As the Marxist theory dictates; any text about the class system is more comical that factual as we see this film is. The men don not want to be part of this ideological system, not unless the pay is right, they believe themselves to be skilled and deserve more than what they are being offered. They are not yet under the threat of starvation otherwise they would have already been forced back into the system, doing job that require little skill and pay little money. The film therefore suggests to me, a group, rising up against society but not quite in the way Marx though people would. It does however still fit in with Marxist theory because it is about the rise against the bourgeoisie but done in a comical way, if it was to have been more factual Marxisum predicts it would have come under heavy criticism. To me, the film has a slight hidden meaning about people who do not want to be part of the system anymore and would rather loose their dignity stripping than have it taken away by the bourgeoisie.

The Full Monty represents the working class in Britain, which started to emerge in the middle of the 19th century when the industrial revolution came about. At the time it was a fantastic movement, which created jobs but also created new and separate cultures. People of the time were perhaps unaware of the great separation this caused or perhaps did not care that they were making rich people richer because they had job and money even if it was not much. The film, to me, represents the ideological function that was created, the film uses a number a different characters to show how all different people were affected and forced into these class groups. However, with the realisation of what the industrial has done, the film represents the people who would rather strip themselves bare of their dignity than give it to system they are worth more than.



*Marx, Karl and Engels, Frederik. The German Ideology Part 1. Lawrence and Wishart, London. 1974.

*Rivkin, Julie and Ryan, Michael. Literary theory: an anthology. Blackwell Publishing Ltd. 1998

*William, Raymond. Culture and society 1780 – 1950. Chatto and Windus, London. 1967.


*The Full Monty. Redway film productions. 1997.

Written by, Beaufoy, Simon.

Produced by, Pasolini, Uberto.

Directed by, Cattaneo, Peter.

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