Pursuing Beauty: La Vie en Rose and a Definition of Beauty


In almost any action we take or place we go we are continuously making judgements of what is beautiful. We consider certain sounds smooth and melodic while others are brash and abrasive. Some visuals we find breathtaking while others are dull and lack character. We apply these judgements to people, architecture, music, and many other elements of our social settings that shape our culture. Often, such assessments of aesthetic quality appear to be made intuitively. But what guides this intuition? While complex biological factors may drive part of it, culture also seems responsible for at least some of our intuitive processes. Standards of beauty circulate within a culture, gaining acceptance. Those bred in the culture adopt these standards almost without thought or conscious choice. In identifying beauty, individuals appear to draw upon the ideas their culture has imparted upon them rather than reasoning their way toward their own definition.

Culture’s heavy influence on our perception of beauty raises the question of whether or not our distinction of certain aesthetics as beautiful is artificial. This question has provoked challenges to beauty as a valuable descriptor. An entire culture, namely Punk culture, has arisen around the rejection of the notion that certain aesthetics are superior to others. While the Punks have drawn attention to an interesting aspect of the way our culture manifests itself in our judgements, beauty remains a valuable concept. Specifically, if the underlying components of our notion of beauty have their basis outside of cultural standards, then the application of beauty to select aesthetics involves objective judgements. If not, then it is most logical to pursue the process the Punks have already begun in attempting to dismantle deep-seated cultural standards of beauty. It is difficult, however, to formulate a definition for beauty speaking in merely abstract terms. Formulating an objective definition of beauty is most easily accomplished in a particular context. To that end, we will examine manifestations of beauty in La Vie en Rose, a renowned song by French singer Edith Piaf.

La Vie en Rose is emblematic of many classic notions of beauty. As such, it serves as an excellent example in which to search for fundamental characteristics of beautiful aesthetics. Early in the song a range of soft, light, and harmonious sounds come together to create a setting for the music. In particular, there is a mixture of strings, notably a harp, followed by the entrance of a saxophone. This melodious opening, with its French rhythms, evokes notions of an old, esteemed French society. Piaf’s voice enters after 12 seconds; clean, clear, and consistent. Her pitch accentuates the classic French character of the song. Additionally, by singing in French, she adds a mystical, romantic nature to the piece. Naturally, these qualities of the song generate a seemingly beautiful aesthetic. Punk culture, however, takes issue with this intuitive assessment of a song such as La Vie en Rose as beautiful.


To believers in Punk ideals, a song such as La Vie en Rose is no more aesthetically pleasing than the vast body of more typical sounds. But how could this be? How could such an intuitively beautiful sound as Piaf’s singing not be logically superior to the sound of a pot hitting a pan? While not immediately obvious, the Punk argument provides a reasonable criticism. In Lipstick Traces, Greil Marcus describes the Punk Rock movement, particularly the development of the Sex Pistols, arguably the premier Punk band. In deconstructing the movement, Marcus sheds considerable light on Punk ideals. For example, one central goal of the Sex Pistols, and avant-garde individuals more broadly, was to generate cultural artifacts that were so repugnant that no one wished to appropriate them. In their only American tour, the band played almost exclusively locations in the south of the United States, a region where they expected their music to be rejected and misunderstood. From these actions, their purpose was clear. They wanted to cause believers in traditional beauty to recoil. Punks like the Sex Pistols were attempting to defy what they saw as society’s conventional ignorance of aesthetics. Part of where Punk identifiers, including members of the Sex Pistols, drew their views from was the evidence of differences in perceptions of beauty across different cultures and time periods.

This raises the question of what Punk defiance would look like in the context of La Vie en Rose. The smooth protracted hum that we associate with string instruments would be discounted as artificial. The crispness and clarity of the saxophone would be decried as undeservingly inflated in quality. Piaf’s voice would be met with skepticism. Why is her smooth, extended singing considered superior to the abrupt sound of Johnny Rotten’s voice? Rotten’s quivering manner of song which often walks a line between speech and shouting, and at times hardly qualifies as singing in any conventional sense, epitomizes Punk notions. It simplifies singing to a bare form of speech that almost any individual can create but that few wish to. It is difficult to distinguish quality in any usual manner between the shouting of one individual and another. In essence, Johnny Rotten and the Sex Pistols have distilled song down to a level where all can participate as equals, devoid of the divisive and stratifying qualities of traditionally “superior” sound. In doing so, Punks place the burden of proving the superiority of a singer like Piaf to performers like Rotten on those who serve as advocates of her talent, begging them to answer the question of what makes her superior. Punk identifiers would level similar criticisms of the glorious air of classic French culture that La Vie en Rose delivers as they would about Piaf’s voice. The elevation of classic French culture is, in their view, artificial. Punks argue that it is incumbent upon advocates of this elevation to demonstrate the qualities that mark it as superior. Dylan Clark makes clearer the overall Punk perspective by describing their view with respect to cuisine. Clark states “Punks, in turn, preferentially seek food that is more “raw”; i.e., closer to its wild, organic, uncultured state; and punks even enjoy food that has, from an American perspective, become rotten – disposed of or stolen. For punks, mainstream food is epitomized by corporate-capitalist “junk food”.” (Clark) Punks reject mainstream notions of beauty, and much else, implicitly arguing that they represent nothing more than arbitrary cultural overlays, introducing artificial constraints. To them, La Vie en Rose is on par in quality with the bitter, impassioned sounds of the Sex Pistols.

PARIS - DECEMBER 05: Lighting the Eiffel Tower on December 05, 2012 in Paris. Established in 1985, the new system allowed the tower to glow golden glow. The Eiffel tower is the most visited monument of France.

Having examined the Punk argument on beauty and having seen as an example how it would manifest itself in a Punk perception of La Vie en Rose, we can begin our search for a definition of beauty that illustrates the value in distinguishing beautiful aesthetics. To start with, the song title La Vie en Rose means “life in pink.” Pink is associated with that which is delicate and vulnerable, such as roses. The seemingly fragile hue fascinates us in the same way that, far back in history early humans were fascinated, with no cultural precedent, with other natural phenomena such as diamonds and eclipses. Human associations with pink and roses run deep. Historically, roses mean spring, meaning warmer weather, more food, the coming of a season of easier living. While it may seem simple to erase such associations from our minds, our appreciation for what Spring implies remains tightly tied to other biologically based appreciations. In essence, our association of warming seasons with the flowers that the weather heralds, while seemingly limited, is actually quite strong. Both signal the approach of easier seasons, an objective reality. The point to be made with regard to why we enjoy the sounds of the strings and the saxophone is even simpler. In La Vie en Rose, these instruments all produce sounds that are smooth and melodious rather than cluttered. Our enjoyment of the harmonies they produce demonstrate our general preference for order and its associated stability rather than chaos and uncertainty. This is in sharp contrast to Johnny Rotten’s biting, unpredictable voice and clashing chords. The comparisons do not end there. Much like the melodies that surround it, the French language that Piaf sings in is smooth and evokes the same indescribable, joyous feelings that accompany romance. The same reasoning applies to the sense of classic, esteemed Parisian culture that the song exudes. Paris is filled with endless avenues and alleys of ornately crafted buildings. Be it carefully created and colored four-story apartments, majestic museums built with triumphant pillars and stunning arches and filled with history’s finest art, the Eiffel tower itself, or the Champs Elysee and the convergence of the city’s streets. The city is the epitome of order, continuity, and meticulous craftsmanship.

Looking at the associations that La Vie en Rose generates in listeners in this way, it becomes clear that the qualities we appreciate in such songs are functions of more than random, culturally reinforced standards of beauty. Such “beautiful” songs draw upon ideas fundamental to most humans about what is appealing and what characterizes beauty. These characteristics arise from objective life-affirming artifacts. We prefer ordered entities to stochastic ones, melodies to clutter, and continuity to erratic occurrence. This leads us, at last, to a more concrete definition of what it means to be beautiful. To be beautiful is to have order, structure, harmony, or a similar such quality that provokes positive associations in observers which in turn evoke an appreciation for the entity at hand. This definition can be applied to the vast majority of aesthetics, but some will still escape the definition and can be explained by strange cultural standards that have arisen at some point and been cemented over time. The concept that beauty varies across cultures due to variations in cultural standards is, however, often exaggerated. For instance, in a study by a group of Professors from the University of Louisville and Chung-Yuan University, their research led them to conclude that “The consistency of physical attractiveness ratings across cultural groups was examined. In Study 1, recently arrived native Asian and Hispanic students and White Americans rated the attractiveness of Asian, Hispanic, Black, and White photographed women. The mean correlation between groups in attractiveness ratings was r = .93.” (Cunningham et al.) A variety of other measures of attractiveness across cultures taken in the same study led them to similarly high correlation values. This provides further support of the idea that concepts of beauty are frequently based on deeply biological associations and preferences.

With a definition of beauty that is based on the objective concepts of order and continuity, it becomes easy to realize how La Vie en Rose is a musical masterpiece. Most often, the features upon which our judgements of beauty are based are positive biological associations, fundamental preferences that are common to most humans. While the Punks make a compelling argument in acknowledging how perceptions of beauty seem to be intuitive assessments based on cultural standards, the existence of a definition that can capture what is beautiful in terms separate from cultural standards nullifies their argument. In identifying that there is something fundamentally human about the way we evaluate beauty, we have also made the case that beautiful aesthetics are worth pursuing. People appreciate them by sheer virtue of the way human perception is structured. And pursuing that which is basic to humanity is simply rational.


Clark, Dylan. “The Raw and the Rotten: Punk Cuisine.” Ethnology 43.1 (2004): 19-31. JSTOR [JSTOR]. Web. 16 May 2016.

Cunningham, Michael R., Alan R. Roberts, Anita P. Barbee, Perri B. Druen, and Cheng-Huan Wu. “”Their Ideas of Beauty Are, on the Whole, the Same as Ours”: Consistency and Variability in the Cross-cultural Perception of Female Physical Attractiveness.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 68.2 (1995): 261-79. PsycARTICLES [EBSCO]. Web. 16 May 2016.

Marcus, Greil. Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1989. Print.

Image Sources:

[1] http://joidartblog.com/en/2015/06/la-vie-en-rose-2/

[2] http://peel.wikia.com/wiki/Sex_Pistols

[3] http://mentalfloss.com/article/70991/15-monumental-facts-about-eiffel-tower

Food for the Active Consumer: Napoleon Dynamite and the Creativity of Pop Culture

It is easy to take for granted the notion that our interests in movies, music, comedy, and entertainment of all forms are a reflection of our “personal tastes”. But this idea is far from settled. There is compelling, although not immediately apparent, evidence that trends control us – the consumers. Put more precisely, producers of those trends control consumers by setting a trend, which then shapes and homogenizes society’s interests. This notion is not a new one, and it was most famously summarized by cultural theorist Theodor Adorno in the middle of the twentieth century. In his view, people’s interests are not a function of anything unique to themselves. Rather, their “tastes” are forged by the producers of the cultural artifacts. As Adorno put it, “The autonomy of works of art, which of course rarely ever predominated in an entirely pure form, and was always permeated by a constellation of effects, is tendentially eliminated by the culture industry, with or without the conscious will of those in control.” (Adorno and Rabinbach, 1975) If culture producers set and manipulate society’s tastes, then people are passively engaging with their culture instead of actively shaping its contents. Their tastes are being controlled by the “culture industry.”

To find that this compelling view is not the case we need to identify the trending themes in our culture. Then we must show that popular cultural artifacts exist which differ markedly from those trends. If such artifacts exist apart from the mass produced cultural products, then they have become popular because of people’s independent tastes, not because of influence from the existing cultural trends. This would imply that consumers are not just passively receiving their culture and accepting its mainstream products. Rather, they are actively shaping it based on their own interests. As it turns out, there are many examples of popular artifacts which differ from cultural trends. One such example is the film Napoleon Dynamite, which became popular because consumers found something unique that they appreciated in it, not because it fit in with any mass produced cultural pattern.

To see how consumers deviate from the cultural trends, we must first establish what those trends are. One major trend in film is toward big budgets. Big budget movies put their names out with extensive marketing efforts. They often involve fantastical scenes with violence, complex settings, or extraordinary stunts intended to wow the audience. Examples of such movies include: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Avatar, and The Amazing Spider-Man 2. These movies all feature significant use of graphical modifications and computer adjustments. These features drive up the cost themselves, but also facilitate the other aforementioned commonality among these movies that makes production expensive: extreme action and stunts. Movies with such characteristics all have a commitment to leaving the audience awestruck by portraying physically extreme events: explosions, chases, duals, etc… This feeds a culture where a movie series like Fast and Furious, an action packed series absent complex messaging or markedly different plots, can be on its eighth film. These movies are consistently reproducing the same type of film, a type that people evidently enjoy despite its lack of complexity.

Another major trend is that most movies have some clearly established purpose or conclusion that they are driving toward. In many cases, this comes in the form of a conflict/resolution structure which is fundamental to much of storytelling. An excellent example of this is present in The Breakfast Club, a film renowned for addressing topics of adolescence and social adjustment. In bringing together five students of different social swaths for Saturday detention, the film highlights uncomfortable, but accurate features of teen social structure. This was, unequivocally, a component of the film’s purpose. As Harold Foster put it:

For many of its viewers, the film has that ‘this-is-real, slice-of-life’ quality. You can just hear its teenage audience saying, ‘That’s me.’ I contend The Breakfast Club was much like The Big Chill in that the makers of this film knew what buttons to press to get the intended audience into the shopping mall theaters. Like the old World War II movies, each person represented one stereotype. There was the popular girl, the brainy nerd, the flake, the jock, the troubled rebel, and the dumb, authoritarian teacher. Characters spin their stories predictably with the same superficiality that characterized characters in A Chorus Line. To many viewers, this is a realistic, sensitive portrayal of troubled kids. (Foster, 1987)

The filmmakers intended to use the set of stereotyped characters they created to bring to the surface some of the key challenges of adolescence. Not only films with serious subject matters, but many other types such as comedies and fantastical action films operate with a similarly clear sense of purpose. For instance, it was hardly ever ambiguous what the conflict or resolution was in any Spider Man or Batman film ever made.

While cultural trends are captured and magnified in many movies, this is not universally the case. Napoleon Dynamite exists as a popular artifact removed from mainstream productions. When we search for a purpose in this film, we’ll find only a few vestiges of mainstream appearance. Initially, the movie presents as if it may show the evolution of a kid who struggles to fit in. Napoleon is harassed at school for his tater tots, gives an embarrassing current events report on the Loche Ness monster, and has only one friend, a quiet new student named Pedro. On top of this, Napoleon has trouble getting along at home. With no parents, Napoleon lives with his grandmother, has a poor relationship with his unemployed, chatroom-obsessed, older brother Kip, and cannot get along with his strange relative, Uncle Rico. Toward the end of the movie, there are some suggestions of solutions: Napoleon gives a legendary dance performance in front of his school, Kip finds happiness with his new girlfriend, Pedro wins the school presidency, and Uncle Rico reconnects with an old friend. But the semblance of a mainstream story in this movie ends there.

Despite the humorously negative events that the film shows many characters going through, chiefly Napoleon, there is no illustration of a clear conflict. Napoleon seems largely blind to the degree to which he fails to fit in. Although he is often ill-tempered, this doesn’t appear to have its roots in his lack of popularity, but rather, simple things, such as chapped lips, or a lack of steak in the fridge. Kip also seems perfectly content with his chatroom and television filled lifestyle. While his failure to engage in any conventionally meaningful endeavors may paint a depressing picture for the audience, it fhardly appears to phase him. And then there’s Uncle Rico, whose extreme nostalgia and desire to live in the past leaves viewers painfully chuckling at his extreme delusion. Yet, he appears fairly pleased with his life. Each of these examples demonstrates that the problems with the characters as the audience perceives them, are not challenges that the characters themselves feel. In essence, the movie does not present any clear conflict, even for Napoleon.

Beyond not presenting any clear conflict, Napoleon Dynamite does not outline any substantive solutions to the minor challenges it suggests that the characters face. While the movie ends with a series of positive events for each character, these illusory solutions don’t actually address what viewers likely perceive as the fundamental problems in the characters’ lives. Specifically, Napoleon’s success dancing in front of his school, while it may provide momentary gratification by temporarily impressing his classmates, fails to fix the underlying personality traits that serve as barriers to his social acceptance. It also fails to address his dry life at home and strained relationships with his family members. For Kip, finding a girlfriend, who he quickly declares to be his “soul mate”, provides him considerable happiness. But it does not alter his otherwise dismal future prospects given that he is jobless and devoid of any apparent skills or meaningful resources. For Uncle Rico, meeting what may be an old girlfriend at the end of the film does not fix his persistent disillusionment and nearly nonstop obsession with the past. With no clear problem, the movie provides no clear solution. And beyond this, the movie does not offer any escape from what viewers would likely take to be mildly depressing lifestyles.

At this point, it is apparent that Napoleon Dynamite is certainly not a mainstream film. It has no identifiable purpose, particularly not one which relies upon a conflict-resolution structure. We know that what made the film popular were not its trendy, mainstream qualities. But then what features did cause viewers to flock to it? While answering this question is not essential to demonstrate that Napoleon Dynamite exemplifies active consumer culture, it can provide positive affirmation of this point. The main unique aspect of the film which seems to garner viewer interest is the way it attempts to characterize reality without signaling to the audience that it is doing so. Viewers are left, after the film, wondering what the takeaway was, searching for something in a plot that appeared to be about nothing. But then it becomes clear how, in telling a story which entertained by focusing humorously on the eccentricities of reality, the film captured reality so perfectly. The vast majority of the time, reality does not have violent chases to defeat a villain, or a relationship that goes awry but eventually falls magically into place. Reality is far simpler than that. It has far more bike rides, farm animals, and tough days at school than it does car chases, explosions, or scandals. And there is humor in it. The film’s critics complain that Napoleon Dynamite is about nothing. These viewers have been conditioned by the mass media to enjoy that which is dramatic or clear in purpose. The film is proof that pop culture can be creative. It is proof that, even in a culture dominated by big budget dramas, a film can be made which subtly, but humorously characterizes reality and still gains popularity. And that can only happen in a society with active consumers, not passive ones.



[1] Adorno, Theodor W., and Anson G. Rabinbach. “Culture Industry Reconsidered.” New German Critique 6 (1975): 12. JSTOR [JSTOR]. Web. 21 Apr. 2016.

[2] Foster, Harold M. “Film in the Classroom: Coping with “Teenpics”” The English Journal 76.3 (1987): 86. JSTOR [JSTOR]. Web. 21 Apr. 2016.

Image Sources:

[1] http://www.playbuzz.com/celebmix/who-said-it-napoleon-dynamite-edition

[2] http://chubbycat543.blogspot.com/2012_11_01_archive.html

[3] http://gtaforums.com/topic/825375-declasse-moonbeam-appreciation-thread/page-3



The Backbone of a Story

Why do we tell stories? To inform? To entertain? While there are many short, simple answers, most are too weak to fully explain the existence of such a longstanding and prominent cultural phenomenon. Looking for an answer to this question through a general analysis of stories misses the richness associated with any individual story. By analyzing an individual story, the features which distinguish stories as a component of our culture become apparent. American History X is an excellent example of such a story. In evaluating this movie, one can lose oneself in its emotional undulations and become immersed in the movie’s variations on the defining elements of a story. These elements arise at a deep level of the story, a level of political content. It is here that we find one answer to the question of why we tell stories. This answer is in the form of a pair of components that are universal among all stories. That is, all stories illustrate some conflict, and then provide solutions for that conflict. The effectiveness of this process is, in large part, why stories are so valuable to us as a method of communication.

As we established above, engaging in any generic analysis of stories is challenging. As a consequence, it’s difficult to determine what to begin looking for in American History X. Seeing as no clear strategy presents itself, a chronological approach is a natural method to default to. The movie begins with one of the two main characters, Danny Vineyard, taking a special, individualized course from his high school principle in an effort to both educate and discipline him. The course is called “American History X”, and Danny is assigned to write a paper about his brother Derek, a former Neo-Nazi. The story proceeds to follow Danny’s development through his youth and Derek’s development into a Neo-Nazi, as well as Derek’s prison time for manslaughter of two burglars, and the brothers’ eventual rejection of Neo-Nazi values and organizations. With this brief summary for the sake of continued reference, we can turn to analyzing the story’s opening.

The story wastes no time in establishing a problem. It doesn’t lull the reader into a long tale absent of adversity, confusion, and surprise. Immediately, it presents Danny’s ultraconservative and discriminatory views as challenges for him to live with. His negative attitude toward a wide swath of society, minority groups in particular, predisposes his peers to disdain him. And his actions do no service in endearing him to them either. The reason Danny is initially made to take “American History X” is his submission of an essay on Mein Kampf to his Jewish English teacher. For Derek, the trouble his views lead him to is even greater. His radical attitude causes him be scorned by his mother and sister. Additionally, his aggressive suppression of minorities in his community leads him to prison time.

Beyond vividly establishing this problem, the story provides a clear solution. In Danny’s voiceover, following his murder by a fellow student, he denounces hate. This can easily be seen, in the context of Neo-Nazi elements of the story, as a rejection of ultraconservative views which center around antagonism toward minority groups. Hence, a solution is found in this final realization that people must not adopt such hateful viewpoints.

Thus, American History X makes a couple components of its storyline very clear. It presents a conflict. And it shows the audience a solution to that conflict. These literary features that American History X highlights point to a couple of candidates for key features of stories more broadly: the presentation of a conflict, and the illustration of corresponding solutions. But we need something more compelling than these overtly made points to suggest that this structure for stories is universal.

The question then is, what is present at a deeper level in all stories? Is there an underlying element of stories that binds them to some general structure? For an answer to this question we can turn to the theories of Louis Althusser. Althusser argued that ideology is present in all literary content. By Althusser’s definition, ideologies are the secret political contents that underlie literature, films, and other forms of communication. Almost no content can escape the presentation of some sort of ideology. Even the simplest articles, essays, or films have some underlying assumptions. The collection of these assumptions and more complex, hidden messages makes up the secret content, or ideology, of a work.

Ideologies in stories manifest themselves no differently. We can observe this through the lens of American History X. While the movie explicitly presents the conflicts and solutions illustrated in the paragraphs above, it conveys far more than that. Like other stories, American History X presents political ideas that are, at least partially, buried.

The best point at which to begin searching for the hidden political statement of the movie is Danny’s final voiceover. In the event that the audience has failed to that point at identifying the solutions to the problems with an ultraconservative political movement, Danny’s final words package up this message. However, what Danny specifically says is “Hate is baggage” and “Life’s too short to be pissed off all the time.” This quote occurs for a matter of seconds at the end of a multiple hour film which gave a disturbing portrayal of the Neo-Nazi movement. As a result, the natural effect of this statement is to reinforce the problems with this hateful movement to the audience. But, in actuality, the statement goes beyond this in scope. Danny’s rejection of hate extends beyond the Neo-Nazi movement to far less radical and more trivial forms of hate.


This is the secret political content of the film. When examining Danny’s remark in a vacuum, the content may not seem secret. But in the context of the entire film, the immediate impact of this quote on the audience is far more narrow than the explicit content of the statement itself. The hidden statement, that hate is baggage, is evidenced throughout the film. Derek’s father, shown during Derek’s youth in the movie, is portrayed as aggressively condemning affirmative black action in front of Derek. He argues against the increase of black literature in English classes and questions the appropriateness of hiring black individuals who scored relatively low on the fire-fighting test to serve alongside him at the department. Such vehement opposition to full, equal opportunity, and the employment of hate speech, which he uses to make the argument, is classifiably hateful. Although less severe and extreme than Neo-Nazism, the story sends a signal that hateful behavior is not rewarding, as the father is murdered by a drug dealer at the scene of a fire. Another example of this is apparent in Danny’s behavior and fate. While Danny holds ultraconservative views throughout most of the movie, he never wears his politics on his sleeve to nearly the extent that Derek does at the zenith of his Neo-Nazi career. In spite of this, Danny is still murdered at the end of the film. This evidence leads us toward a conclusion. Hate, however trivial, has a negative impact on our lives. Be it extreme, hateful political action, or guarded personal beliefs, when we harbor hate, we carry it with us everywhere and it harms our lives and those of others.

From this, it’s clear that American History X lends support to Althusser’s argument. The secret content to the story is that, in a political context or elsewhere, when people carry hate with them, it is to the detriment of them and those around them. In addition to supporting and exemplifying Althusser’s argument, American History X extends his claim. Not only does it present its claim about hate as a hidden ideology, but it does so in a very specific manner. The film shows hateful attitudes and behavior as a collective problem, and identifies living with openness and joy, free of hate, as a solution. In this way, the story of American History X presents hidden political content by showing a point of conflict and suggesting solutions.

We began by asking, why do we tell stories? Now, we have one of several important answers to this question. Stories allow us to disperse political content surreptitiously by weaving a message into a story, drawing the reader into it, and causing them to subconsciously absorb it. As American History X has highlighted, the hidden content of stories is not conveyed in any arbitrary fashion, but rather, occurs specifically through the identification of a problem and corresponding solutions. This style of presentation gives stories persuasive power that logical arguments for a claim often lack in spite of their superior clarity. In the case of American History X, the conflict facing the main characters was their hateful nature, and their solution was, quite simply, to be less hateful and more kind and open toward others. When searching for commonalities among stories, it is useful to look at a story through the lens of Althusser, who views the forwarding of ideology as a universal constant among stories. In doing so, we were able to observe the establishment, below the surface of the plotline, of a conflict and solution which allowed us to extend Althusser’s claim.



[1] Althusser, Louis. “Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays.” La Pensée (1970): 52-116. Web. 18 Mar. 2016.

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