The purpose of this research was to provide an analysis of the portrayal of the yuppie culture of the 1980s through cinema. In order to do this, this study is primarily a theoretical paper, developed through detailed qualitative analysis. The rationale behind this study involved furthering cultural geography as a discipline. This was done through the examination of the cultural trends of the yuppie. Furthermore, film was utilized as a medium in order to reflect on the “epochal shift towards the visual in our culture” (Kuckartz, 2014:2). In fact, the representation of moving images as a cinematic production is a substantial means of communication, especial within the realms of culture. This is further evidenced by Tom Sherak, the President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, who contends that “film is a reflection of society, both past and present” (Shah, 2014). As such, this proposal aims to analyze this unique art form as an expression of popular culture.
My interest in the culture of the yuppie generation began during a module taken during a second year undergraduate course. Within this module, issues were discussed that ranged from the social and economic changes that occurred in post-war Europe to the 2008 fiscal crisis. Through the taking of this course, the Reagan and Thatcher era piqued my interest in economic geography, leading to my study of the yuppie demographic, prompting me to individually review the presence of this culture within the film industry from a cultural geography perspective. This perspective is unprecedented within the discipline until now. As a result, this dissertation serves to provide an innovative contribution to the cultural geography literature.
My initial IGS proposal aimed to use genre theory as a method of analysis. However, it was soon realized that the limitations of the genre theory restricted my analysis as the artistic freedom of a filmmaker (an oeuvre) was confined to suit a specific conventional ‘genre.’ Using theoretical purposive sampling, ten films were chosen that were made between 1983 and 2013 in order to provide a wide range of years and spectrum of genres. Furthermore, by allocating the selection of films across several decades provides the opportunity to explore distinctions in the portrayal of the yuppie culture. The films selected had different connotations to the consumerist culture of the 1980s and the socialization of the yuppie. Thus, the time frame of the 1980s is a specific era in which the prevalence of the yuppie was at its peak.
The use of purposive sampling as a qualitative research method was deemed to be most appropriate because the yuppie culture was a “preselected criteria relevant to a particular research question” (Mack et al., 2005:5). The sample size of two films was determined by the 10,000 word limit for the dissertation. In order to conduct a more comprehensive analysis with a larger sample size, the word limit would need to be increased. The word limit, although troublesome, was also a benefit, because it allowed me to perform an in-depth analysis of the films, rather than a rudimentary overview of multiple films. The films selected for analysis were Wall Street and American Psycho. The films were selected through random sampling as “in a purposive sample, the researcher draws upon his or her expertise to select a sample that exemplifies certain characteristics of the population to be studied” (Taylor, 2003:302).
A qualitative methodology to explore the yuppie culture through a content analysis of films is deemed most suitable for this research because it allows a humanist approach in reviewing films as a manifestation of culture within society. Thus, quantitative research was deemed unsuitable because quantitative textual analysis fails “to capture the context within which a media text becomes meaningful” (Newbold et al., 2002:84). As such, the historical context of the yuppie culture and the role of Wall Street formulate a significant feature in my research, which makes quantitative research invalid. Rather, the historical context of researching films sheds light into the “texture of everyday life” (Kracauer, 1960:304).
My research project’s initial stage involved conducting extensive background research on cinema in order to increase my knowledge of various ways to analyze film. The works of Jacques and Marie (1988) provided a useful format for my research to be based upon and entailed visual and textual analysis of film. This allowed me to examine different critical factors of the yuppie culture within both cinematic productions. Significantly, the aspect of visualization of film in the field of analysis is a growing sub-discipline within the social sciences (Knoblauch et al., 2008; Grady, 2008). Furthermore, the advantages of using visual analysis include the cross-discipline approach of qualitative research within the social sciences, providing a strong theoretical background with which to interpret film.
Significantly, the hermeneutical method of textual analysis involves querying the content of film in relation to the framed research question. Within the theory of hermeneutics, especially from a filmic stance, it is possible to present the view that through visual interpretation, a researcher could manipulate the essence of the film. As a result, the subject may appear more pertinent to the individuals’ research. Nonetheless, the theory of interpretation is fundamentally critical and subjective in composition. In fact, Ricoeur (1971) validates textual analysis as a method of research as “textual meaning is unstable and fluid because it is interpreted” (Lukinbeal & Zimmermann, 2008:18). Thus, textual analysis and secondary literature sources serve to strengthen the framework of my analysis because a visual analysis of the selected films through a critical lens reflects the manner in which the culture of yuppies is constructed. To do this, I focused upon image, movement, and sound as the three main components of my research. That is, the graphic illustrations in cinema function as a platform for iconic analysis. This contains aspects of cinematography that influences the production of the film. Cinematography is a particularly key element in formatting the visual comprising of camera angles, camera movement, lighting, and mise-en-scenes. Through such an analysis, cinematic techniques show meaning and portray thematic elements that contrive the narrative.
My research is further enhanced through the use of textual analysis, which involved studying all the individual elements and scenes within a film that contributed to the production. In short, I analyzed the meaning of the production. Thus, the implementation of textual analysis in film presents a cultural analysis of the meaning(s) of the cinematic production. Furthermore, a textual approach to my research enabled me to incorporate semiotic analysis in order to consider “the analogy of language as a system is extended to culture as a whole” (Franklin et al., 1996:263). The use of semiotic analysis is an analytical tool in the construction of meaning and a sign-system in highlighting ideologies. This focus of inquiry in my research is pertinent when exploring culture for “no discipline concerns with representation as strictly as semiotics does” (Mick, 1998:20).
Through exploring the textual analysis of films, insight is gained into the context of the production. This includes economic, political, and cultural significant influences. For instance, through the exploration of Wall Street and American Psycho, I was able to divulge into a sub-culture (yuppie), during a specific time period (1980s). Furthermore, a realist reading of the textual content of film is a literal interpretation on what is represented. This form of analysis facilitates a basis upon which to incorporate an additional subversive reading that can “discover the multiple meanings that can be found in the text of a film” (Flick et al., 2004:142). The combination of realist and subversive readings enables layers of meaning to be revealed to illuminate the yuppie culture, which serves to participate in an aspect of sociological critical analysis that aids in investigating such cultural phenomena, an intrinsic component of my research.
Importantly, filmic depictions are integral to understanding the post-modern, or, as Jameson (1983:113) labels it: “the society of media.” Thus, according to Kennedy and Lukinbeal (1997:33), “cinematic is embedded in our lifeworld.” As a result, it is noted that both Wall Street and American Psycho depict an informative narrative of social life in New York during the 1980s and features profound illuminations of culture. In fact, key global issues that remain prevalent today, including social polarization, gentrification, and consumerism are manifested within the cinematic productions as “film represents the world” (Kennedy & Lukinbeal, 1997:33). Therefore, a textual analysis of these films provided historical context that has influenced modern society. Finally, the data collected is presented in the form of themes: social distinctions, dehumanization of women, masculinity, and consumption. The next chapter presents the analysis section of my research.