Understanding the relationship between cinema and geographic representation is fundamental in understanding the post-modern society. This is especially true when considering that cinema is immersed in “our day-to-day experiences of existence” (Stadler, 1990). Thus, cinema is a means of expression and provides a platform for communication. Furthermore, cinema has developed at an exponential rate illustrating a moving, active art form that reflects contemporary culture. According to Harvey (1989:308), the cinematic is simply not “a spectacle projected within an enclosed space on a depthless screen.” Rather, it “is an active agent of hegemony” (Kennedy & Lukinbeal, 1997).
As a result, exploration into cinematic representations is critical in the construction of place and is a theme covered by academics (Tuan, 1991). Significantly, geography, as a discipline, has tended to focus upon traditional respects in cinema, evaluating physical features, namely landscape and the relationship between space and place (Clarke, 1997; Lukinbeal & Zimmermann, 2006; Cosgrove & Jackson, 1984; Forsher, 2003). Thus, the meaning of film is crucial in forming social and cultural landscapes where audiences are influenced by a cinematic production. The theme of the construction of landscapes is most apparent in New York City. As a result, the films covered in my IGS are set within New York City, which allows exploration into social and cultural identities to be conducted. As a result, my research coincides with previous studies, whilst offering an innovative approach.
The medium of cinema in contemporary society is “the art of reality” and merges both time and space (Bazin, 2004). As a result, Harvey’s (1989) ideology of compression is discarded. There is contention in existence that contemporary society is dramaturgical in format, where representations compose identities and the self. In fact, according to Cresswell and Dixon (2002:1), film is “a vehicle for querying the character of representation and a way of recording everyday perceptions of the world.” Similarly, Burgess and Gold (1985:17) state that film “reinforces ideological constructions of the status quo and is an active agent of hegemony.” Furthermore, Aitken and Zonn (1994) propose that cinema is fundamental to the understanding of post-modern society. Film offers a window into the world of viewing “culture [as] a crucial site and weapon of power in the modern world” (Gossberg, 1977:149). Ultimately, however, human geography is the study of understanding both the self and a sense of place. The creation of mass societies in urban centers created a marketplace for consumption that was exploited by the evolution of mass media.
The rise of cultural geography as a new subdivision within the realms of human geography has allowed geography to diversify as a discipline (Anderson et al., 2002; Horton & Kraftl, 2013). Thus, geographers have dealt with the relationship between geographic space and cinema on large spatial scales. Furthermore, previous academics have explored the representations of space within film through focusing on spatial scales and identities (Aitken et al., 2006). Focusing on a smaller spatial scale, New York City, enables a precise evaluation of the relationship between cinema and consumerism understanding film as a product of globalization – the “filmic spaces of production and consumption” (Aitken, 2006:333). In fact, scope for development exists in the academic domain for geography through an “increased interdisciplinary collaboration” to review the relationship between consumerism and cinema (Escher, 2006:312).
Cinema is commonly labeled as a “social phenomenon” (Escher, 2006:308). Thus, it represents a medium through which geography, as a discipline, can conceive an array of perspectives. The growth of “the study of film within the discipline of geography” (Aitken, 2006:326), due to cinema being “the most influential and central medium” (Escher, 2006:312) provokes the need for a geographical stance on social, economic, and political aspects. The research will touch on aspects of all three providing a unique multi-faceted approach to my research. However, this new emergence in cultural geography has failed to explore the link between consumption and cinema. Thus, a sizeable amount of literature exists directly associated with consumption and cinema through studies are conducted into consumption in Soviet cinema (Chernyshova, 2011). Nevertheless, there is a dearth of academic literature discussing the significance of consumerism and cinema from a geographic perspective. Thus, this study provides a chronicle of 1980s culture and bestows a fresh perspective of research within cultural geography.
Whilst the academic division of cultural geography is relatively novel, the notion of consumption is an ambivalent concept in society that continually transforms meaning and significance within context. To adopt a cultural geographical approach in relation to cinema, consumption must be contextualized as an ideology. The term is classified as symbolic of modern development, yet its roots have been described as the “national pastime” of America (Durning, 1992:8). Definitions stem back to Thorstein Veblen’s (1889) slant on the new middle classes at the cusp of the twentieth century, associating consumption in relation to social status. In relation to my research, the definition of consumption resides around the concept of a “consumer society” concerning materialistic consumerism (Baudrillard, 1970).
In the ‘Consumerist Society’ (1970), Baudrillard’s analysis resonates with ‘meaning’ – the use of commodities as a form of social status and in the creation of self. Baudrillard (1970) accentuates consumption as a form of homogeneous socialization that is inherent within society. In contrast, Williams (1980) adopts a puritanical approach and places an emphasis on an individual’s value of thought in the defense of materialism as all encompassing. Mukerji and Schudson (1991) coincide with this perspective positing an “ideology of choice” supporting consumption on the grounds of utilitarianism, focusing on the beneficial aspects of happiness through consumption. In distinction, this study dissects consumption from a hedonistic school of thought examining the intrinsic value, spotlighting the excess overindulgence of the yuppie culture. Instead of viewing cultural geography in isolation, my research is cross-disciplinary within the social sciences ameliorating the subjects appeal and pertinence.
Conceptually, consumerism is considered part of the media culture and became prevalent with globalization, especially in the 1980s and with the rise of materialism. Academics famous notion of the McDonaldization of society highlighted the modern consumer-based society (Ritzer, 1993). Ritzer (1993) emphasized identity being depicted through consumption, a symbolization of social standings and wellbeing within a materialist culture (Banister, 2004). Henderson (2011) supports the idea that capitalism inspires hope through consumerism and the possession of goods elevating social standards within society. The sociological viewpoint of Ritzer (1993) on the homogenization of cultures raises the key idea of the relationship between consumption and the social standings, which will be a focus of the study in this dissertation. In a similar vein, Friedman (1985) explored materialism in the 1980s through popular music and novels. Despite notable interpretations into consumption, Freidman’s work falls short due to its absence of film that as Giroux (2006:123) contends, “offers a pedagogical space for addressing how society views itself.” Therefore, a critical analysis of materialist consumption in cinema in the context of a specific group within society is vital in widening our understanding of cultural geography.
The influence of consumption has gained momentum to etch a presence in nearly every part of the globe. The integration of consumerism, according to Miles (1998:1), “appears to have become part and parcel of the very fabric of modern life.” The action of consumption is intrinsic to the capitalist system that societies are formed upon. As such, Edwards (2000:166) contends that our postmodern society is a consequence of a consumer society. Frank (2002) postulates the subjective value of acquiring goods, which increases levels of inequality, as consumption is symbolic of status within society. The fetishism for commodities drove individuals to obtain goods for social value, or as Cogan and Gencarelli (2014:61) describe to become part of an “aspirational reference group.” This action of purchasing “positional goods” is an exemplar of Schor’s (1999) notion of competitive consumption, in which consumption is a process to “impress the Joneses” (Frank, 2008:31) as a status orientated objective. Exploring the social phenomenon of consumption through the medium of film is crucial in facilitating a theoretical background for my research. The globalized system of consumption is a form of identification, in which materialism is synonymous with representation (McGraken, 1986; Belk et al., 1989; Roseberry, 1996). Therefore, contextualizing the yuppie generation through the representation of cinema is a viable means of critiquing culture.