Pleasantville is a movie set in 1990 whereby the major casts who are a brother and a sister are haggling and fighting over a remote. Both of them want to watch a different channel and the outcome of their fight is that the remote breaks. All of a sudden a queer looking maintenance guy shows up and gives them a new remote. On use of the remote the two are transported into Pleasantville which is the brother’s favorite sitcom from the 1950s. The movie shows how the two strive to adapt to their new world and their attempts to return to their modern world. In this movie many social issues are addressed. This includes racism, gender roles, morality and societal norms. The movies seem to bring to light an underlying philosophy that things are not programmed to work in a certain way and not in another way (Calhoun 2007).
As indicated earlier, Pleasantville brings to light issues concerning the American culture which includes the social obstacles in the society today. Pleasantville incorporates the use of colors to portray racism in a satirical and unique manner. The American society is depicted as reserved and unwilling to embrace change in the movie. The fear of racial integration is clearly perceived in the American society. With time people attain more satisfaction in their lives in many different ways like through discovering their sexuality. This leads to a shift in color from black and white to distinctive bright colors. This leads to segregation of the colored people by the black and white people on the basis that the colored ones were corrupt (Calhoun 2007).
Prejudice among the Americans is an outcome of not only the racial differences but the failure to tolerate each other’s differences as evidenced in Pleasantville. The degree of discriminations the Americans are capable of showing to each other due to differences in color is seen. This is depicted where the black and white citizens who term themselves as the true citizens of Pleasantville despise the multicolored citizens. The idea of color changes was symbolic illustrating that those who had changed had got a self revelation of themselves by comprehending their personality and ultimately overcoming the social norms. However, this color change was met with hostility by the “true citizens” of Pleasantville. A law numbered 7 is billed by the mayor under the town’s code of conduct that legalized only three colors namely; black, white and grey. The colored citizens were despised and treated like aliens in the town (Calhoun 2007).
In summary the movie Pleasantville is based on change and the fact that the society will always change. Even though some people may resist change at first but it will sure happen. For instance the racial divide between the colored and the black and white was as a result of change. Even though the black and white were intolerant at first they had to face it and bear with it. Changes can be either positive or negative and even though it is slightly exaggerated in the movie it reflects what is happening in the society. Change is a reality and there is no way of stopping it.
Pleasantville (1998) EssayFebruary 19, 2008 at 10:25 pm | Posted in Writings | 1 Comment
Tags: Essay, Movies, Writings
Title: Pleasantville (1998)
Director and Writer: Gary Ross
This film is an obvious satire criticizing the fear of change, and the self oppression of these people in order to prevent this change. Pleasantville would seem like the perfect place to live in. Everything is ideal, when put in other words, everything is right and nothing is wrong. You cannot make any mistakes in Pleasantville, such as the always-perfect goal in basketball, simply because ‘wrong’ does not exist. Everyone in Pleasantville does what they are supposed to do, and only what they are supposed to do. This also means they are very inflexible in their execution, just like Bill Johnson who becomes completely at lost when Bud (David) does not do his job as usual.
When David and Jennifer first get warped into Pleasantville, they immediately realise the switch to monochome colour and the conservative (or so-called “proper look”) dressing and hairstyle. The monochrome colours used readily reflect the townspeople’s mundane and robotic way of life, and also their lack of true and individual personality. They are greeted by their “alternate” mother, Betty Parker, in a very artificial and overly-friendly “Honey, Breakfast’s Ready!”. Massive piles of food fill the whole dining table, and it is obvious that it is far more than necessary to feed the family. Mary Sue (Jennifer) is served a humongous breakfast of bacon, eggs, pancake, steak and sausage. One would notice the high dietary fat content in these foods, and this symbolises the over-abundance of American life in the 1950s. This is even more so portrayed in Betty’s generous pouring of syrup on Mary Sue’s pancakes.
Sexuality in the monochrome Pleasantville, was almost non-existent. Relationships between man and women were purely for the creation of a family, and the duties of the members in a family was clear, precise and strict. The man worked outside, and the wife stayed at home to prepare food and do the housework, while the children went to school. Teenage relationship was pure and innocent, but this was changed throughout the course of the movie. It all started when Mary Sue is obviously unhappy with this mechanical and innocent way of life, and introduces sex to Skip, who was previously shy and did not want to rush their relationship. Thus began the start of the changes in Pleasantville, and the revolution of sex, as symbolised by the rose turning striking red. It also led to Skip telling the other boy on the basketball team about it, thus starting to “infect” the others to lose their innocence. They become unable to score perfectly in basketball, and this marks a break from the “perfect sequence” of Pleasantville.
The people of Pleasantville are very conservative. They are shocked at the sight of visual art (beyond the “normal” festive decorations during Christmas), and even more so of depiction of nude women. They consider it “shameless” when they saw Betty’s nude figure artwork on the glass display at Bill’s Soda Shop.
Because Pleasantville was transforming from monochrome to multicolour, this led another theme to surface: Racism. Thus began a racial segregation between the “monochromes” and the “coloured” people. The “monochromes” are considered true citizens of Pleasantville, and continue to embrace the moral values of the town. The “coloured” people are those who have undergone change, experienced emotion and explored personal freedom.
When Bud and Bill Johnson are put in court for trial, the scene becomes reminiscent of To Kill A Mockingbird’s Court Episode. The “monochrome” people, like the whites, are seated at the ground level, while the “coloured” people, like the blacks, are located on the second level. This is a clear juxtaposition of the racial discrimination between the two “races”. The unfair treatment can be seen when judge is the mayor, and Bud and Bill Johnson are not offered a lawyer to speak in defence for them.
At the beginning, the people of Pleasantville lacked autonomy and character. They said the same, predictable words and greetings along with artificial, almost-plastic facial expressions. They seemed like robots; without feelings, thought or emotion. They do and say as programmed, in order to achieve that “pleasant, idealistic way of life”. The deliberate use of monochromatic greys makes this even more significant. This reflects of the loss of individualism of Americans in the 1950s, where idealism and “perfect living” meant restrictions on behaviour, expression and thought.
When Betty becomes “coloured”, she tries to hide it with make-up in fear of her husband. But when she realises that she has fallen for Bill Johnson, she accepts her “colours” and even resists covering it up when her husband tells her she. She becomes more daring in pursuing her feelings, and does not completely fulfil all the expected duties of a housewife. She is firm in her own feelings, thoughts and emotions, something all the wives in the town are becoming, and this becomes a threat and worry for the husbands and mayor of Pleasantville. Previously seen as a mechanical housekeeper who will keep the family in order and serve meals and do the chores, they now realise that they can think for themselves and have rights to personal freedom.
The ‘Pleasantville Code of Conduct’ is a manifestation of the political oppression to the most ridiculous degree. Setting rules for the type of music to be played, the colour of paint permissible, or even prohibition to visiting the library are undeniably absurd standards to follow. Bud resists this by playing loud rock music, and together with Bill Johnson, paint a large mural outside the local Police Station expressing their discontent with the restrictions of personal freedom.
Reference: Wikipedia: Pleasantville
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