STUDY GUIDE Unit VI: IDEOLOGY OF THE WHITE CITY: The Chicago
World’s Fair, Utopias and Dystopias
Part One * Part Two
* (OPTIONAL) Extras:
* Part One: The White City and the World’s Fair
Reading Questions: Chapter
4, The Urban Experience, Urban Life: The Social Setting
Audiovisual Guide Questions: Slides
of Chicago's World’s Fair; See: World’s Columbian Exposition 1893 at Paul V.
Galvin Library Digital History Collection
* Part Two: White Utopias and the Racial Coding
of Urban Film
Reading Questions: Henry
A. Giroux, "White Utopias and Nightmare Realities: Film and the New Cultural
Racism," in Disturbing Pleasures
Audiovisual Guide Questions: Lawrence Kasdan, Grand
Canyon (1992) (opening scenes)
* EXTRA RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THE AMBITIOUS:
Lauren Rabinowitz, "The Fair
View: The 1893 Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition," (Ch 2) in For The Love
of Pleasure (On Gender, Spectacle, Film, and the White City)
* Part Three: Multicultural Dystopics and the Urban
Reading Questions: Scott
Bukattman, "Blade Runner," pp. 7- 12, 42-65 (BFI Modern Classics); Julian
Bleecker, "Urban Crisis: Past, Present, and Virtual," in Socialist Review
Vol. 24:1 & 2, 1995
Audiovisual Guide Questions: Ridley Scott, Blade
Runner; (esp. sequences in flying car)
Slides of Chicago's World’s Fair
Chapter 4, The Urban Experience, Urban
Life: The Social Setting
- Study the main buildings of the fair (Administration
Building, etc.) Note the neo-classical style. Of what do these buildings
remind the viewer? What culture(s) do these buildings invoke? Why? Why is
this problematic in the "ideal American city" of the World's Fair?
Note the panoramic shots of the fairgrounds. These can be seen especially
in shots of the "Court of Honor" and "Grand
Basin." Explore the symmetry of the fair design. Why is this emphasized?
Note also the many reflecting pools, and grand boulevards of the grounds.
What do these design elements recall? Why is that significant?
- Note the map of the fairgrounds. Notice how the Midway Plaisance
is separated from the "official" fair in a strip of land which juts out
from the grounds. (This is still called the Midway today, in Chicago's Hyde
Park.) Make a list of the "attractions" found on the Midway. (Use the
map for this information.) What does the strange
list of attractions have in common? How are non-white, non-northern European
cultures portrayed? Why are the animal shows alongside Chinese and Indian
Why are the "Exotic" attractions featuring "oriental women" found here?
What message about culture and civilization does this arrangement convey?
What does it signify that these attractions are separate from the "real"
Fair? Why are the "Sexy" attractions located in the Midway? Why are amusements
such as the famous Ferris wheel located with these other exhibits?
Giroux, "White Utopias and Nightmare Realities:
Film and the New Cultural Racism," in Disturbing Pleasures
Summarize the data on social composition. Who are the urbanites
in terms of gender, age, and stage in the life cycle? Recall that not all
United States data is valid internationally.
The general ethnic, racial and religious patterns of social composition
are of urban heterogeneity. Explain briefly.
What is the general pattern of social standing differentiation between
rural and urban places?
Net migration to the city has been consistent from rural toward urban places.
Who are the migrants? (87) What are their general characteristics?
The predominant popular viewpoint of migrants in the city is related to
urban anomie theory. It is supposed that migrants suffer great strain,
trauma, alienation, and disorganization possibly leading to deviant behavior.
Evidence does not support this theory. The popular image of the migrant--a
lonely soul, just off the train, friendless and overwhelmed in the great
metropolis--is highly inaccurate. Present the counter evidence to this
The stranger is one of the most dramatic figures in urban literature and
film. The urbanite is portrayed as cast adrift in a world of strangers.
What are the chapter's conclusion on urban interaction with "strangers?"
The fear and reality of crime is perhaps the central issue in exploring
urban images. Crime is so strongly linked to urbanism in Americans' minds,
that some actually judge whether a place is a city or not by its perceived
crime rate. The fear of crime is skewed away from the more prevalent white
collar crimes and drunken driving toward "street crime." Explain. (101)
The more urban the community Americans live in, the more likely they are
to fear crime. Historically, however, people in modern societies
are safer from crime than were people in most earlier societies. How does
the text explain the contradiction from the decline in crime in Western
societies while the popular impression is that of increasing crime?
Nonetheless, the risk of suffering serious crime is higher in larger rather
than smaller communities.
- One problem with using the U.S. crime data is that the US is so violence
ridden in comparison to other wealthy societies. But, a transhistorical and
multicultural study of crime comparing the current US society to others suggest
that at almost all times and places rates of property crime increase
with the size of the community. Rates of victimless crime (or vice)
such as gambling and prostitution, increase with urbanism.
- The data on violent crime is more complex. European and American stats from
the nineteenth century (and earlier) suggest that homicide (the most serious
violent crime) was more common in rural than urban areas. In the twentieth
century, homicide and violence are sometimes greater in cities, although this
in not consistently so. It is prudent to conclude that city life is regularly
accompanied by property crime and vice, but there is no general correlation
between urbanism and violent crime.
What are some of the causes, then, of the common fear of crime
in cities? Don't forget to include that social unrest or protest (on
the part of classes, ethnicities, and other social groups) may be perceived
by mainstream society as "dangerous" and threatening.
One study shows that fear of crime was linked to how unfamiliar
one is with people from other racial groups. "The fear of the stranger,
of the morally repugnant, of the culturally unfamiliar, and of the disorderly,
blend into an undifferentiated sense of danger, which has been given the
name "fear of crime." Explain.
Please return to the remaining questions only
after screening the opening 10 minutes of the film:
Giroux explores identity politics. This term is discussed throughout
the essay and defined on p.70. Explain the suggestion that "Identity politics
arises from a radical insight--that domination is systematically structured
into the relations between social groups." Explain. How is this different
from saying that discrimination and racism arise from the hateful feelings
of individual bigots?
Giroux suggests in the essay that the "old racism" has been replaced with
a "new racism." He suggests that "the appeal is no longer to racial supremacy
but to cultural uniformity parading under the politics of nationalism and
patriotism." (71) Explain this statement.
Rather than taking one of two sides of the "debate", the author argues
that both sides, liberal and conservative discourses, "become complicitous
" with racism "by refusing to link race and class" and "by refusing to
recognize that racism in the United States is deeply embedded in a politics
of social, economic, and class divisions." (72) Explain the author's criticism.
The essay begins its examination of urban images by suggesting that such
images privilege "race as a sign of social disorder and civic decay." (73)
What does this mean?
In Section II of the essay (74), Giroux defines the "old racism."
Define the term.
In Section II of the essay (75), Giroux defines the "new racism."
He argues that the new racism "has shifted the emphasis from a notion of
difference to a position that acknowledges racial diversity only to proclaim
that different racial formations, ethnicities, and cultures pose a threat
to national unity." (77) Explain.
One strategy of "this hegemonic project" (of the new racism) is to suggest
that "whites are the victims of racial inequality." This strategy is achieved
primarily through images which "code" racial meanings so as to mobilize
white fears. Explain. The author suggests that such "coding" displays racial
difference as a significant aspect of American life, but does so only to
pose it as a threat to be overcome. Explain.
In Section III of the essay, Giroux turns to the film Grand Canyon to illustrate
how the above new racism is operative in popular film within a "Hollywood
version if identity politics." He begins by suggested that in the past
"The response to racial inequality was to pretend it didn't exist." The
current reaction is to "re-present it without changing the social, economic,
and political conditions that create it." (79) Explain the difference between
these two approaches to making images.
Giroux suggests that the multicultural landscape of Los Angeles has
been mythologized by Hollywood (Blade Runner, Boyz N the Hood, Colors,
Grand Canyon, etc.) as a "gritty reality in which cultural differences
produce a borderland where an apocalyptic vision of the future in played
out amid growing forms of daily violence, resistance, fear and struggle."
- Study the opening scenes of Grand Canyon. What symbols are used
to signify urban LA? How does this prove or disprove Giroux's above-mentioned
theory about how LA is mythologized?
- In the scene where Kevin Kline's character becomes "threatened" by young
African-American males," what cinematic strategies are used to create the
audience's "common sense" belief that fear is the justified reaction? How
is light, sound, music, and dialogue strategically used to craft this effect?
- Some have argued that because Danny Glover plays a sympathetic character
who "rescues" Kevin Kline, the film is "liberal" in its presentation of race.
Do you agree or disagree? Is the "goodness" of Danny Glover undone by the
fear of African-American men installed at the center of the film? Why is it
important that Kevin Kline and his wife "rescue" the Latino baby and find
Glover's sister an apartment? Why is the "abandoned baby" identified as Latino?
Which characters in the film are able to act and have an effect on the world?
How is, then, "whiteness" portrayed as a "referent for self-sacrifice
buttressed by the liberal assumption that as a privileged white man he can
solve the problems of marginalized and subordinate Others?" (84)
- The essay argues that "whites are simultaneously portrayed as both the
victims of cultural change and the only gatekeepers of a society which appears
to be on the verge of self-destruction." (81) Explain.
- How do the scenes of Glover, the mechanic, his sister, and Klines' family
home present class differences?
- How do the opening moments of the film portray basketball? What is the
contrast between the Lakers' game and the pick-up game on the playground?
Why are these images supposed to be "urban?" Who attends the Lakers' game?
- The film portrays the "niceness" of white folks toward people of color.
Why, according to Giroux's argument, is this not a critique of racism?
- Giroux argues that Grand Canyon is reactionary because "it
mobilizes the fears and desires of white folks who recognize that cultural
differences are here to stay but don't want to be positioned so as to call
their own racism or complicity with economic, social, and political inequalities
into question." He notes that the central white characters in Kasdan's film
want to exercise good conscience, retain their property values, and still
be able to jog without being mugged. He argues that their "racism in more
subtle, clean, and New Age." He sums up these characters by adding that "Racial
otherness becomes a pragmatic rather than an ethical dilemma for them." (81)
Explain this last point.
- The essay also examines the closing scenes of the film, wherein all the
main characters drive to the edge of the Grand Canyon, staring into the abyss.
Giroux argues that this narrative resolution presents a worldview which
1) subordinates human agency to the grand forces of nature, and 2) allows
whites to feel good about themselves while simultaneously absolving them of
any responsibility in either constructing or maintaining those ideological
and structural forces that privilege agency for some groups and greatly reduce
it for others." Explain these 2 points.
- How does the "wonder of nature" in this scene create a "New Age notion
of unity and spirituality" that erases "the immensity of the racial, cultural,
political, economic, and social differences" that separate the various characters?
(85) (See also 87)
- Why does the Canyon ending scene "Collapse differences among blacks, whites,
men, and women into the airy recognition that we are all secondary to the
larger cosmic forces of good and evil." (81) Why is this such a dangerous
view of ethics according to Giroux? The film's narrative also turns on
many chance occurrences. Why is it problematic when "luck and chance rather
than struggle and agency" determine the present and future (82)?
- Section IV of the essay traces three sets of relationships in the film:
1) social relations between blacks and whites, 2) relationships between men
and women, and 3) the relationship between human beings and nature (See the
last question.) First, the essay analyzes the encounter of Kline (Mack) and
Glover (Simon). When Kline is trapped in the "Ghetto," how does the
film present him as "trapped in a zone of difference coded with racial fear
and danger." (93) What are the cinematic codes used to achieve this
effect? How does the viewer know this is a "bad" neighborhood? How does racial
difference loom up before Mack (Kline) as "Strange, unfamiliar, and ominous."
- Explain the "juxtaposition of Mack as the model of decency and the young
black men as a threatening symbol of social savagery." (83) How does this
image "skillfully work to portray whites a a besieged group while simultaneously
portraying inner-city black youths as a signifier of danger and social decay."
- How does the film portray women, according to the author? How is the Madonna/Whore
(recall the two sides of Maria in Metropolis) complex repeated in the
- The Fifth Section of the essay addresses the questions of pedagogy--of
learning & teaching. It calls for "a pedagogy of representation" (a study
of images) that "demystifies the act and process of representing by revealing
how meanings are produced within relations of power that narrate identities
through history, social forms, and modes of ethical address that appear
objective, universally valid, and consensual." (87-88) This is, in essence,
the task of this course, Urban Images in Media & Film. Explain
your understanding of this task.
- Giroux expands his definition of this educational task by asserting that
central to such pedagogy is "providing students with the opportunities
to deconstruct the mythic notion that images, sounds, and texts merely express
reality." Specifically, he argues, we need to address the question of
image production to ask "how is the real produced? How is truth being ruled?"
(88) Explain. If images don't merely "reflect" reality but, rather,
produce reality, then what does that mean for our studies? What does
that mean for those of you who are going on to produce images of your own?
Scott Bukattman, "Blade Runner," pp. 7- 12,
42-65 (BFI Modern Classics)
Julian Bleecker, "Urban Crisis: Past, Present,
and Virtual," in Socialist Review Vol. 24:1 & 2, 1995
Bukattman claims that Blade Runner is "the quintessential city film:
it presents urbanism as a lived heterogeneity, am ambiguous environment
of fluid spaces and identities." (12) Explain.
The essay focuses on Science Fiction films and the city. He claims that
"Blade Runner reminds us that cinema, science fiction, and modern
urbanism were interwoven products of the same industrial revolution." (42)
This section of the essay (beginning on 42) traces the design similarities
of Metropolis and Blade Runner. Note the images on 42-43
and the comments about the relationship.
The essay argues a difference between the two urban portrayals of these
films. The former represents "the expansionist and visible machineries
of the industrial age" while the latter addresses the "invisible technologies
of the information age." (45) Explain.
In this shift, a new conception of the urban arose that was "no longer
synonymous with locale but was defined by the invisible circulation of
information permitted by telecommunications technologies." (45-6) Explain
how this shift appears in Blade Runner and other contemporary Science
Fiction films. How does the image of urban space change in these
The author suggests that Blade Runner moves toward Cyberpunk.
Define this category. (48-9) How does cyberpunk portray the urban setting?
The essay compares Blade Runner's cyberpunk style to film noir
three points: 1) the tension between social order and disorder; 2) narratives
centered on perception and spatial exploration; and 3) an emphasis on decentered,
threatening urban spaces. (49) He argues that in
intricate urbanism, "the iconographies of science fiction and noir overlap."
According the Bukattman, "The city in Blade Runner, with its rain-slicked
Los Angeles streets, faux-forties fashions, private-eye plot and world-weary
narration, derives plenty from noir. This is a dark city of mean streets,
moral ambiguities and an air of irresolution. Blade Runner's Los
Angeles exemplifies the failure of the rational city...If the metropolis
in noir was a dystopian purgatory, then in Blade Runner, with its
flame-belching towers, it has become and almost literal Inferno." (50)
Comment on this observation.
The essay notes that Blade Runner's incessant movement through urban
space is closely aligned with panoramic perception. (54) With the
rise of railway travel in the 19th century, the replacement of horse drawn
coach by speeding train transformed travelers into spectators, separated
them from the world by velocity, closed compartments and sheet of glass.
Attention had to shift from proximate objects to distant panoramas. Observe
the many scenes in Blade Runner where the camera travels through
urban space. How do these scenes present panoramic perception?
Ridley Scott, Blade Runner
Bleecker moves the discussion of racialized urban images from film to virtual
reality. He contrasts two texts, Blade Runner as urban
dystopia and SimCity2000 as urban utopia. He argues that
"if near-future science fiction film creates its dystopic edge by extrapolating
from the racially tense present-day inner city, then a utopic simulated
virtual reality of the near-future city is one that necessarily refuses
to acknowledge the question of race." (193) Explain.
The essay explores "the racial economy of near-future science fiction films."
(195) Describe the "post apocalyptic landscape" and the "blighted urban
core" featured in such films as Mad Max.
According to the essay, Blade Runner finds the threat of nightmarish
urban space not in nuclear annihilation but in the "threat of non homogenous
communities." The essay argues that "far too little attention" has
been paid to the "polyethnic hybridity of the street zones below the Tyrell
Corporation. "How does "a future dystopia" base itself on fear of
nonhomogenous ethnic and racial markers?" (197-8)
Bleecker describes the urban settings of Blade Runner as "an Othered
backdrop." What does this mean?
How does the urban environment of Blade Runner create a "Third World"
atmosphere? The film sought to convey the texture of cultural hybridity,
exoticism and dark regions splashed with neon light. According to the essay,
"the future urban purgatory is precisely the place a white imagination
would associate with people of color--the Third World. An "exotic space"--with
the marks of ethnicity suggested by the Third World--is one that is often
attributed to the dilapidated inner city. It is a space that evokes a sense
of nervous tension, claustrophobia, and fear for one's life and property."
Note how this is achieved through cinematic detail. Compare this effect
to that of the opening scenes of Grand Canyon. How do these contemporary
urban films create a nihilistic urban world view?
Our focus in this reading is the dystopic Blade Runner rather than
the utopic SimCity2000. However, please be able to explain the author's
basic thesis on this virtual reality urban utopia: "Sim City2000 makes
possible a utopic urban space by explicitly erasing the category of race."
(202-217) Note especially how this urban utopia functions in comparison
to the other urban utopia we've studied, the White City of the 1893 World's
Columbian Exposition. How do both ideal cities erase race in problematic
Lauren Rabinowitz, "The Fair View: The 1893 Chicago
World’s Columbian Exposition," (Ch 2) in For The Love of Pleasure (On
Gender, Spectacle, Film, and the White City)
How is the central theme of "replicants" related to the issue of urban
alienation? How is this issue portrayed visually?
Focus your viewing of Blade Runner's street scapes on the urban
environment portrayed. Use Bukattman's and Bleecker's observations to help
you analyze those portrayals. How are these environments dystopic?
How do they mobilize symbols of race, ethnicity, and poverty to create
a fear of urban peoples?
Rabinowitz suggests that the Chicago World's Fair of 1893 signaled a shift
or rupture in American society. To carry out this thesis, she first analyzes
the Court of Honor, esp. those official photographs
permitted by the fair authorities. How does she understand the architecture
and official views of the fairgrounds? (50-3)
The essay examines the Midway Plaisance. The
author is particularly helpful in providing a complete list of the attractions
in each sector of the Midway. More importantly she compares the Midway
to the actual streets of Chicago at the time. What does she suggest
about this comparison? Why does she call the Chicago streets a "Tower of
The author discusses the sound of the Midway. What were the sounds of the
Midway like? Why does one souvenir album call the Midway a Babel without
a tower? Why and how was sound actually controlled by fair authorities?
The essay examines the racial dimensions of the Fair. Frederick Douglass
called the Midway displays of people of color "an attempt to exhibit the
Negro as a repulsive savage." Guidebooks actually described the Dahomey
village as "barbaric" and "repulsive." Rabinowitz sums this up by suggesting
that the Midway presented racist spectacle as scientific anthropology.
Explain this complex notion.
The author suggests that the Exposition was a theatrical public space that
dramatized the "social disparity between the audience as civilized and
nonwhites as objects for entertainment." Explain. (60-61)
Rabinowitz claims that the Fair "asserted itself as a safe cultural environment
that disguised and distanced itself from the effects of the city marketplace,
from the chaos and dangers of the congested street." She adds that the
fair mediated the tensions of urban life by masking "the social dangers
of mixing classes, races, and ethnic groups through its highly controlled
and regulated urban environment while it simultaneously celebrated the
newness and excitements of modern urban life." (60-1) Explain.
- The remainder of the article tracks how gender was operative at the fair.
Official and news media views of the fairgrounds present women watching the
spectacle and women as spectacle. Explain the significance of these images.