“Pleasantville” and “Yellow Submarine”: The WWII Generation World of “Blue Meanies” and “Nowhere Men” vs. “The Awakening”Blue Meanies
The 1998 movie, “Pleasantville,”thematically, is remarkably akin to the 1968-released movie “Yellow Submarine” put out by the Sixties Generation rock group The Beatles.
In “Yellow Submarine” there is a region ruled by the “Blue Meanies.” These Blue Meanies, especially their leader, are depicted as powerful and cruel, yet sniveling, insecure, weak, and selfish underneath. Their angry and oppressive personas are shown to reveal poor little whining babies behind them. Their actions are shown to be those of “big babies,” whose gruff exterior must remain intact at all costs, lest their hidden sniveling and hurt little selves be revealed. The analogy the Beatles are making to those of the WWII Generation—at that time the parental generation, those “over 30″—is impossible not to make.
The movies are so similar in theme that the only major thematic difference between “Pleasantville” and “Yellow Submarine” is that it is music that is not allowed in “Yellow Submarine” whereas in “Pleasantville” it is color. But the idea behind them both is the same: Music and color both represent deep feeling, aliveness, thinking for oneself, and change. In “Yellow Submarine,” the man without music is Nowhere Man, who “knows not where he’s going to, doesn’t have a point of view.” In Pleasantville, the men without color act in the same ways, performing the same actions, day in, day out, without change, zombie- or robot-like–like characters in a 1950s-style sitcom in which nothing unpleasant, different, new, or too emotional is allowed to occur.
And above all, the black-and-white men do not think for themselves. This is graphically portrayed in the scene mentioned where the owner of the town malt shop, Mr. Johnson, portrayed by Jeff Daniels, is left cleaning the same spot of the counter for hours so that its top is rubbed away because his coworker is late and the routine they use to close up cannot be completed in the way it is done, everyday, in exactly the same way. Confronted with this small change, he shows himself to be the “Nowhere Man” and like a needle stuck on a record, he is rigidly stuck repeating the same action, not having the power to think of an alternative action in response to a change in the usual routine.
“The Awakening” – No Longer a Distant Vision
The differences in the years of the release and the different artistic modes used to express the themes of these two movies have something to say as well. In 1968 the changes in culture of the New Age were a vision and a hope. It is appropriate and telling that “Yellow Submarine” was expressed in animated form. Like a dream that would take a long time to realize, it needed to be expressed in cartoon-like fashion, for the time of its emergence in reality was too far off.
By contrast, “Pleasantville” blends a fantasy world–appropriately it is a TV sitcom, which has more similarities with reality than an animation–with the actual reality of postmodern times. The advance toward reality is patent in the evolution from an animated form–indicating the change is far off, a fantasy, a wish, a hope–in the 1968 movie; to a black-and-white form involving real actors, real people; and then to a colorized version involving real people in what is supposed to be real time and real cultural reality, in the movie released thirty years later. One might say that what was a fantasy over forty years ago is, however unconsciously, being heralded as, hopefully, emerging and coming into being now–in actual, black-and-white or colored, real time and place.
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Culture War, Class War, Chapter Six:
Culture War Allegory
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