How is the corporate multiculturalism and theliberal pluralist response to the pluralist dilemma represented within Pulp Fiction? “Multiculturalism refers to the inclusionof several cultural or ethnic groups with reference to culture, representation,difference, identity, power and the state.” (Stevenson and Waite, 2011: 939). Multiculturalism comesin two forms, corporate multiculturalism and plural multiculturalism.
Corporatemulticulturalism relies on racial stereotypes formed by the ethnic majority, thestereotypes are racist and do not challenge the social construction of race.This means society accepts these racial stereotypes and legitimates them incommon culture. (Solomos and Back, 1996:187). Plural multiculturalism is often defined by the pluralist dilemma, theprocess of giving equal representation and respect within thenation state, while maintaining social cohesion. (Bullivant,1981 and May,2002:125). There are two main responsesto the pluralist dilemma, liberal and corporate pluralism.
Liberal pluralism isthe rejection of ethnicities and cultures that differ from the society’s majority.Corporate pluralism is based on giving recognition as legally constitutedentities, this recognition should be respective of the size and influence of theminority. (May, 2002:127). One of the core concerns of multiculturalism isrepresentation in the nation state. May, argues that the nation state no longeradequately represents ethnicities and cultures. (May, 2002) Although it can beargued that the nation state has never adequately represented minorities. Theoristslike Hewitt oppose the view of corporate pluralists, Hewitt argues thatethnicity should be a private matter and should not be introduced into thecivic realm.
By giving equal representation to all groups it will cause fragmentationin society. (Hewitt, 2005). Multiculturalism is relevant in today’s modernsociety because global attitudes have changed massively over the past twentyyears towards different cultures and ethnicities. However, recent globalpolitics has seen a reduction in the acceptance of minority groups.
Forexample, the Trump administration has made many controversial decisions andstatements based on racial stereotypes outlined by corporate multiculturalism. Withinthis piece I will analyze the relationship between multiculturalism and PulpFiction by Quentin Tarantino. In order to do this, I will be using a range ofsociologists such as Modood, to support my main sociologists, May and Giroux.
My chosen case study is Pulp Fictionreleased in 1994 by Quentin Tarantino. The film has three different storylinesthat link together with the connection of two main characters, Vincent Vega andJules Winnfield, who both play hitmen for the notorious Marsellus Wallace. Thefirst storyline is Honey Bunny and Ringo who are armed robbers trying to rob arestaurant that Vincent and Jules are eating at. Jules and Vincent are thesecond storyline and first come onto the screen in a scene where they discussMarsellus Wallace’s wife, Mia before retrieving a briefcase for Marsellus,where they kill three college aged men in an apartment before taking one as ahostage and accidently shooting him in the head. The third storyline involvesButch Coolidge who was paid by Marsellus Wallace to throw a fight, when Butchdouble crossed Marsellus he went to flee with his girlfriend Fabienne.
When Fabienneforgets Butch’s dad’s watch that he smuggled back from the war he goes to findit where he has to confront Vincent Vega and later Marsellus Wallace before findingthemselves in a compromising situation in a pawn shop. When Pulp Fiction wasrealised it became critically acclaimed film with over 60 awards won includingan Oscar for best writing. Giroux argues that by giving the film recognition andawards we are legitimising the racism in the film. (Giroux, 1995). This meantthat the language and stereotypes used within the film became a part of popularcommon culture at the time, normalising racism.
I chose to analyse this filmbecause of its huge success despite being overtly racist, its cultural impactand because the themes presented in the film are still relevant today. Withinthis piece I will discuss two main points in relation to multiculturalism andPulp Fiction, the stereotypes of black people and violence and the use ofracial slurs. A stereotype is defined as “an image oridea of a particular type of person or thing that has become fixed throughbeing widely held” (Stevenson and Waite, 2011: 1416). Stereotypes are socially constructed, not onlybecause race is a social construct but because racial stereotypes often arebased on colour discrimination, not ethnicity and in particular labelling allethnic minority’s as black.
(Hall, 1989). Black is a stereotype formed by thewhite majority who often wrongly assume the norms, values and experiences theyhave are the same as ethnic minorities. White people have socially constructedthe stereotype ‘black’ based on their knowledge of the black experience. Forthe white majority, the black experience consists of multiple ethnicities,cultures and communities who would not label themselves as black, this ignoresHall’s theory that our identities consist of a collection of internal andexternal factors. (May, 2002 and Hall, 1989).
The stereotype that I will befocussing on in relation to Pulp Fiction is that black people are violent. The originsof this stereotype have been disputed throughout history but the modern originof the stereotype can be seen as a media induced stereotype, whereby the newsdepicted images of black people being violent towards white people but themedia did not explain that these acts of violence were acts of self-defencefrom the racist abuse of skinheads and nationalists. (Modood, 1994). Stan Cohencalls this process, media moral panics, the media make black people folk devilsand blame them for many of society’s problems irrespective of the real causesof societal problems. (Cohen, 1972). This legitimises the stereotypes that blackpeople are violent and acts a form of othering which make the white majorityfeel that it is okay to be racist and takes the responsibility away from theiractions. (Giroux, 1995 and Said, 1978).
The stereotype of black violence in PulpFiction is demonstrated by hyper-real violence. The two black characters were ar hit man and the gang leader, clearly showing the stereotype. Throughout thefilm the depiction of senseless banal violence is largely seen by Jules orMarsellus. An example of this is the Jules and Vincent’s first scene when theydiscuss what happened to a man that massaged the feet of Marsellus’ wife, Mia.”He sent a couple of Cato to this place, threw his ass over the balcony, niggerfell four stories. They had this garden at the bottom, enclosed in glass, likeone of them greenhouses, nigger fell through that. Since then, he kind ofdeveloped a speech impediment”. (Pulp Fiction, 1994) This provides astereotype of what Marsellus is like, because the audience are yet to meet Marsellusbut already know how ruthless he is.
This sets a precedence for the blackcharacters and makes the audience lack empathy for them. (Giroux, 1995). Thelack of empathy for black characters can be seen in the scene where Jules killsthree boys in an apartment for Marsellus, this was depicted as hyper-realviolence which legitimises the stereotype that black people are violent.
Incontrast, in the following scene Vincent shoots their hostage in the head byaccident, although this was hyper-real violence it had elements of symbolicviolence because it was clear that the killing of the boy was not intendedwhich makes the audience react with more empathy to Vincent. (Giroux, 1995).Although, throughout the film Jules is the only character to show a moralchange towards his violent lifestyle, after he escapes death. In the scenewhere there is an altercation between Marsellus and Butch after Butch hitsMarsellus with his car. Butch similarly to Vincent receives more empathy thatMarsellus. Butch is acting in a form of self-defence although he initiated theviolence, this suggests that his violence is a form of symbolic violence and itwas not unnecessary because he was protecting himself. On the other hand, even though Marsellus actsin a form of self-defence, Tarantino shot and wrote the movie in a way that doesnot suggest Marsellus deserve the empathy of the viewer because he is onlypresented as the gang leader.
Giroux argues that along with the representationof black people in Pulp Fiction, it is also reflected in society through themedia. The media instigate the lack of empathy for black people because theymake society believe they deserve the problems facing them such as unemploymentbecause they are shown as the ‘problem’ in society rather than the victim. (Giroux,1995). By promoting these racial stereotypes, thefilm legitimises the liberal pluralist response to the pluralist dilemma. Itdoes this by only representing marginalised groups in society which allows thelargely white middle-class majority to other themselves from the characters inthe film.
This means they believe they can be racist towards ethnic minoritiesbecause they do not feel responsible. Murray argues “A large number ofwell-meaning whites fear they are closet racists and this film tells them theyare not. It’s going to make them feel better about things they already thinkbut do not know how to say”.
(Murray, 1994 and Giroux,1995). This emphasises mypoint by showing how racists ideas and stereotypes are already ingrained in societyand films such as Pulp Fiction amplify racism. The racist stereotypes that areamplified inform the current governments when they are making decisions. Asargued by May above the nation state no longer adequately represents theinterests of all groups within society. Hewitt supports this he argues thatrather than incorporating ethnic minorities into the nation state, as suggestedby the corporate pluralism response to the pluralist dilemma, the stateactually uses within minorities as an object of discussion, showing that thestate believes that ethnic minorities are a problem within society that needsolving, this shows the liberal pluralist response. (Hewitt, 2005 and May,2002). Recent global politics has shown that racial stereotypes, multiculturalismand the pluralist dilemma are relevant in today’s society.
This can be seen inthe way that Trump has used stereotypes of immigrants and especially Mexicans andused this to form decisions and laws that affect millions of peoples loves suchas the withdrawal of the DACA programme. (Walters, 2017) As seen above the legitimisation of racialstereotypes has led to an increase in racial stereotyping. In the same way theuse of racial slurs, in particular the use of the word Nigger within the mediaand films like Pulp Fiction has legitimised the use of the words, as peoplehave become desensitised to the meanings and origins of the slurs. (Giroux,1994). Alongside the representation of language used with films recent globalevents such as terrorism have also legitimised racial slurs. Terrorism has donethis by making people feel unsafe and scared, so people try to attack it butthe way in which some people respond is in the form of liberal pluralism andthey attack using racial slurs, especially towards Muslims.
This is serving asa label for people in society who only share one similarity with terrorists,their religion. (Hall, 1989 and Hewitt, 2005) The main racial slur used in Pulp Fictionis nigger, throughout the film the term is used twenty-one times with differentimpacts depending on who is saying it and the context it is in. (Juzwiak, 2015). Tarantino has beencriticised for his use of nigger in his films, especially Pulp Fiction andDjango Unchained. He was criticised for failing to acknowledge the significanceof the term and the history that surrounds the word associated with whitesupremacy. (May, 2002 and Giroux, 1995). Hewitt explores reverse racism andargues that white people are being unfairly discriminated because they areunable to say nigger, whereas a black person can. (Hewitt, 2005).
In contrast to Hewitt, Allanargues that nigger does not always have negative concertation depending on whosays it and this is because of the historical impact and the unequal balance ofpower within the nation state, suggesting it would not be as controversial of atopic if we had widespread corporate pluralism. (Allan, 2016). A quote from IceCube explains this well, “Look, when we call each other nigger it means noharm, in fact in Compton it is a friendly word. But if a white person uses it,it is something different, it is a racist word” (Cited in Kelley, 1994).
Anexample of this in Pulp Fiction is how different characters use the word, inthe film Jules uses the term most, while Vincent never uses the term, showingthe divide between who can use the term. Another use of the word nigger is byJimmie says, “Did you see a sign that said dead nigger storage?” (Pulp Fiction, 1994). Jimmielegitimatises his use of the word as a white man by making it clear that he hasa black wife, which he believes entitles him to say nigger because he hasovertly proved he is not racist by marrying a black woman. The use of niggerhas a derogatory slur can be seen in the pawn shop scene when racist owner,clear from his language and the confederate flag in the shop, uses the term tobelittle Marcellus before raping him. The use of racial slurs within Pulp Fictionfocus on the representation of black people, Modood argues that this hurtsother ethnic minorities by ignoring the racism that they encounter. (Modood,1994).
However, there is some referenceto other racial stereotypes and slurs such as Ringo referring to a culturallanguage barrier that inhibits him from accepting corporate pluralism becausehe cannot understand them. The view that immigrants should fully assimilateinto American culture, devalues their culture but also shows a rise in liberalpluralism because the white majority want to prohibit other cultures. In conclusion, it is clear that the use ofracist language and stereotypes has had a profound effect on the way thatmulticulturalism has been formed within today’s society.
Although there hasbeen an increase in the acceptance of corporate pluralism in response to thepluralist dilemma, it is evident that stereotypes and racial slurs whichcontinue to be shown in films and in the media, continue to underminemulticulturalism. I believe the arguments put forward to remove all ethnicitiesand cultures from the civic realm as argued by liberal pluralists such asHewitt, is not plausible and this means that there will be a continued whitemajority. (Hewitt, 2005).
In order to stop a white majority dictating the normsand values of society, there needs to be an increase in the representation ofdifferent ethnic minorities and cultures within the nation state. This willmean that the opinions and experiences of different cultures will be taken intoconsideration instead of being discussed as if they were a problem. Bibliography Allan, k., 2016. science direct. Online Available at: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0388000115000200?via%3DihubAccessed 10 January 2018.
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