Sunday, 14 November 2010

What does the film, lock stock and two smoking barrels (Guy Ritchie 1998) tell us about male identity in Britain in the 1990s?

This essay will look at Lock stock and two smoking barrels as a cultural product and see how masculinity is portrayed in the film. Also, see how what was happening in the British society in the 1990s and how this is reflected within the film. There is an argument though, that say that the film is just purely for entertainment purposes, made by a director with an interest in the gangster lifestyle and who was influenced by the work of Tarantino. Guy Ritchie has directed many similar films to Lock Stock, following the gangster like theme for example, Snatch and Rock n’ Rolla. Masculinity plays a big part in these films and effects how he has define culture within his films. He has been blamed by some critcis, for ruining the British film industry with the gangster-comedy genre. There was a huge rise in the number of films being produced in the gangster genre between 1997 and 2001. Lock Stock was not the first in the British gangster cycle but it did have a huge impact. Critics were therefore concerned that the popularity of the film and the genre, would lead to copycat 'laddish' behaviour. The 1990's were supposed to be the decade of the 'New Man' where men saw women as their equals and weren't afraid to show their emotions. The fact that the film ignored all the new rules meant it was a target for a media moral panic, a film which could potentially influence male behaviour by showing a wreckless life of drugs and violence without consequence. The media has influenced the effects on the formation of male identity.

Guy Ritchie purposely portrayed his male actors in a specific way, making sure they didn’t let off any true emotions, looked and acted like ‘gangsters’. This was done to portray that males in 1990 Britain were not phased by performing illegal acts, which involved things such as, stealing, killing and drugs. Other films being released in 90s were at last beginning to represent not of this same genre, the males in these other films were seen to be caring, loving males. The lack of emotion shown by the actors in Lock Stock, links to Mary Woods ( theory of this showing a sense of ‘laddism’ which shows a British gangster males identity in 1990 would have a lack of emotion for anything or anybody. This point seems to be true throughout the film until the end of the film where for the first time some emotion is shown, when Vinnie Jones shows his love for his son although its through violent way it lets the audience know that everybody does have some sort of emotions.

Lock stock represents what Steve Chibnall (2008) would call a gangster light film as it follows many Gangster Light conventions such as the unrealism and comedy of the film. This helps the audience to be entertained by the filmed and not concentrate on more diverse matters such as, how male centred the film actually is and how it breaks all the rules of the 'new man' ideology. This links to the feminist’s revolution in the 60s and 70s. The very few female roles in the film seem to back this up. Only three females feature in the film, the pole dancer, card dealer and the female who is seen to be a ‘crack head’. The pole dancer supports Laura Mulvey’s argument of the male gaze, that females are only featured in films for males to look at. However, the card dealer challenges this argument as she has authority over the males although she does only play a very small role in the film. The final female in the film again plays an insignificant, passive role in the film that supports Mulvery’s argument. Laura Mulvey’s argument is that films are made with a male audience in mind and female’s only feature in films to attract the male gaze and this film seems to support her argument. During the film, masculinity defines that women are not important to the narrative or to the characters lives.

Masculinity is a major concept within this film as masculinity was major in the 1990s in Britain. The characters in Lock Stock are portrayed as very manly characters through; the language they use, the clothes they wear and the things they do. Guy Ritchie exaggerated so much on their masculinity because during in this time many media products being produced were very masculine. This film was a part of what could be considered a large media movement in the support of laddish behaviour. Many male dominated magazines were launched such as, FHM and Loaded also, Television programme like Men Behaving Badly were also very popular. Masculinity is to be powerful, violent, strong, stylish and also, to have to outlet of emotion and during in this film most of the males that featured in it fit this stereotypical masculine male. Very few of the males featured in the film seem to let off any emotion at anytime, this is because Ritchie is attempting to let the audience know these males are very masculine and also fearless. This links to the idea of identity and how important males identity was during the 1990s, it was important again for all males to be very masculine because of the what products the media was producing, most of the English films being produced at the time were of a gangster genre so this managed to influence many of the males styles and personalities. This is why this particular film was very successful. Some people including Mary Wood (2007) argue that Lock Stock reflects society, where males have had enough of feminist ideas of what they think males should be like. They feel that they want to be free, ‘laddish’ and masculine asserting their importance through violence and style.

Theodor Adorno and John Fiske’s theories can link to Lock Stock through the unrealistic acts that take part during the film. Adorno believes that the media have more power than the audience, where Fiske believes that the audience have more power than the media. Adorno would argue that Lock Stock would be a powerful tool to persuade males to go back to a time when it was important to assert your power and masculinity. They represent opposite ends of the media power debate, A film like Lock Stock can have an impact on the formation of male identity purely through the popularity of the film it can influence how some males function. I feel that Fiske’s theory is more relevant to Lock Stock because it would be the audience that have more power than the media as it’s the audience’s opinions that can interact with the film as all the drug deals, weapons they use and also, the lack of police involved is very unrealistic. However, some people feel that these sort of acts can have a negative effect on the audience because some younger audiences that watch this film may want to perform some of the same acts, which obviously couldn’t be done. I don’t feel the film could have a effect on the audiences behaviour because surely the audience wouldn’t honestly think they can get away with performing such acts, but in the past the audience have blamed the media for their own actions such as, Grand theft auto the game. Adorno would probably argue that the audience are being persuaded to re-define their roles in society, without even realising it.

Although Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels tell us a lot about how the life of British men in the 1990s live their life, in an unrealistic light. It’s clear that it’s exaggerated and untrue to the audience because its clear people couldn’t possibly live their lives like this and its done in the film for entertainment purposes only. Some things within the film may be based around real people and real events but the exaggeration of these tells the audience its very unlikely that British males lived like this in 1990. This film is more of a nod back to the gangster lifestyle of the 60s in London, the time when gangsters were respected and moved in celebrity circles. The kray brothers were the most recognised gangster in the 60s. Lock Stock tells us that in 1990s male identity was very important and this was shown mainly through fashion, what they wear.

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