Identity: Wild Cat Falling by Colin Johnson, Pleasantville (1998)
Who am I? The question sounds cliche, but let’s be serious. Don’t you believe there is something inside you that you can’t describe, but seems to say, “This isn’t who I am, or who I planned to be”. The texts I have read emphasise the belief that socialization creates a mask, a false identity concealing the self and who we are to be. However, it is widely believed that identity is a product of socialization- that the self changes through our individual experiences. The persona of WCF is a victim of these processes.
CJ’s use of shifting temporal frames allows us to review the persona’s past whilst retaining the present, demonstrating the impact of his childhood experiences on his identity. Jesse Duggan was an influential figure in protagonist’s formative years; her fear of the western culture lead her to condition her son into white society: “they belong to the white side of the fence. You’ve got to prove you do and don’t you forget it”. She isolates him from his traditional culture and instils in him the stigmas of the lesser breed.
The persona’s frequent self derogatory remarks about being “a mongrel” and “born under the curse of Ham” indicate how society’s treatment of ‘Noongars’ has affected him. Socialization has isolated the protagonist, denying him his cultural identity and stifling his hopes. Throughout, the persona also remains anonymous, insinuating that his identity is amorphous. Yet we clearly see his mask; “I took a long look at him and sneered back in my best Hollywood crim voice”. His tone is satirical, as if he knows, his ‘crim’ act is not a true reflection of his identity.
And in spite of this mask, his ‘core’ identity can also be seen: “I stood on the bed, face pressed to the bars, gulping the salt-sea tang until I became part of its crashing surf and soundless depths. ” His mask hides his true nature, nonetheless it is revealed through his poetic sensibility. Eliot’s 1911 poem ‘Prufrock’ is a dramatic monologue of a middle-class English-man. For him, socialization demands his conformity to social norms, making him feel imprisoned by its mediocrity: “for I have known them all already, known them all; have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons”.
The repetition of ‘known them all’ portrays life as routine without purpose. “my morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin; my necktie rich and modest” the detail of his dress elaborately conceals his identity and his true feelings about society. Ironically, the repetition of ‘my’ implies an illumination of identity, rather than its suppression. It seems the Prufrock is afraid reveal his identity may ‘disturb the universe’: “do I dare, and, do I dare? Avoiding this ultimate question, he seeks peace in oblivion: I should have been a pair of ragged claws; scuttling across the floors of silent seas”. We are gregarious creatures, and Prufrock’s desire for isolation is untenable to us. Socialization has trapped him in a rock and a hard place: he may choose the peaceful oblivion of a void anyday, but he is too scared to reject a mask that he despises in case it may change his world: oh the irony! The 1998 film Pleasantville explores the effects of stepping out of a uniform society. they just happen to see something inside themselves that’s different”. This shot is taken from below, establishing this as a powerful argument and putting David in a position of power over the crowd. He is persuading Pleasantville that embracing your core values defines you as unique; special. He also ‘colours’ George Parker, by revealing to him his intrinsic values: “don’t you think she looks just as beautiful as the first day you met her? Now don’t you wish you could tell her that? The proxemics in this shot exaggerates David’s emotions and influences his father’s reaction. A shot of David is taken from the court’s POV, which allows for tension to rise before he moves to the side to reveal his ‘coloured’ father. The diagetic tone of shocked voices, coupled with the non-diagetic, soft music that swells at this new revelation, is used to highlight the importance of this scene as unearthing your inner self. It seems to say: this is the moment of epiphany, the moment when you discover this universe holds something wonderful and rare, just for you.
In David’s own words “if you just have the guts” to look inside yourself, you’ll find all that “who am I to be” crap alot easier to handle. WCF’s persona began to confront that ‘song’ or ‘dream’ that had always been with him. Prufrock decided he’d rather drown than face the vast emptiness of his identity. But by giving Pleasantville the choice of change, it instituted profound normative values in people: love, passion, knowledge, peace, expression. All the colours of the rainbow.
Though the belief that socialization morphs a person into who they are is predominant in society, it is hard to say that this is truly the case. These texts seem to emphasise the belief that socialization creates masks to conceal our core identities. Of course, socialization can shape us. Would a beggar have the same choices as a rich man? From my perspective, socialization may have us prepare that “face to meet the faces that you meet” but it may never alter our core identity, which is inevitably revealed when we confront our true emotions.