Family Viewing and I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing

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Masaryk University

Faculty of Arts
Department of English
and American Studies

English Language and Literature

Milena Pešková

Mediating the Self:

Employment of Media in Family Viewing and I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing

Master’s Diploma Thesis

Supervisor: doc. PhDr. Tomáš Pospíšil, Dr.


I declare that I have worked on this thesis independently,
using only the primary and secondary sources listed in the bibliography.


Milena Pešková


I would like to thank my supervisor doc. PhDr. Tomáš Pospíšil, Dr. for his advice, encouragement and patience.

Table of Contents

Introduction 5

1. Technology: Our Second Self 9

1.1 New vs. Old Age of Media: What has changed? 10

1.2 Let’s Talk Technology 14

1.3 Technology in the Context of Canada 17

2.1 Introducing Atom Egoyan and his work 20

2.2 Egoyan’s Family Viewing: Sex, Lies and Videotape 23

2.3 Synopsis 24

2.4 Family Viewing: Let’s Have a Look … on the Viewer 26

2.5 Studying Media through the Lens of a Camera 32

3. Patricia Rozema: I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing 50

3.1 Patricia Rozema, a Feminist Filmmaker? 50

3.2 Rozema’s Singing Mermaids 53

3.3 Synopsis 55

3.4 Mediating the Immediate: Properties of Video and Film in Mermaids 57

3.5 From Singing Mermaids to Artistic Autonomy 72

4. Conclusion: Mediating the Self 79

Works Cited 89

English Résumé 95

České resumé 97


The aim of this thesis is to present, analyze and compare the ways in which two of the most well-known Canadian directors think of media and technology and how they project their visions onto the screen. Canada is an exclusive creative area and the identity of Canadians, or more precisely identities, is formed by many influences and tensions: for example by the vast landscape, harsh climate, sparse population, the presence of a powerful neighbour or multiculturalism. Technology is also claimed to be one of the most important forces in this process and its importance is manifested by many media thinkers of Canadian origin or by the themes of various cultural works of art or products, including movies.

Media and technology have become a prominent part of many areas of human life and the driving force of industrial, economical and cultural development. Their impact on everyday lives of each of us is, no doubt, immense. Its influence has been growing steadily since the beginning of the 20th century up till now: today it is a part of our everyday life, it is considered as something ordinary, usual, almost indigenous. But thirty or even twenty years ago the situation was different—people mostly did not know what to expect from radical changes brought about by the technological development and they had to cope with it. The need to respond to the changing situation within society got soon reflected in all spheres of human life, most visibly in science and arts. Artists not only started to use the new technologies in the process of creation of their works, but they also employed new media as thematic means in their works. With their roots in experimental kinds of art, these tendencies were slowly adopted by mainstream branches of art, including cinema whose voice is important for reflection of the society’s thinking and importantly also for forming and re-forming of this thinking.

For the purposes of my thesis I have chosen two well-known Canadian directors who touch upon the theme of technology in their movies: Atom Egoyan and Patricia Rozema. Each of these filmmakers made more films which address the theme of media and technology but there is not enough place to include them all. I have chosen to analyze one movie by each in which media have a prominent role: Family Viewing (1987) by Atom Egoyan and I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing (1987) by Patricia Rozema. I believe that close analyses of the two movies can provide a valuable contribution to the research of the connections between technology and the Canadian mind. Each of the directors operates in various genres and employs different means of expression and cinematic techniques, providing thus a great opportunity for examination of the different modes of representation describing the same or similar concepts. Therefore, the analyses and comparison of movies made by the two directors can reveal at least a part of the mosaic of the Canadian perspective on the issue of technology. With this aim in mind, the thesis is not trying to provide any general views. On the contrary, it seeks to show what questions related to technologies Canadian directors address, if any of them attempts to answer them in some way and what relevance their positions and perspective have in the context of the Canadian culture.

One of the main directorial voices speaking about technology will not be given place in this thesis—the one of David Cronenberg. Since his works have raised an exhaustive and occasionally harsh debates among cultural and film critics, media theoreticians and many others involved in film or media studies, there is an enormous quantity of literature covering his works and ideas and any other contribution devoted to him seems to be a mere drop in the ocean. Moreover, many critics do not consider Cronenberg to represent a Canadian voice sufficiently and prefer to see him rather as an international director.

The thesis is divided into four chapters. The first chapter covers the context of media and technologies and includes a brief sketch of their history, general introduction to the theories of new media and some questions and problems which various media theories deal with. The overview of these topics is by no means exhaustive and represents an attempt to familiarize the readers with the issues related to the questions raised by technologies in the modern world. The chapter concludes with several notes on the uniqueness of Canadian cultural context with regards to its forming influences, its relations and ties to technology, and it also touches upon the issue of importance of technology for the formation of Canadian identity.

Chapters two and three, respectively, analyze and compare the representation of media in the films of the two above mentioned directors: namely, in Egoyan’s Family Viewing (1987) and Rozema’s I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing (1987). Both chapters introduce the filmmakers and shortly describe their lives and directorial careers. Then, they proceed to introduce the movies and summarize their success and critical reception. After a brief synopsis, the analyses of the movies follow. They especially concentrate on the scenes which deal with issues related to media and address the relationship of technology to the self, to power and to time and space. Does technology unify or rather divide? How is it perceived by the characters involved, how do individual characters relate to them and what meaning does their use imply? These are the most important question I will try to answer.

The fourth chapter, which is the concluding part of the thesis, provide the necessary link between the two previous chapters. Not only that it compares the two films to each other, it also summarizes the various roles of media in both movies, setting them into a wider context of Canadian society and the theoretical discourse related to media. It concentrates on the search for common themes and ideas presented in the two films which reflect some of the media theories, especially those that have arisen from the Canadian context. Apart from similarities, it also addresses the differences in thematic focus, subthemes and foregrounding and backgrounding of various themes which are found in the two movies and relate to technology. Finally, it sets the two movies into the context of Canadian culture and thinking.

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