Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Rebel Sell and Josie

Through culture jamming techniques, advocates for change, may have a chance in promoting maybe not a revolutionized society, but one that helps to control the media intake. Jamming the ideas, and going counter culture takes a lot of effort, can be mistaken quite easily and in fact supports the capitalist culture. Elfont and Kaplan’s film which came out in 2001, Josie and the Pussycats, is a satirical commentary on the popular culture industry including music, film and television to achieve a common goal of major companies. As Heath and Potter explore in “The Rebel Sell” rejecting the capital society is not the same as rejecting the consumer culture. I believe that Josie and the Pussycats’ critique of society successfully satirizes the consumers through a method coined by Bolter and Grusin in Remediation: Understanding New Media, hypermediacy. It is not used in its common practice of a “style of visual representation whose goal is to remind the viewer of the medium” (Bolter and Grusin 272) but rather to remind the audience of the exaggerated emphasis of the consumer practices in today’s society. Using the theory of capitalism discussed by Heath and Potter from “The Rebel Sell”, Josie and the Pussycats will be justified as a critique of mass society through the examination of the four elements, “capitalism requires conformity in the workers […], conformity of education […], sexual repression [and] conformity of consumption” (Heath & Potter: 2002). To some it may just be a movie about a silly comic, but even then, what is that saying about our society?
In order for a capitalist society to function, according to “The Rebel Sell” it requires “conformity in the workers” (Health & Potter: 2002). Working through the ideas of functionalism, basically each person is a needed part of the whole, to help ensure that society functions properly. Each and every part of a culture has a purpose and a role in continuing and the advancement of a culture. In the film Josie and the Pussycats, this key theory is expanded as Wyatt, a big time major record label manager is forced to fire the band Du Jour after they stop working for the societal machine and start hindering the success of the consumer market. The machine that is seen in the film is a giant plot of subliminal advertising through “popular” music to sell whatever the funding companies want. When the members of the fictional band Du Jour find this message, they want answers, leading to the malfunctioning of their part in the machine. Without this band, the subliminal advertisements cannot be sent, and the companies are now losing money, and consumers are not purchasing. Another element to this aspect of capitalism is that “[t]hese parts need to be as simple, predictable, and interchangeable as possible” (Heath & Potter: 2002). After Du Jour is taken care of, Wyatt is in need of a new band. With simple calculation, he is able to take the predictable struggling band and use their want to become famous to replace the fallen Du Jour. The scene takes place in a public place where the corrupt manager talks to the women of the band “The Pussycats” saying that their dreams will come true, signing them immediately with no more than a short questioning period of the speed of the signing. This clearly depicts how the directors of Josie and the Pussycats are in fact using the model of capitalism to poke holes throughout it. Wyatt, one of the main players in the consumer market, easily replaces the workers, in this case a band, using the simple and predictable mentality of the individuals of the culture he has helped to create. At another point in the satirical film, the other two members of “Josie and the Pussycats” are being attacked as Wyatt’s boss; Fiona wants to prevent questions being asked. The film takes MTV and uses Total Request Live, or TRL as one of these conformity elements to help the plan go round. Carson Daily, who acts as himself, the host of TRL states to one of the Pussycats “If I wasn't a key player in this whole conspiracy to brainwash the youth of America with rock music, we could totally date” (Elfont & Kaplan: 2001). The film is blatantly mocking the consumer industry to help raise well needed awareness around the use of media and consumption in today’s society.
“The Rebel Sell” by Heath and Potter, explores another part of the theory of capitalism stating that “capitalism requires conformity of education”. Josie and the Pussycats once again touches on this in its quest to parody the consumer industry. While Fiona, the mastermind running the subliminal advertisement plot, she teachers the political and media heads from around the world of the parts of the their plan. The scene flashes to a room full of teenagers who by a societal norm stand out as clearly delinquent who thinking they are listening to a new song. One of the girls had been seen before in a previous scene where Wyatt is playing Du Jour’s last song, and the rebel teen admits that she plugs her ears when music like that comes on. He then tells her he wants to talk with her and hear what she has to say about the music industry, only having her to be kidnapped and brought to the brainwashing den we see her currently. Fiona explains how the teenagers believe they are listening to the newest songs, when really they are listening to Mr. Moviefone stating the latest trends and values the system wants you to think. They are walking, talking “drones[,] where their independence and creativity is beaten out of them” (Heath & Potter: 2002). This is their new education. Each and every person is receiving the similar brainwashing schooling, as the next person. Unless you are hidden away, taking no part in your culture, which as stated above, is fairly impossible, you are being affected by the learning. There is no longer individuality only the impression of choice. Mr. Moviefone can be heard dictating sayings surrounding fashion such as pink being the new orange or Reeboks are the new Pumas. It may feel as though you are choosing, but Josie and the Pussycats is shedding light on the fact that there is no choice, or there is but the options are being chosen for us. For the consumer industry in the film, Elfont and Kaplan use the music as the way of educating. No one is immune to the brainwashing. Education being a tool in social integration typically teaches about norms and values of a society, but when the society is overwhelmed by the capitalist mentality, it is in fact doing its job. Another example can be found in the approach the girls of “The Pussycats” take while they are literally being groomed when they arrive in New York. All three band members, Josie, Melody and Valerie are put through a fashion update receiving new clothes, new makeup, new hair resulting in a new attitude. When they arrive at the studio all put together as Wyatt feels is appropriate, they are trained to trust Wyatt and his doings with the “Mega Sound 2000” which is the cause of the subliminal messages. Through education, whether found in school or not, the population is being taught how to accept and respond to the consumer industry. This is clearly depicted as a problem needed to overcome in the critique of the consumer society found in the 2001 release Josie and the Pussycats.
There has always been a notion of sexual repression throughout history. This oppression helps to further capitalism. While trying to “stamp out individuality, capitalism denies the full range of human expression, which includes sexual freedom” (Heath & Potter: 2002). Although Josie and the Pussycats has a female as the leader of the scheme, there is still repression of both sexualities. First off, women are dominated throughout the film and made to be sex object through the eyes of Wyatt. They are made by the male dominated capitalist industry as tool of selling what they want. Using female sexuality is a strong way of repressing the openness and flexibility of normal sexual expression. By controlling their sexuality, through means such as preventing dates for Josie and her love interest, Wyatt was able to control female urges. Fiona, the head of the corporation, takes sexuality to a new level. Female sexuality is crushed as she clearly creates a competition among the girls from who is the prettiest and who weighs the least. This is one of the worst forms of oppression as now a female with power is subjecting the women of the film to the ideas created by the hegemonic males leading the industry. To further domination of males through the film the only characters that are portrayed are less than smart are two females. First of, Melody is the epitome of the stereotype of a dumb blond. She is unmistakably the dumbest member of the group as she misinterprets key elements of society and finds joy in simpler things than the rest of the cast. On the other hand, a friend of the band, Alexandra Cabot is continuously providing a stupid feel to the text of the movie. At one point leaving the fly on her pants down, allowing for others to make fun of her. Also she seems to lack an actual role in the film as her character is never clearly defined or needed to enhance the plot. Men in contrast, normally are not sexually oppressed find themselves dominated by women. Wyatt is led by Fiona who dictates his every move. She also suppresses the power of the male politician by mocking his every move as she explains the brainwashing scheme. Neither males nor females are allowed to express themselves freely, as they wish throughout the entire movie. Josie and the Pussycats, does not necessarily focus on the actual sexual repression, but does take not of the issues of dominance in the industry. The comment on this in a reverse fashion, but do critique both aspects of the oppression to help display the satire of consumer and capitalist societies.
The fourth and finale element that Heath and Potter discuss in “The Rebel Sell” is how “capitalism requires conformity of consumption”(2002) in order to function as a whole. This is a main focus of Josie and the Pussycats as the brainwashing scheme is put in place as Eugene Levy explains in his cameo appearance as the “government has been planting small subliminal advertising suggestions in today's rock music [which] now get these kids to buy just about anything [and] have them chasing a new trend every week”. Although Frank argues in “Why Johnny Can’t Dissent” that “[c]onsumerism is no longer about "conformity" but about "difference"” (1997) he is still in turn stating the same idea. While new trends are being created every day, the fact that people are taking part in “trends” shows how patterns and predictability, ultimately conformity, not to the trend itself, but to the act of buying is still a dominant factor. During the entire length of Josie and the Pussycats there are a number of product placements deliberately put to accentuate the mediacy describe by Bolter and Grusin. We as members of a thriving capitalistic society are continually and transparently being exposed to advertisements of all kinds, maybe even subliminal suggestions. Heath and Potter (2002) state the role of ads “to inculcate false or inauthentic desires” which enable conglomerates to sell what they want people to buy. Aiding in the brilliance of the critique of mass society presented by Josie and the Pussycats not one of the companies who’s logos or products are found in the movie were paid product placements. Whether the companies see this as a positive free ad, we have to see this as a personal attack on those companies depicting them as the worst offenders. All of the hidden messages that Mr. Moviefone announces in the music throughout the movie gives the opportunity for the companies to control the conformity, not only take advantage of it. Each suggestion that is planted in the consumers mind so the companies do not have to anticipate the changes in the mindset of their market. This also leads into the fact that their market is no longer limited to certain targeted groups; their products are wanted by all. In fact, Josie states that they are selling their music through their own music. This may seem very far fetched in real life, however once again, the film is clearly reflective of our current society as synergy becomes a central tool is marketing products using remediation. Each product helps to sell the other. Between Heath and Potter, and Frank, capitalism requires conformity in any sense. The obedience of the market only helps the supremacy of the capitalistic society and the consumerism within.
At first glance, Josie and the Pussycats seems like an innocent remake of an older cartoon. With preposterous plot ideas, and girls in cat ears, no one would think this film would have such an impact. By looking at Heath and Potter’s “The Rebel Sell” and the parts of the capitalist theory, we can see how the film is a successful parody of life in a consumer society. From the capitalist requirements of conformity of workers, education, sexual repression and consumption patterns, Josie and the Pussycats looks as though it is going so far over the top that we accept the inclusion of a boy band that gets attacked by Metallica. However, once we analysis its core, we see that the reason why the film is so insightful is that their ideas of brainwashing and subliminal advertisements are not that far off from the real world. Luckily the purposeful product placement help to hypermediate the setting, reminding the audience that this is in fact mocking and ironically criticizing the entire industry in which it is releasing itself too.
Ironically as in the movie, Fiona sells cat toys to go along with the theme of the band, and as the audience knows we are being sold the items because they want us to buy them, people are still open to purchasing the “collectors items” from the film. They too are emerging themselves in the culture, but really can you blame them? They are right to say that this is how our society runs, we know that, and so do they. The film itself has at least tried to make a difference by making the audience more aware of what the industry is comprised of, only to turn it against their fans, who is reality are asking for it. .

Bolter, Jay David and Richard Grusin. Remediation: Understanding New Media.
Cambridge, MA.; MIT Press, 1999.
Frank, Thomas. “Why Johnny Can’t Dissent.” Michigan State University. 1997. March 6
Heath, Joseph and Andrew Potter. “The Rebel Sell.” This Magazine. 2002. Red Maple
Foundation. March 5 2008.

Josie and the Pussycats. Dir. Elfont, Harry and Deborah Kaplan. DVD. Metro-Goldwyn
Mayer (MGM). 11 April 2001.

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