A Race to Deceive
A Symptomatic reading of John Fusco and Joe Johnston’s Hidalgo (Touchstone Pictures 2004)
Ideology is the system of ideas and representations which dominate the mind of a man or a social group - Louis Althusser
The essay ‘Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses’ by Althusser makes a theoretical statement about the function of ideology in life and the way ideology gets produced and evolved through what are called state apparatuses. In Althusser’s essay, we see a clear demarcation between two kinds of state apparatuses. The former constitute administrative, political, crudely repressive, and the latter refer to the forms of the superstructure.
Ideology according to Althusser, is not just a static set of ideas through which we view the world, but a dynamic social practice, constantly in process, constantly reproducing itself in the ordinary workings of these apparatuses.
In Marxist terms, popular culture is one of the ideological forms of the superstructure. So to understand any text, it must first be situated in its historical moment of production and analysed in terms of the historical conditions which produced it. Every text, according to Althusser, is bound by its ideological paradigms and thus takes up only those issues that it can address. It chooses to remain silent on those issues that threaten to take it beyond these boundaries. This formulation leads Althusser to the concept of the ‘problematic’. The problematic of a text relates to its moment of historical existence as much by what it excludes as by what it includes. It encourages a text to answer questions posed by itself, but at the same time, it generates the production of ‘deformed’ answers to the questions it attempts to exclude. The task of Althusserian critical practice is to deconstruct the problematic: to perform what he calls, a symptomatic reading.
A symptomatic reading involves reading not only the manifest text, but also the silences, lapses, distortions and absences. A symptomatic reading insists on treating the text as a locus where the narrator’s consciousness confronts the facts external to it at a particular time and place. Pierre Machery writes:
The silence of a text is not a lack to be remedied, an inadequacy to be made up for. It’s not a temporary silence that could finally be abolished. We must distinguish the necessity of this silence. For example, it can be shown that it is the juxtaposition and conflict of several meanings which produces the radical otherness which shapes the work. This conflict is not resolved or absorbed, but simply displayed.
The task of a symptomatic reading therefore, is to make explicit what most often remains implicit in cultural texts and practices.
What ideological condition then, does film writer/producer John Fusco chose to be spokesperson of through his 2004 film Hidalgo?
Hidalgo is set in 1980 and based on the life of Frank Hopkins and his mustang Hidalgo. After winning every long race in North America, Frank Hopkins (played by Viggo Mortenson), is challenged by Sheikh Riyadh (Omar Sharif) to compete in a 3000 mile race, called “The Ocean of Fire” across the Arabian Desert. Considering most men die taking part in this event “held annually for more than a 1000 years”, it would seem foolhardy. But our hero, part Sioux Indian, emblematic of the “spirit of America”, overcomes not only the sandstorms, quicksand and locust swarms, but also pulls a miraculous victory defeating all his Arabic opponents who try to stop an “infidel” and his “impure horse” from finishing a race before the finest breeds in the Middle East.
The truth behind the existence of such a race still remains debatable. Authorities and academicians have argued that such a race never existed. Dr. Mohammed Talal Al-Rashid, a scholar in Arabic and English literature and history, laughs at the very notion of Hopkins’ race, “The idea of...
Bibliography: John Storey, Cultural Theory and Popular Theory: An Introduction; UK, Pearson Education Limited, 1993
Louis Althusser, ‘Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses’, in Anand Prakash (ed), Approaches in Literary Theory: Marxism, (Delhi: Worldview, 2002)
Pierre Machery, ‘For a Theory of Literary Production’, in Julie Rivkin, Michael Ryan (ed), Literary Theory: An Anthology (Second edition), (USA: Blackwell Publishers, 1998)
IMDb: Hidalgo (2004), http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0317648/
Basha O’Reilly, ‘Hidalgo – From Myth to Movie’, www.thelongridersguild.com/myth.pdf
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