15 March 2015

Wilderness Urbanity--The Island and the City / Jennifer Swoboda

Fig. 1 Official promotional material from ABC

After LOST celebrated its 10-year anniversary in September 2014, it would seem that, judging from the many ways the show has already been approached, there is nothing more to be found in LOST (Sims). But if we want to take the skyscrapers in LOST’s promotional material above seriously, it is necessary to re-approach the groundbreaking series through the perspective of Urban Studies, a multidiscipline that focuses on the increasing significance of the modern city and its cultural effects (Paddison 3). Despite the city’s absence for the castaways of LOST, the city and its structures are nevertheless always present. Juxtaposing the island and the city, however, I want to argue that the two become interchangeable concepts inasmuch as the wild and the urban merge into what I want to call wilderness urbanity.
         The series has often been called a modern-day Robinsonade about a group of plane crash survivors (see Defoe). Stranded on an uninhabited tropical island, the survivors have to cope with the traumatic event of the crash and have to deal with a sudden new life cut off from society as well. In order to pursue their common goal – survival and rescue – the castaways decide to form a community. Providing for food and defending their camp against potential threats coming from the menacing jungle and the island’s other inhabitants, they organize themselves in a Lord of the Flies-like manner to master the situation (see Golding). The rules to which they comply as a group and the rules which they apply to the island in order to demystify it arise from their knowledge of civilization. Immediately after the plane crash the survivors realize that city life is lost to them; and just as immediately, the city becomes present in their minds, acting as the most important reference point for their efforts to rebuild civilization on the micro-scale of the island. As an echo of this immediate absence presence of the city, the castaways discover physical manifestations of urban culture in several abandoned bunkers (note 1). They even find a small residential estate, called the barracks, which was erected by those who came to the island before them (note 2).
Fig. 2 Map drawn by the character of Danielle Rousseau (S01/E09)
        If we as viewers are trying to make sense of the island in LOST, it makes sense to take a look at the city first. According to French theorists, such as Henri Lefebvre or Michel Foucault, the modern city can be defined as a highly regulated space, notably controlled by supervision. While Lefebvre observed a “need to control and administer the city along the lines of an ordered hierarchy since the beginning of industrialization (Butler 118); Foucault adopted Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon (see note 3), which also can easily be adapted to the urban metropolis. In the field of Urban Studies the city is conceptualized as a “bounded space that is densely settled and has a relatively large, culturally heterogeneous population” (Gottdiener 4). With its natural borders, we might think of the island of Manhattan as the paramount example of a bounded space. We are, however, talking about a limited space in which different kinds of people agglomerate and are regulated from above. In line with these considerations, Heise confirms that “urban space has been read from the top down by sociologists and planners,” a practice enabled and promoted by the city’s vertical architecture (Heise 6). The city’s dense and complex construction, based on the distinct groups it comprises, fosters experiences of social isolation and the critic and writer Thomas Heise has developed the concept of the “urban underworld” for this spatially bound phenomenon. The underworld is an isolated part of the urban city; a place where sin and crime shake hands, the “source of pervasive unease” (Heise 7).

Applying these theories to LOST, the remote island paradoxically serves as a perfect metaphor for the bounded urban space and its underworld. First, it is highly regulated because of research facilities deliberately scattered across the island. Among these, the Pearl station, for example, served the purpose of monitoring the other stations, or to be more precise, the people’s behavior was monitored as a psychological experiment. Second, by mapping the labyrinth-like wilderness of the jungle and taking possession of the land, the unknown space is redesigned as a bounded space. The island is successively occupied, segmented, and thus controlled through cartographic procedures. Third, by building research facilities and at the same time mapping the island, power is distributed unevenly among the inhabitants and the plane crash survivors.

Fig. 3 Aerial shot of Manhattan
         Therefore, varying degrees of access to technology and knowledge about the island quickly set up a hierarchical order. Fourth, as a consequence of the bounded space, the distinct groups of people, consisting of diverse individuals, agglomerate and collide. The density within the natural borders of the island further constructs it as space which is embattled by disparate communities. Fifth, separated from civilization as it is usually known, the castaways in LOST slowly, but surely become social outcasts that come to resemble the inhabitants of the urban underworld. The series’ protagonists, much like subjects of the urban underworld, are deviant characters (Heise 8). For instance, some of them have lost their fathers (Jack, Kate, Sawyer), are criminals (Kate and Sawyer), have been to a mental hospital (Hugo and Libby), or were diagnosed ill beyond recovery (Rose has cancer and Locke is in a wheelchair). All of these aspects can be regarded as deviating from the standard, which is why such an underworld status provides room for vigilantism and even savagery (Soja). 
           To conclude, LOST struck me with its insinuation that the simple presence of a few abandoned urbanites can turn an island into an urban space. Building upon their cultural knowledge, the stranded urban travelers reshape the supposedly vacant land and turn it into an exemplary urban space. Trumping the usual expectations, the city and the island are not conceptual opposites; instead they are thriving upon their mutual interconnectedness. The island in LOST, we might say, is the alter-ego of the city, an abiding shadow or imitation of American urbanity and its most stellar model, Manhattan.

1  The entrance to the first bunker station is discovered in "All the Best Cowboys Have Daddy Issues" (Season 1, Episode 11) and in “Lockdown” (Season 2, Episode 17) a secret map of different interconnected stations on the island is revealed.

2  The first episode of season three, “A Tale of Two Cities,” introduces the back story of the so-called ‘Others’ on the island and shows where they live.

3  The metaphor of the panopticon is described as an “enclosed, segmented space, observed at every point, in which the individuals are inserted in a fixed place, in which the slightest movements are supervised, […] in which power is exercised without division, according to a continuous hierarchical figure” (Foucault 197).

List of Figures:
Fig. 1. LOST Logo. Digital image. Geeks of Doom. Dussault, Jason. 3 Oct. 2014. Web. 27 Feb. 2015. 
Fig. 2. Rousseau's Map. Digital image. Lostpedia - Rousseau's Map and Notes. Wikia, Inc. 7 Mar. 2009. Web. 19 Dec. 2014. 

Fig. 3. NYC Aerial. Digital image. Brad's Two CentsBrad Darling. 11 May 2014. Web. 19 Dec. 2014. 

Works Cited:
Defoe, Daniel. Robinson Crusoe. 1719. New York: Modern Library, 2001. Print.
Butler, Chris. Henri Lefebvre: Spatial Politics, Everyday Life and the Right to the City. New York: Routledge, 2012. Print.
Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. 1975. 2nd ed. New York: Vintage, 1995. Print.
Golding, William. Lord of the Flies. 1954. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House, 1996. Print.
Gottdiener, Mark, and Leslie Budd. Key Concepts in Urban Studies. London: Sage, 2005. Print.
Heise, Thomas. Urban Underworlds: A Geography of Twentieth-Century American Literature and Culture. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 2011. Print.
Paddison, Ronan. "Studying Cities." Handbook of Urban Studies. Ed. Ronan Paddison. London: Sage, 2001.
Sims, David. "It Was All A Dream: Remembering the Best ‘Lost’ Theories Ten Years Later." The Wire. 19 Sept. 2014. Web. 21 Feb. 2015.
Soja, Edward. Six Discourses on the Postmetropolis.” The Blackwell City Reader. Ed. Gary Bridge and Sophie Watson. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. Web. 30 May 2014.

Supernatural’s Winchesters / Simone Theilmann

In the long-running network show Supernatural (2005-), brothers Sam and Dean Winchester hunt demons and other supernatural creatures while road-tripping across the USA in their beloved ‘67 Chevy Impala. In the show, urban catastrophe is absent yet present: while Supernatural deals with themes connected to urbanity, these are transferred to the setting of rural as well as small-town America. So the almost classical fear of a fatal virus epidemic is here portrayed in the shape of a demonic virus hitting a small town. Similarly, a global apocalypse is averted in the location of a former battlefield on the rural outskirts of Lawrence, Kansas.
This transferral is significant, since it apparently allows for the naturalization, standardization and the reaffirmation of whiteness as an identificatory marker of national significance. In Supernatural whiteness rules and this does not seem too unusual or grafted since statistics tell us that the Midwest and the South of the US, most commonly associated with rural areas and small towns, is the home of the largest percent of America’s white population (Hixon). In his book Affirmative Reaction, Hamilton Carroll addresses the so-called “white male injury” – an appeal to injury or plight in the face of shifting economic and sociocultural landscapes in contemporary USA that is a common feature among white men. At a time when the most important perceived threats to mankind in the US lie no longer without its borders, new threats are sought within the borders of one’s own nation. Carroll sees this in the reactive strategies employed by white US-American males facing “transformations in labor opportunity” that are being felt as “transformations in social opportunity,” to their disadvantage (Carroll 2). Supernatural’s protagonists are white, Christian, US-American males. But unlike the more traditional hero-vigilante-figures who guard big cities and who are privileged in social standing, the Winchesters come from America’s heartland: they are blue-collar Kansas boys, socially situated outside of mainstream society and yet emotionally situated firmly within the folds of a white American masculinity.
Discussing the small town as a complex ideological form, Ryan Poll argues that it currently resurfaces in reaction to both, modernity and the globalizing U.S. empire, providing a new focus for yearnings for a geographic, cultural, and symbolic center of the nation (Poll 5-22). It is where the “nation’s authentic subjects can be found” (Poll 15). Yet any nostalgia that might be evoked by the Winchester brothers’ road-trip is obstructed by the visual representation of the country. According to series creator Eric Kripke it is “decrepit Americana,” where the “1950’s optimism has gone to seed … the look of this country but … ominous” (Williams).
The Winchesters’ Impala at a Midwestern gas station. Season 1 Pilot Episode
The world the brothers inhabit is one of seedy motels, grubby diners, abandoned buildings and empty stretches of land and the people they interact with are outsiders themselves or working- to lower-middle-class people. Studies of white masculinity speak of a “decline in traditional ‘masculine’ jobs [that] has led to a rise in insecurity in the American male psyche” (Carroll 4) The two young heroes of Supernatural, however, inhabit a world of traditional masculinity that doesn’t care for “chick-flick moments,” as Dean so eloquently puts it. According to Carroll the (“phantasmagoric”) “phenomenon” of white male injury, the claims of a crisis of masculinity in a changing cultural and economic climate, brings forth reactive strategies with which white masculinity aims to reclaim authority and privilege (2). Some of these can also be found in Supernatural. “As the normative ground of white masculinity erodes […] [it] turns to a reactive strategy under which it redefines the normative by citing itself as a marginal identity” (Carroll 6). In general, in the representations of whites, being white often functions as the human norm. This position of constructed neutrality can be gained because whites are usually not marked through race but are rather represented as gendered, sexed, classed etc. instead, thereby underscoring the claim that whites are “just the human race” (Dyer 3). In the shifting cultural climate, white masculinity then reacts by placing “itself in other identity locations (white trash, queer, blue-collar, Irish) in order to disavow that it is normative” (Carroll 7). The Winchesters are clearly classified as socially marginalized: forced by their profession to live apart from mainstream society, Sam and Dean support themselves through credit card scams and hustling and presumably the occasional odd job, since Dean is good at fixing cars. Through Kansas heritage, military training and their affinity to guns the boys serve as reminders of the age-old tradition of the Daniel-Boone-style backwoodsman (cf. “Daniel Boone as an Icon”), thus avoiding classification as ‘white trash’. They are smart, selfless and hard-working; they exhibit the core traits allowing hero-identification. There is the issue of class, however. Concerning class, Carroll observes: “As white becomes white trash it loses the stigma of privilege it previously held” (21). This is also the case with the Winchester brothers: As hunters they belong to an even lower class than that of white trash. As part of a scattered group of mostly socially reclusive individuals who spend their lives hunting down creatures whose existence is unknown to the general public, they are situated at the very edges of society. Through their association with the lower classes and their outsider position the “stigma” of whiteness might be said to be thereby lost as it diverts attention away from any attribution of race- and gender-based privilege (Carroll 21). However, the brothers’ marginal societal status only apparently denies (white male) privilege. From this position, according to Carroll, the same privilege can be easily recouped, by “citing itself as the most needy and the most worthy recipient of what it denies it already has” (6, 10). Aiming at broad audience identification, this showcases what Carroll calls “the celebratory attention given to blue-collar, working-class, and white trash masculinities” (20) in contemporary US culture.
Supernatural’s small town setting – its treatment of the small town as the nutshell version and the ideological center of the nation – is consistently involved in a visual aesthetics of erosion, disrepair and depletion which allows viewers from various parts of the country to identify with the landscapes and the cityscapes of Supernatural even as they perceive that something is awry within the United States of America. The very classification that disavows privilege in Supernatural’s white male heroes ensures broad audience identification and reestablishes the ordinariness, the “just … human” as well as the authentic quality of unraced whiteness, thereby helping to redefine and reassert white masculinity’s normative status, albeit with a small difference of removing it to its last resort – rural and small town America.

Works Cited
Daniel Boone as an Icon.” American Eras. 1997. Encyclopedia.com. Web. 24 Jan. 2015. 
Carroll, Hamilton. Affirmative ReactionNew Formations of White Masculinity. Durham: Duke UP, 2011. Print.
Dyer, Richard. White. London: Routledge, 1997. Print.
Hixon, Lindsay, Bradford B. Hepler, and Myoung Ouk Kim. The White Population: 2010. United States Census Bureau, September 2011. Web. 22 Sept. 2014.
Ireland, Brian. “‘All I Saw was Evil’: Supernatural’s Reactionary Road Trip.” American Studies Today Online. 5 Dec. 2013. Web. 6 June 2014.
Poll, Ryan. Main Street and Empire: The Fictional Small Town in the Age of Globalization. Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers UP, 2012. Print.
Williams, James A. “American Ghost Towns and the Anti-Apocalyptic Road Trip of Supernatural.” PopMatters. 20 Sept. 2010. Web. 6 June 2014.
Wright, Julia M. “Latchkey Hero: Masculinity, Class and the Gothic in Eric Kripke’s Supernatural.” Genders 47 (2008). Web. 8 June 2014.

14 March 2015

Castle and the Postmetropolitan City / Anne Lenhart

In the U.S. American crime series Castle, the city constitutes a recurring and outstanding feature in every episode. Portrayed as a booming city, the urban environment of New York calls up rather quickly primary sites of the crime genre, while simultaneously revealing insight into key concepts of Urban Studies. The episode “Deep in Death” exemplarily displays Castle’s investment in the different faces of the city, its profound faith in the stark contrasts that seem to exist between them. Focusing on the specification of the classical crime genre Castle carries out as well as on Edward Soja’s concept of the Postmetropolis, Thomas Heise’s ideas on the so-called “urban underworld” (Heise 9) and aspects drawn from the realm of Urban Studies (such as territorialization processes and globalization), this analysis will bring out that there are, in fact, not only different faces of New York portrayed in the episode, but that they are also subjected to distinct grading, legitimizing the series’ protagonist’s change of costume in order to assume another identity and support the story line on a narrative level. But first, Castle’s affiliation to the crime genre will be explored and elaborated on.
Like many other crime series, Castle is enshrined in the tradition of the crime genre and follows the specific conventions of the classical detective story, in which the urban environment of the modern city functions as premise for the story (Di Loreto 147). Being apparent as a milieu of the mysteries of the urban area since Poe’s Dupin and Doyle’s Sherlock, the city turns into a symbol of urban atmosphere or “city mystery” (Cawelti 43) which functions as the basic formulaic resource in the detective story genre. However, Castle is not a perfect classical detective story. In fact, the classical detective story undergoes specification, becoming something that John G. Cawelti calls “the hard-boiled detective story”, an American formula of the detective story attributing essential value to the modern city as background of the storyline (Cawelti 139). In this subgenre of the classical detective story, the setting of a modern city like Castle’s New York assumes greater significance in being portrayed as a place in which “a gleaming and deceptive façade hides a world of exploitation and criminality” (G. K. Chesterton, cited in di Loreto 147) that is marked by violence, corruption, death and organized crime. This type of urban world, the “swinging, sprawling, rapidly changing disorganized but glamorous city” (Chesterton, cited in Di Loreto 154) is exactly the one presented in Castle.
But Castle even takes a step further and reframes the hard-boiled detective story through the lens of Edward Soja’s Postmetropolis, an ambitious term that could be summarized as the “postmodern metropolis”. With it, Soja aims to define the globalized city he supposes to be involved in a radical transition process due to socioeconomic phenomena such as economic restructurings of the city and its globalization as well as simultaneous de-territorialization and re-territorialization processes. 
Exposition of the scene in "Deep in Death": With the help of four shots in total, Castle depicts the globalized city of New York in showcasing heavy traffic, the NY skyline and Manhattan’s financial district marked by the Chrysler Building.
These essential characteristics of the Postmetropolis are exactly the ones enshrined in Castle’s New York. In depicting New York as a globalized city, Castle recalls the radical transition process from the late modern city to a capitalist economic restructured space that leads “to new postmodern forms and patternings of urban life” (Soja 37). The introductory scene of “Deep in Death” exemplarily establishes New York as such a postmetropolitan urban region: Showcasing four shots of Manhattan’s Chrysler Building and the surrounding financial district within only seconds of the episodes beginning, Castle insists on New York’s cosmopolitan quality privileging globalization, labor and capital markers of a global city. Now, being an urban place that is a command and control center of the global economy that was once restructured due to world capitalism (Sassen, cited in Gottdiener and Budd 39), Castle’s global city blends in perfectly with Soja’s Postmetropolis
It is exactly this attribution of a privileged status of Chinatown that is a contributory factor to Thomas Heise’s concept of the “urban underworld” (Heise 9), rendering Chinatown as an exotic, ‘other’ urban environment where social norms and rules are eventually re-evaluated and graded differently. Referring to the increasing social polarization and the dualism of capital and labor within the city, the term “urban underworld” describes “poor, queer, ethnic and racial communities in rundown sectors of cities”, forming a “real territorial culture in the crumbling urban architecture of ethnic slums and racialized ghettos” (Heise 7). Apparently, Castle’s already mentioned visual multicultural and exotic depiction of the district of Chinatown can be placed within the concept of the urban (or ethnic) underworld as well. It is the complete contrast to the “vertical architecture of corporate capitalism” (Heise 2) of the financial district that Chinatown faces and hence constitutes the geographical polarization of the city of New York into capital and labor, wealth and poverty. 
Rendering Chinatown as an urban area of re-territorialization with the help of cultural artefacts such as Chinese characters and lanterns.
Thus Castle’s New York is clearly subjected to capitalist uneven development, facing the dualism of capital and labor, portrayed on the one hand by an urban (ethnic) underclass inhabiting the urban (ethnic) underworld and on the other, by the capitalist environment of the financial district with its unmarked white spaces.
At this point, the protagonists’ movements throughout these ambivalent and opposite urban areas of the city come into play again. Interestingly, the polarization of the two major urban areas in which the story takes place allow a re-evaluation and different grading of social rules and norms, being illustrated by Beckett changing her looks from a smart, respectable and masculine-looking detective to a miniskirt-wearing, sexy Russian femme fatale. This exemplarily change of costume and identity could not have taken place in the first version of New York (the financial district) for it is only the ‘other’, the urban underworld (Heise 9) of Chinatown, New York’s second face, that legitimizes this transition.

   Eventually, it is not just Castle’s specification of the crime genre in using the “city mystery” (Cawelti 43) as a basic formulaic resource and the modern city of New York as background for the episode’s story line, but the reframing of the urban environment through Soja’s Postmetropolis that turns Castle’s New York into a globalized city that is marked by socioeconomic restructurings and cultural territorialization processes. In this way, the urban underworld of Chinatown, the outcome of unequal geographical development (Heise 9) surfaces as opposed to the capitalist center portrayed by the financial district and legitimizes (on the narrative rather than the visual level) the character development and re-assessment of Kate Beckett due to the re-evaluation of Chinatown's norms and values.

Works Cited
Cawelti, John G. Adventure, Mystery, and Romance: Formula Stories as Art and Popular Culture. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1976. Print.
“Deep in Death.” Castle: The Complete Second Season. Writ. Andrew W. Marlowe. Dir. Rob Bowman. ABC Studios, 2011. DVD.
Di Loreto, Sonia. “Cooking up Mystery: Contemporary Mystery Novels and American Cities.” Urban Cultures of/in the United States: Interdisciplinary Perspectives. Ed. Andrea Carosso. Bern: Peter Lang, 2010. 147–160. Print.
Gottdiener, Mark, and Leslie Budd. Key Concepts in Urban Studies. London: Sage, 2008. Print.
Heise, Thomas. Urban Underworlds: A Geography of Twentieth-Century American Literature and Culture. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 2011. Print.
Soja, Edward W. Postmetropolis: Critical Studies of Cities and Regions. Oxford: Blackwell, 2000. Print.