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 fa├žade 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. 

No comments:

Post a Comment