Monday 7 July 2014

Claude Levi-Strauss - Binary Opposites

Claude Levi-Strauss is a French anthropologist who was born in Belgium in November 1908 and is well-known for his development of structural anthropology. He was the son of a Belgium artist and a member of an intellectual French Jewish family. He studied law and philosophy at the University of Paris however he didn't pursue his study of law, but aggregated in philosophy in 1931. Later in 1935, after a few years of secondary-school teaching, he took up a last-minute offer to be part of a French cultural mission to Brazil in which he would serve as a visiting professor of sociology at the University of São Paulo while his wife, Dina, served as a visiting professor of ethnology.
What Lévi-Strauss believed he had discovered when he examined the relations between my themes was that a myth consists of juxtaposed binary oppositions. Influenced by Hegel, Lévi-Strauss believed that the human mind thinks fundamentally in these binary oppositions and their unification and that these are what make meaning possible. Furthermore, he considered the job of myth to be a sleight of hand, an association of an irreconcilable binary opposition with a reconcilable binary opposition, creating the illusion, or belief, that the former had been resolved. He came about this theory after analysing his own family as a self-contained unit consisting of a husband, a wife, and their children. Nephews, cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents all were treated as secondary. He believed that families acquire determinate identities only through relations with one another which he concluded to be true after analysing his family in detail. Thus he inverted the classical view of anthropology, putting the secondary family members first and insisting on analysing the relations between units instead of the units themselves. He looked at marriages like tribes and noted that the relationship between the uncle and the nephew (Old and young) was to the relationship of the brother and the sister as the relationship to the father and the son is to the husband and the wife. To simplify this and to allow this theory to be used outside the family unit he simplified the theory into letters- A is to be as C is to D. Levi-Strauss wanted to simplify the masses of the data he collected into comprehensible and understandable relations between units. This analytically study allowed him to produce his binary opposite’s theory.

Levi-Strauss supported the idea that a structure of narrative in films, TV and story plots are dependent on binary opposites. This includes a usual conflict between two qualities or terms, for example the difference between young and old, male and female, rich and poor. This creates the idea that binary opposites isn’t only linked to character identity, such as good vs evil, but can be linked to their class or social status also. Furthermore, binary opposites are linked to stereotypes, such as a man being labelled as strong, aggressive and independent whereas a woman is portrayed as weak, emotional and sensitive, emphasising the binary opposites of characters. These sets of opposite values often link to the revealing of structure in narrative, as stereotypically, if a narrative involved good vs evil it is likely that the character labelled good will succeed to events.
Binary opposition can also be linked to setting, for example if a house of a character is large and grand we are given the impression that they are rich and are a part of a higher social class, especially in comparison to another setting which could be based in a dingy flat with low saturated lighting to connote poverty.

Binary Opposites

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Soap Opera examples of Binary Opposites

Carmel and Mercedes (Hollyoaks)
Hollyoaks: Carmel and Mercedes: There are binary opposites involved within family units, portrayed by the characters of Carmel and Mercedes McQueen. Both daughters to Moira, Carmel connotes beauty, with her blonde hair, slim, tall figure and always wearing the colour white, whereas Mercedes connotes deviousness, wearing dark colours, usually reds and blacks, with dark hair and features. Carmel was viewed as the sister that always tried to do well, although she has not been fortunate yet with 2 out of 3 of her husbands being murdered. She had the careers of a police woman, before her first husband was murdered, then becoming a nun. This is different to Mercedes, who has never been seen to work a day in her life, being labelled the “money grabber” after marrying a doctor and a footballer, both being murdered, one by her for their money. This contrast within a family unit represents Strauss’ theory of binary opposites as, something that is supposed to connote similarity, is changed in to a difference. This is the same for the other sisters also, with the family being split in two; Mercedes, Jacqui and Michaela being the dark featured, cunning ones, although Jacqui was viewed almost as a matriarch after adopting Phoebe off of the streets and leaving the programme to save her family that was being threatened. On the other side of the family there is Carmel and Theresa, who are both pretty and blonde, however fit in to the stereotypical category of “bimbo”. Although they are similar in looks, like Jacqui and Mercedes, Theresa is labelled as spiteful, murdering people out of jealousy and selfishness (such as Carmel's first husband, Calvin). The binary opposites of Carmel and Mercedes almost links to that of good vs. evil, as Carmel is viewed as a victim of murder (both Calvin and Jim being murdered) whereas, although Mercedes past 2 husbands have also been murdered, she is the murderer of one.
 Tina and Carla (Coronation Street)
Coronation Street: Tina and Carla: Two unusually beautiful women as many could see. Two very similar looks presented by the colour of their hair or the transparency of their subtle make-up. Two, unusually strange, undying loves for the same man. This was the cause of such juxtaposition. Carla is the older of the two, but unfortunately, not the most mature. When she goes through such a hard time being suspicious that her husband is sleeping with another woman, she turns to drink and shows her dark side by involving herself in dark discussions of other people resulting in people revolving their hate around Carla. Controversially, Tina is the one that stays classy and centred when she is troubled that Carla will find out about her involvement in the affair. She simply keeps her youth, graciously stays quiet and “in the dark” about the whole situation, cleverly taking her out of suspicion that she could be the “other woman”

Bobby Ewing and J.R Ewing (Dallas)
Dallas: Bobby Ewing and J.R Ewing: The two are seen as inseparable brothers in Dallas; always sticking by each other’s side and never letting the other down. However, you could easily split the two apart if it was down to the media binary opposites of good vs evil, portrayed by the brothers. There has always been a highly competitive nature between the Dallas duo; J.R never seemed to aspire to be like his brother, but construct his own way to destroy what he had in order to bring them two back to the equilibrium. But Bobby was “the nice guy” with charming smiles, sustainable success and filled with good will. This was the thing that separated the two the most; the obvious outnumbering of good and evil. This shows a stereotypical outlook on the couple of Bobby and J.R as the contrast of good vs evil is portrayed through an unconventional detail of the family unit that is supposed to connote unison and strong relationships.

The Dingles and The Macey's (Emmerdale)
Emmerdale: The Dingles and the Macey's: The binary opposition portrayed in Emmerdale focuses on the split between social classes, linking wealth as well as job status in to the equation of binary opposites. The most well-known family in Emmerdale is the Dingles, who have been a part of the Soap for several years. The Dingles are often portrayed as lower class, always having money struggles and dealing with family feuds that occur on a regular basis, which is the binary opposite of the Macey family, who is linked to the Dingles through the marriage to Charity Dingle, named a Dingle after her recent marriage to Cain. 
His wealth and the location of his house contrasts with the characters of the Dingles who don’t fit in, although the representation of Charity combines both the wealth of the Macey family and the cunning manipulative personality of a vast majority of the Dingles, excluding the matriarch, Lisa, and her husband, Zak. This difference in social class creates the division through binary opposites, almost connoting logical verisimilitude as it is a binary opposite found in everyday life, rather than the stereotypical good vs. evil, usually a major function in narrative in superhero films. This social class divide, connoted through wealth, is a key element in Emmerdale with a contrast between many families, such as the struggling Spencer family and the wealthy Sharma's.
Dot and Dotty (EastEnders)
EastEnders: Dot and Dotty: “The family affair” duo were brought together by Dot’s money making devilish son Nick, who so unthoughtfully dumped his daughter on her doorstep in order that she would con her innocent grandmother out of hundreds of pounds. Putting this story to the side, we can see a huge contrast between the young and old. We see the difference between the two as Dot is the oldest resident in the square, knocking into her late 80s, whereas her granddaughter Dotty has just about entered the young age of 6. The cute, blameless dolly shoes are contrasted by the beaten and battered brogues. The summery, floral dress infused with colourful pigments, juxtaposed by the dull blue wrinkled laundrette uniform with the never ending tea stain on the pocket.

Kat and Roxy (EastEnders)
EastEnders: Kat and Roxy: they desperately fight over their love, Alfie Moon; however, they could not be more different. Roxy; a blonde haired bimbo in her early 20s, youthful and full of love although still portrayed in some light as feisty, like Kat, who we see as a hard faced woman with jet black hair, hard edged red lip gloss and not to mention a highly provocative dress sense, which use to be in the arms of her so beloved Alfie Moon.


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