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Resistance and Power

[This entry is part of a collaborative blogging exchange between students at National University of Singapore and Stanford University. The exchange is described in more detail here and here]

In situations of apparently stable, absolute power, it is sometimes difficult to imagine how and why resistance would emerge, yet somehow it almost always manages to. While the circumstances surrounding its origins and emergence can differ, and even how this ‘rage against the machine’ manifests, it doesn’t detract from the fact that where resistance exists, there lies a chink in the armor of power, making ‘absolute’ power a problematic term in itself.

Denise will attempt to investigate the similarities and differences for the source of motivation for resistance in the novel 1984 and the movie, V for Vendetta. Both set in England, but at different times; 1984 is set in 1984 while V for Vendetta is set in the 21st century. During both times, England is ruled by a totalitarian government. Fear and surveillance were the main tools of control. Her working thesis would be to conclude whether there is significant difference or similarity between the two sources, which have yet to be confirmed. The two secondary sources that she will use are Foucault’s "The Eye of Power" and The Truman Show. She will draw on the problems of the Panopticon that Foucault discusses and the sources of motivation that drive Truman to escape to clarify the relations between her two primary sources.

Mei Yi’s paper deals primarily with the films 1984 (directed by Michael Radford) and A Clockwork Orange, looking at how directors portray the acts of resistance and punishment as well as their use of cinematographic tools to create atmospheres complementing them within the films. A Clockwork Orange, directed by Stanley Kubrick, tells of a young man who roams the streets committing violent crimes with his gang before being caught and rehabilitated (brainwashed), following through to consequences that come from the highly experimental rehabilitation technique. Landscapes feature most prominently in her analysis as she examines how directors have chosen to link certain spaces (rooms, cities, natural landscapes) to certain behaviors (punishment, oppression, defiance, freedom) and what meanings these associations create for audiences about the greater frameworks of resistance and punishment as a whole.


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Both of your projects sound really interesting! For Denise's topic, V for Vendetta and 1984 are both clearly stories about dystopias; it seems as though resistance to authority often has to result in such societies. It might be interesting to look at the dystopic elements that lead to such resistance and the similarities and differences of the dystopian societies in these two stories. For Mei Yi's project, the concept of the location of a certain situation contributing to its visual/literary rhetoric is really fascinating. It would be interesting, as you already are thinking of doing, to look at how the cinematography portrays resistance and oppression and how that corresponds with society's general understanding of resistance and oppression.

I am very impressed by the analysis of these primary sources in film and literature, and their greater implications in politics and society. I think that instead of a purely parallel comparison of V for Vendetta and 1984, Denise should explore a chronological analysis of how one influenced the other in terms of themes, motifs, and other devices. I look forward to Mei Yi's explanation of how certain architecture and spaces convey feelings of oppression or resistance, and whether this analysis will take a scientific or artistic direction.

Denise: I think looking at the source(s) of motivation for resistance in "1984" and "V for Vendetta" is quite interesting. You seem to have some background knowledge about the contexts and I commend you for that. If this was accomplished after some research, it's all the more amazing. I must admit that I am not familiar with the specific secondary sources like the Panopticon.
Mei Yi: You offer a detailed summary of your work. I look forward to reading your paper.

Hi Denise!

Here are just some of my comments on your paper’s thesis, from the little that I know so far :)

It may be a bit difficult to have a working thesis that just aims to find ‘significant difference’ between the texts because they are bound to be different—they’re two different films based on two different books after all. I feel that if you had a bit more focus it would help you narrow down what exactly you’ll be writing about. Your idea of using the dynamic between Foucault and The Truman Show as a lens is fascinating though, but I’m not sure how you’re going to tie in the ‘problems of the Panopticon’ and the ‘sources of motivation that drive Truman to escape’ with your primary sources. Maybe it’s because I’m not too sure what specifically you’re looking out for in 1984 and V for Vendetta, so if you could draw a clearer connection between your primary and secondary sources and expound on what ‘relations’ you’re trying to ‘clarify’ exactly I think your paper would have a lot of punch :)

Hello Stephanie, I don't quite understand "a chronological analysis". Can you explan please?

Hello Meiyi, the following are my comments for your ideas on paper 3.

I think you need to establish better links between your primary sources, ie, the frame of reference. You could have given more context/information on the part where the boy resists the brainwashing. Sorry, I don't know The Clockwork Orange very well. I think the linking of certain spaces to human behaviour is very interesting because it also offer insights as to how audience, as individuals associate their emotions with spaces. But then again, this can be subjective and there may be many possibilities for the interpretation of various scenes.

All the best for paper 3 =)

Hello Meiyi (again)

I totally agree that I need to have a focus for my essay, which is why i have tried to revise both my motive and thesis. I will compare V for Vendetta and 1984 and find out why in V for Vendetta, resistance succeeds and fails in 1984. I am still working on my thesis, will let you know again, soon.

Hey Denise and Mei Yi,

Your observation that resistance apparently arises no matter how oppressive power can be -- no matter how stable and absolute it may appear to be -- is fascinating. This seems like a really important insight for thinking about how power relates to space, always of course in particular contexts, and thus particular kinds of power. The subject of power is unlikely simply to be the passive victim of power: those subject to power do have agency and are able to act, to do something about the exercise of power as it applies to them.

I like Stephanie's idea concerning a kind of "chronological" comparison of V for Vendetta and 1984: it would be fascinating to trace the extent to which the later text has been influenced by the earlier one, and to clarify the extent to which it is "indebted" to it. However, of course it depends on what your reason (or motive) is for comparing the two texts, e.g. the force of resistance in each, which you seem to mention more directly in the comments you posted after the initial collaborative posting.

Mei Yi: Hope you get sourcing A Clockwork Orange sorted out ... There's not a lot of time left for you to do so. Will you be focusing on particular scenes from each film that represent particular spaces as they relate to similar, and sometimes different, behaviors? This seems as though it might work very well, but the danger I foresee is that you might in this case end up with a list of sorts: the films are similar in this scene, and this, and this; and they're difference in this scene, and this one, etc. To prevent such a "list-y" essay, of course, you will need a strong argument, and this needs to come from a strong research problem / question / reason for writing, which will be given by the reason for comparing the two sources in the first place.

My main concern would therefore be for you to identify a reason for comparing the two films: not only that they are similar in the ways you've set out in your post, but also how there is a difference in "how directors portray the acts of resistance and punishment as well as their use of cinematographic tools to create atmospheres." In other words, for you to engage in a comparison of these two films, you need a compelling reason for doing so, and this needs to involve some significant difference between them. I'm sure there are numerous differences, but you will need to think about which one provides you with a ground for comparing the films.

Best of luck to both of you as your draft!


Dear Denise and Mei Yi,

These look like great topics of research! I love the idea of comparing two different types of works- a movie and a novel- to create your argument about motivation and resistance. It will be fascinating looking through the lenses of two different time periods, because then you will be able to examine the core elements of what makes totalitarianism "successful." This would be an interesting focus to take on in your paper. I am also fascinated by the examination of the importance of cinematography to convey the atmospheres of totalitarian regime. Because it's such a unique topic, I imagine how challenging it might be to find secondary sources, but there will probably be many more general sources available about cinematography.

Good luck on your papers!