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2017 (28)

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Dissertation
"The Russians Are Coming": Stereotypical Representation of Russians in the Twenty-First Century Hollywood Action Film
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Year: 2017 Publisher: Leuven KU Leuven. Faculteit Letteren

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The release of The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming movie in 1966 has explicitly revealed the existence of arguably negative stereotypes about Russians in American cinema. The film satirically reveals a story of a Soviet submarine crew, mistakenly confused by the locals with invaders, determined to unleash the Third World War on the American land. Ironically, the title seems to reflect the contemporary western vision of Russia as an ongoing threat, too. Among the most recent and pronounced tendencies exhibited by the Hollywood film industry, the presence of Russian villain characters in action movies is the one that becomes more popular. As conflicting as it might be, the depicted image of Russians, anachronistic in many senses, embraces a host of stereotypes that are conceived and further espoused by the viewers. Thus, in the twenty-first century, it is still not possible to speculate about the evenhandedness of the produced images, as well as the information, transmitted via American film. Why is the contemporary cinematic image of Russians placed in the negative context? Do the current political relations between the USA and Russia exert an influence to shape and distort the common image of the nation? In this research, I will investigate the issue of stereotypical representation of Russians in the twenty-first century Hollywood action film. To do so, I will divide my analysis into three main parts. The first part shall focus on the action movie genre with its peculiarities and leading motifs. Within this part, I will envisage the notions of representation, ethnicity, and stereotypes in a cinematic context, as well as the specific features of the Russian villain characters that have become widely recognized by the audience through American action film. This section will address such question as: Why do the roles of bad characters, or villains, are ascribed to particular nationalities, among which is the Russian nationality? The second part will provide a brief analysis of several Cold War movies that reflect the then political set-up, demonstrating how the image of Russians has evolved from the time of the Cold War till present day. Finally, the third section will be devoted to the examination of the recent Hollywood action films and the representation of Russians in these movies in order to prove that nowadays the cinematic image of Russians is still identified with the dark side; moreover, in many cases, this image is accompanied by the supplementary features, which are still firmly rooted in the image of Soviet Russians: e.g., the affiliation with the government and vindictiveness. Besides, I shall also illustrate that the majority of the twenty-first century Hollywood action movies are prone to depict Russian characters not as ideological but rather as criminal menace to the U.S. In light of the recent political atmosphere of tension, however, it is crucial to subvert the existent misrepresentations, which might erroneously be applied to the whole nation, and pinpoint that the image of Russians cannot solely be reduced to criminals or spies, which is frequently displayed in film. In other words, this thesis will engage with the following question: Who are the contemporary ‘Hollywood’ Russians and are they really ‘coming’?

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Dissertation
Visual Communication. Female Empowerment- What album covers can tell us about representations of gender identity?
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Year: 2017 Publisher: Leuven KU Leuven. Faculteit Letteren

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This research paper will examine what album covers in popular music tell us about feminist theory and gender representation. Works from academics such as Angela McRobbie and Judith Butler will be taken as foundations for the epistemological exploration, while semiotic visual analysis will be applied to two album covers from Madonna and two of Annie Lennox. Using semiotic analysis on the selected examples will reveal what feminism, gender, sexuality and identity mean in popular culture and how they can be communicated through visual messages. The analysis of the results will conclude how (and why) the album covers of these two selected artists communicate visually either a specific message regarding gender, sexuality, empowerment and feminism and if they possess an overall shock value to instigate further negotiation about precast notions of gender representation within a socio-cultural context.

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Dissertation
Making Sense of Contemporary Tattoo: A Partial Reading
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Year: 2017 Publisher: Leuven KU Leuven. Faculteit Letteren

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As the title indicates, this thesis aims to provide a partial interpretation of contemporary tattooing practice and tattoo as an artefact, primarily in the Western cultural milieu. Tattooing, as a form of body modification, has always been communicating meaning by virtue of symbolic bricolage throughout its lengthy history. Meaning changes, nonetheless, more than ever in a time of uncertainty and instability like the one in postmodernity. Hence, the attempt made hereinafter can be understood as to decode, to deconstruct or, in a sense, to demystify the case of tattoo under conditions of the postmodern. According to the CCCS theory, tattoo understood as the badge of subculture was integral to the collective symbolic resistance and later became exploited by discourses of media and consumption. Nevertheless, such a stance seems no longer qualified for interpreting tattoo in contemporary culture, where tattoos are ubiquitous. Therefore I will also turn to more recently established theories of subculture that both criticize and further develop the orthodox approach. The theoretical progress reflected in the self-consciousness about the postmodern sheds light on the analytical framework of contemporary tattooing in pinpointing key aspects of its examination. Tattooing has made a stylish statement in the complex of fashion in recent years. Through inscribing arbitrary associations of signs on the surface of body, tattoo transforms into a footnote of individuality and aesthetic coolness, therefore has been largely popularized. However, the permanence and physicality of tattooing makes it a little less fashionable; the pain and sustained commitment, likewise, transcend the alleged superficiality of a mere adornment. This, however, does not contradict its articulation within media and commerce. The media have always played a both defining and promotional role, especially in building the image of tattoo as cool in popular culture. To examine the media effects on tattooing, I will look at two celebrity tattooees, Ed Sheeran and Lena Dunham, as their huge popularity and iconic tattoos have more or less influenced the perception of tattooing among the public. The corporeality of tattooing has been completely subverted by the recent emergence of flash tattoos, a temporal form of body decoration, thus subjecting tattooing to the commercial exploitation and mass production. Meanwhile, the prevalence and success of flash tattoos epitomize the postmodern experience that centers on distinction through consumption: the aesthetics, the body and leisure activities.

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Dissertation
The Value of the Idea in Cultural Output

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In order to determine the value of the Idea in cultural output the analysis is aimed towards three main components embedded in the thesis title. It addresses a main hypothesis stating that the value of the Idea supersedes external influences. The idea of the Idea is the first component where questions regarding the nature of ideas are addressed by examining thinkers such as Réne Descartes, Gilles Deleuze, who is the single largest contributor to the entire theoretical baseline, and Plato. It is established that the possibility of the Idea is one of its main characteristics, which is promoted by its referential nature. The origins of ideas, whether they are self-standing or self-created all lead to the same point, relies on the ability to become one way or the other. This becomes more apparent in the component where Value becomes the main focus of inspection. Gilles Deleuze and Benedict Spinoza play a large part in establishing the parameters of the ethical applications of the referential and becoming ideas, and the question whether economic possibility can influence judgement drawn from personal identity. Both the Idea and Value are then examined in an actual setting where commodity constructs seen in Output are examined from the perspective of production and a perceived quality in modern society, namely by looking at research on creativity such as by Teresa Amabile and Adam Grant, and Deleuze. The main conclusion is alignment with the main hypothesis as both the Idea and Value are primary to the secondary application of the Output, the referential nature of the Idea protects it from subjugation of a predefined format. The theoretical baseline is tested through a quantitative survey carried out in order to determine its actual applicability. This is done in the context of students in the cultural studies programme of KU Leuven. In the absence of identifiable similar research, the survey attempted to establish correlates and comparison between students and supervisors and their perception of idea value in the context of written and submitted Master’s theses. The results of the Survey are discussed in the final chapter but proved inconclusive as regards the correlate or predictive capacity. The study did, however, highlight differences between the two groups within the sample frame which illustrates the difference in perception based on the realities in which the judgment takes place. The execution of the survey further highlights the alignment with the hypothesis when it comes to modification to fit within a given form. The disregard for a relative success from a measurable external value not only aligns with the theoretical framework but also the limited actualisation provided by the survey data.

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Dissertation
HOW, and not Why: Perception of Contemporary Western Culture and Art in Russia
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Year: 2017 Publisher: Leuven KU Leuven. Faculteit Letteren

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This paper will aim at answering how the change in Russia’s perception of Western culture and, thus, Western contemporary art has taken place. By underlining the importance of the question of HOW, for it has an inherent potential to trigger critical analysis and, thus, shape resistance to ideological influences, this paper will attempt to decipher the actual process of how perceptions towards Western art and culture happen to take their shape in modern Russian society. In order to examine this argument, this paper will juxtapose the notions of culture, ideology, and identity formation. By providing a general overview of Russo-Western relations throughout the history, I will emphasise certain trends, where political ideology at a time and the general public’s attitudes towards what is at a time considered to be the representation of Western culture correlate. To spot these trends, an emphasis will be made on the more recent events of Russian cultural history: the 90s and the current years. The Roaring Nineties were the times when the society that was constrained and whose culture was consistently shaped by the totalitarian Communist ideology has opened up to the world of new concepts, predominantly coming from the West, when the spirit of freedom has been the overarching principle of the entire nation’s culture. This liberal spirit has not lasted for long. Since Russia’s political elite has made its efforts to re-establish control and order in the country, torn by crime, poverty, economic turbulences, the cultural realm has also started undergoing dramatic changes. Todays Russia does not have much in common with a country one could have seen just less than two decades ago. After a thorough analysis of the context of “Russia and/vs. the West”, or “Us/Them” rhetoric, the current state of affairs in Russia will be depicted through the examination of four controversial Western artists’ exhibitions in Russia, signposting and reflecting the general public’s shifting cultural preferences. Thus, the main argument of the paper is that it is not an inherent historical, social, or cultural predisposition that affects the general public’s perception of contemporary Western art and culture, but, instead, an intentionally or unintentionally constructed political agenda. The question of deliberation angle is secondary, yet this paper will analyse the events themselves, and some context that surrounded the controversies they provoked. And by looking at legal, media and political frameworks the intentionality aspect will become determined. Since the paper will be dealing with the unquantifiable notion of perceptions, a semiotic approach will provide the biggest value in analysing the current state of affairs in Russia. Semiotics can reveal the meanings and the interlinks between the notions of Signs, Generation of Meaning, Ideology, National Identity, and Otherness that are the key to answering the main research question. Thus, by employing the analysis of historical context of Russia’s complex relationships with the West, by a close examination of the media coverage of sensational Western contemporary artists’ exhibitions and the particular language used to depict the events and by putting the two previous sections into the theoretical framework of semiotics, I will try to unravel the very process of the formation of perception of Western culture and art in Russia.

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Dissertation
I Dress,Therefore I am !
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Year: 2017 Publisher: Leuven KU Leuven. Faculteit Letteren

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This thesis selected four women from various backgrounds and used them as case study for four different iconic events highlighting the common factor ‘Art of Dressing’. The impact of these four iconic events both on countries involved and on the rest of the world is highlighted. Semiotics was used as methodology to understand how dress works for image perception, and how dress codes are set within our society. First chapters discussed meaning of dress and its importance in our society. How culture influences the way we dress and different types of dress codes. The concept of Power dressing and how women had to adopt this power dressing to be taken seriously. Modern day women has changed the concept of power dressing, knowing that it will have an impact on their target audience and will convey their message to the world simultaneously. The use of dress as soft power has influenced public debate. The art of dressing of these four women on different iconic events was analyzed through Barthes connotation and denotation theory and his theory on fashion. This research further examined what these women wore to convey their message and how it gained them popularity and made these events iconic. The first two case studies analyzed women holding positions with direct power such as Benazir Bhutto (Prime Minister of Pakistan) and Madeleine Albright (State secretary of the United States) and how their dressing was different from other two case studies which discussed women (Hillary Clinton and Michele Obama) with indirect power in position such as First Ladies. It was concluded that these women very wisely used fashion as a tool to convey their messages and improved their image in public eye. They used this art of dressing to empower women and change perception about women in politics.

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Dissertation
The Dating Game: How dating culture in America transformed since the 20th century
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Year: 2017 Publisher: Leuven KU Leuven. Faculteit Letteren

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Dating as a method towards forming romantic relationships is something that people around the world experience on a daily basis. As an American, I see how heavily dating in modern times permeates the whole of society, specifically in respect to the younger generation, also known as millennials. This thesis serves to investigate how traditions, historical events, and changes in cultural practices have impacted dating culture in the United States between the beginning of the twentieth century all the way through to today in 2017, in order to gain a better understanding of how one cultural aspect of life has the ability to evolve dramatically over a relatively short span of time. This text was constructed using a collection of books written by relationship experts and writers interested in the concept of human love, in conjunction with various research studies and newspaper articles that highlight the ever-changing dating statistics. The main results of my research show that while dating in the twentieth century was largely affected by the World Wars and changes in the expectations of society, twenty-first century America became a completely different place due to the new hookup culture and advances in technology. What this study reveals is that a society’s culture is never static, and it is often generational. In the specific case of youth dating in America, it is revealed that a person’s environment and individual needs and desires in many ways reflect how dating culture is perceived from an outside perspective.

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Dissertation
Modelling and Remodelling the Writer's Plot: Visual representations of plot in creative writing handbooks and their hidden possibilities
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Year: 2017 Publisher: Leuven KU Leuven. Faculteit Letteren

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It is hard to imagine a contemporary western writer that has not been in contact with a creative writing handbook or the ideas that are conveyed in those manuals. It is probable that those books have an impact on what gets written and published, but the research into this phenomenon is still in its early stages. This thesis research focuses on which ideas about plot and plot models feature in thirteen handbooks that were first published between 1979-2012 and combines the outcome of a textual analysis of the handbooks with a critical graphical reading informed by ‘Graphesis’ and Bertin’s Semiology of Graphics (1967) of the visual representations of plot models. The main plot model that is found in this corpus of creative writing handbooks is a model geared towards dramatic writing. Diachronic and synchronic graphical analysis shows that the visual representation of this model is probably the Mountain model, that has absorbed the three- act structure, the Fichtean curve, Freytag’s pyramid and Field's paradigm. This model actually depicts the progression of the protagonist as the tendency in the handbooks to see plot in function of the protagonist is growing stronger over time. On close observation all the concepts of plot and the plot models in the handbooks are not conceptualised as tools but as explanations of what worked before. Although the general opinion is that the (aspiring) writer should adapt the model to the needs of a particular story, the handbooks explain how to work with that model, but not how to adapt it. Graphical rethinking and remodelling some of the provided models reveals that these models can become much more flexible and easy to adapt to specific stories. From just representing a certain plot, a model can become a tool to generate new plots. It is even possible to rework a protagonist-based plot model into a reader-based plot model. Thus critical graphical analysis can not only add to textual analysis, but also provide a method of thinking about plot, spatiality and temporality in narrative that opens a spectrum of new possibilities for both (aspiring) writers and literary theorists and narratologists alike. Keywords: creative writing handbooks, plot, narrative structure, plot models, graphical analysis, graphesis

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Dissertation
Fragmented Bodies: A Tale of Missing Parts and of the Fascination of Becoming
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Year: 2017 Publisher: Leuven KU Leuven. Faculteit Letteren

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In my thesis I examine two intriguing cases of female fragmentation. The first is related to a contestable beauty contest which took place in Angola in 2008, and the participants of which were amputated women who had lost one of their legs due to the landmines, remnant of the civil wars that ravaged the country for decades. In this case I will address emergent issues of exploitation of the women, and of whether the beauty contest was indeed an ethically correct way of highlighting a local tragedy. The second case revolves around the remarkable presence and achievements of double amputee Aimee Mullins who has distinguished herself in multiple spheres of public life, and has sparked a great deal of discussion. My focus will be placed particularly on the way her choices – of, indeed, a very capable disabled – and she herself, for that matter, are received by certain cultural theorists who view her cyborgian body and what it stands for with suspicion. What I hope to achieve through this paper is to question both ideas of primary lack or absence, and of primary presence or unity, and to argue for human existence as inherently blended, and constantly in the process of becoming: never fixed, pure, or clearly definable, and at once unified and fragmented.

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Dissertation
In Between ‘Traditional Mystical Islam’ and ‘Spiritual (Touristic) Experience:’ Appropriation of Sema and the Mevlevi Culture in the Global Age
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Year: 2017 Publisher: Leuven KU Leuven. Faculteit Letteren

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Intrigued by the recent popularity of the Mevlevi Order of Sufism in Turkey and beyond, this thesis attempts to understand the current meanings associated with the Mevlevi Culture with a focus on the sema whirling ceremony. Because the original Mevlevi Culture was established in the 13th century by the legendary poet and theologian Mevlana Celaleddin Rumi as part of Sufism (Mystical Islam), even the performative aspects of the Mevlevi Culture, such as sema and ayin (the Mevlevi music) are approached from a philosophical, holistic point of view that is in line with the Sufi philosophy. Consequently, the thesis draws on historical and anthropological methodologies to contextualize the evolution and the appropriation of the Mevlevi Culture throughout time and space. This historical process is divided into three theoretical sections (traditional, nationalist, and spiritual/ universalist) that analyze the Mevlevi Culture and its appropriation. The traditional Mevlevi Culture had stricter rules and religious teachings, which was banned with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the foundation of the modern Republic of Turkey. This ban continued until mid-1950s, when there was a resurgence of sema, and gradually the Mevlevi music. However, the sema of the 20TH century Turkey looked very different from the sema of the 15th century, being promoted as a secular folk dance mostly as a tourist attraction as opposed to a religious ritual. Additionally, the Mevlevi music began to appear in international festivals and fusions without following its strict rules, while Rumi was portrayed as an important Turkish figure as opposed to an important Sufi elder, decontextualizing his religious background. This nationalist appropriation of the Mevlevi Culture took a slightly different form as there began to have more international interest in Rumi, sema, and the Mevlevi music, which reached a larger audience in collaboration with UNESCO and the New Age Movement. Like the nationalist appropriations by the Turkish state, the spiritual/ universalist framework of the New Age also focused on the spiritual aspects of the Mevlevi Culture while advocating for a loose set of criteria and fusions of different genres and mediums while interpreting the Mevlevi Culture today. These appropriations brought heated debates around the issues of originality, authenticity, and (mis)representation of the Mevlevi Culture. These analysis were applied to three case studies. The Colet House of the Study Group of London was chosen as a representative of the traditional framework, whereas the Whirling Dervishes of Cyprus was chosen as a representative of the nationalist appropriation, and Studio 21 was chosen as a representative of the spiritual appropriation of the Mevlevi Culture in the New Age. The extensive interviews conducted as part of this fieldwork showed that the boundaries between these groups were blurry today, as each group seemed to combine both the traditional and the appropriated elements of the Mevlevi Culture in their own unique way, which brings the issue of hybridity. Nonetheless, the thesis also touched on critical issues, arguing that even that the notion of hybridity should be applied to critical debates, we should still not dismiss those critical debates, as the issue of misrepresentation of the Mevlevi Culture or Sufism has real political consequences in today’s world.

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