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How is the corporate multiculturalism and the
liberal pluralist response to the pluralist dilemma represented within Pulp Fiction?

 

“Multiculturalism refers to the inclusion
of several cultural or ethnic groups with reference to culture, representation,
difference, identity, power and the state.” (Stevenson and Waite, 2011: 939). Multiculturalism comes
in two forms, corporate multiculturalism and plural multiculturalism. Corporate
multiculturalism relies on racial stereotypes formed by the ethnic majority, the
stereotypes are racist and do not challenge the social construction of race.
This means society accepts these racial stereotypes and legitimates them in
common culture. (Solomos and Back, 1996:187). 
Plural multiculturalism is often defined by the pluralist dilemma, the
process of giving equal representation and respect within the
nation state, while maintaining social cohesion. (Bullivant,1981 and May,
2002:125).  There are two main responses
to the pluralist dilemma, liberal and corporate pluralism. Liberal pluralism is
the rejection of ethnicities and cultures that differ from the society’s majority.
Corporate pluralism is based on giving recognition as legally constituted
entities, this recognition should be respective of the size and influence of the
minority. (May, 2002:127).

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One of the core concerns of multiculturalism is
representation in the nation state. May, argues that the nation state no longer
adequately represents ethnicities and cultures. (May, 2002) Although it can be
argued that the nation state has never adequately represented minorities. Theorists
like Hewitt oppose the view of corporate pluralists, Hewitt argues that
ethnicity should be a private matter and should not be introduced into the
civic realm. By giving equal representation to all groups it will cause fragmentation
in society. (Hewitt, 2005). Multiculturalism is relevant in today’s modern
society because global attitudes have changed massively over the past twenty
years towards different cultures and ethnicities. However, recent global
politics has seen a reduction in the acceptance of minority groups. For
example, the Trump administration has made many controversial decisions and
statements based on racial stereotypes outlined by corporate multiculturalism. Within
this piece I will analyze the relationship between multiculturalism and Pulp
Fiction by Quentin Tarantino. In order to do this, I will be using a range of
sociologists such as Modood, to support my main sociologists, May and Giroux.

 

My chosen case study is Pulp Fiction
released in 1994 by Quentin Tarantino. The film has three different storylines
that link together with the connection of two main characters, Vincent Vega and
Jules Winnfield, who both play hitmen for the notorious Marsellus Wallace. The
first storyline is Honey Bunny and Ringo who are armed robbers trying to rob a
restaurant that Vincent and Jules are eating at. Jules and Vincent are the
second storyline and first come onto the screen in a scene where they discuss
Marsellus Wallace’s wife, Mia before retrieving a briefcase for Marsellus,
where they kill three college aged men in an apartment before taking one as a
hostage and accidently shooting him in the head. The third storyline involves
Butch Coolidge who was paid by Marsellus Wallace to throw a fight, when Butch
double crossed Marsellus he went to flee with his girlfriend Fabienne. When Fabienne
forgets Butch’s dad’s watch that he smuggled back from the war he goes to find
it where he has to confront Vincent Vega and later Marsellus Wallace before finding
themselves in a compromising situation in a pawn shop. When Pulp Fiction was
realised it became critically acclaimed film with over 60 awards won including
an Oscar for best writing. Giroux argues that by giving the film recognition and
awards we are legitimising the racism in the film. (Giroux, 1995). This meant
that the language and stereotypes used within the film became a part of popular
common culture at the time, normalising racism. I chose to analyse this film
because of its huge success despite being overtly racist, its cultural impact
and because the themes presented in the film are still relevant today. Within
this piece I will discuss two main points in relation to multiculturalism and
Pulp Fiction, the stereotypes of black people and violence and the use of
racial slurs.

 

A stereotype is defined as “an image or
idea of a particular type of person or thing that has become fixed through
being widely held” (Stevenson and Waite, 2011: 1416). Stereotypes are socially constructed, not only
because race is a social construct but because racial stereotypes often are
based on colour discrimination, not ethnicity and in particular labelling all
ethnic minority’s as black. (Hall, 1989). Black is a stereotype formed by the
white majority who often wrongly assume the norms, values and experiences they
have are the same as ethnic minorities. White people have socially constructed
the stereotype ‘black’ based on their knowledge of the black experience. For
the white majority, the black experience consists of multiple ethnicities,
cultures and communities who would not label themselves as black, this ignores
Hall’s theory that our identities consist of a collection of internal and
external factors. (May, 2002 and Hall, 1989). The stereotype that I will be
focussing on in relation to Pulp Fiction is that black people are violent. The origins
of this stereotype have been disputed throughout history but the modern origin
of the stereotype can be seen as a media induced stereotype, whereby the news
depicted images of black people being violent towards white people but the
media did not explain that these acts of violence were acts of self-defence
from the racist abuse of skinheads and nationalists. (Modood, 1994). Stan Cohen
calls this process, media moral panics, the media make black people folk devils
and blame them for many of society’s problems irrespective of the real causes
of societal problems. (Cohen, 1972).  This legitimises the stereotypes that black
people are violent and acts a form of othering which make the white majority
feel that it is okay to be racist and takes the responsibility away from their
actions. (Giroux, 1995 and Said, 1978).

 

The stereotype of black violence in Pulp
Fiction is demonstrated by hyper-real violence. The two black characters were a
r hit man and the gang leader, clearly showing the stereotype. Throughout the
film the depiction of senseless banal violence is largely seen by Jules or
Marsellus. An example of this is the Jules and Vincent’s first scene when they
discuss what happened to a man that massaged the feet of Marsellus’ wife, Mia.
“He sent a couple of Cato to this place, threw his ass over the balcony, nigger
fell four stories. They had this garden at the bottom, enclosed in glass, like
one of them greenhouses, nigger fell through that. Since then, he kind of
developed a speech impediment”. (Pulp Fiction, 1994) This provides a
stereotype of what Marsellus is like, because the audience are yet to meet Marsellus
but already know how ruthless he is. This sets a precedence for the black
characters and makes the audience lack empathy for them. (Giroux, 1995). The
lack of empathy for black characters can be seen in the scene where Jules kills
three boys in an apartment for Marsellus, this was depicted as hyper-real
violence which legitimises the stereotype that black people are violent. In
contrast, in the following scene Vincent shoots their hostage in the head by
accident, although this was hyper-real violence it had elements of symbolic
violence because it was clear that the killing of the boy was not intended
which makes the audience react with more empathy to Vincent. (Giroux, 1995).
Although, throughout the film Jules is the only character to show a moral
change towards his violent lifestyle, after he escapes death. In the scene
where there is an altercation between Marsellus and Butch after Butch hits
Marsellus with his car. Butch similarly to Vincent receives more empathy that
Marsellus. Butch is acting in a form of self-defence although he initiated the
violence, this suggests that his violence is a form of symbolic violence and it
was not unnecessary because he was protecting himself.  On the other hand, even though Marsellus acts
in a form of self-defence, Tarantino shot and wrote the movie in a way that does
not suggest Marsellus deserve the empathy of the viewer because he is only
presented as the gang leader. Giroux argues that along with the representation
of black people in Pulp Fiction, it is also reflected in society through the
media. The media instigate the lack of empathy for black people because they
make society believe they deserve the problems facing them such as unemployment
because they are shown as the ‘problem’ in society rather than the victim. (Giroux,
1995).

 

By promoting these racial stereotypes, the
film legitimises the liberal pluralist response to the pluralist dilemma. It
does this by only representing marginalised groups in society which allows the
largely white middle-class majority to other themselves from the characters in
the film. This means they believe they can be racist towards ethnic minorities
because they do not feel responsible. Murray argues “A large number of
well-meaning whites fear they are closet racists and this film tells them they
are not. It’s going to make them feel better about things they already think
but do not know how to say”. (Murray, 1994 and Giroux,1995). This emphasises my
point by showing how racists ideas and stereotypes are already ingrained in society
and films such as Pulp Fiction amplify racism. The racist stereotypes that are
amplified inform the current governments when they are making decisions. As
argued by May above the nation state no longer adequately represents the
interests of all groups within society. Hewitt supports this he argues that
rather than incorporating ethnic minorities into the nation state, as suggested
by the corporate pluralism response to the pluralist dilemma, the state
actually uses within minorities as an object of discussion, showing that the
state believes that ethnic minorities are a problem within society that need
solving, this shows the liberal pluralist response. (Hewitt, 2005 and May,
2002). Recent global politics has shown that racial stereotypes, multiculturalism
and the pluralist dilemma are relevant in today’s society. This can be seen in
the way that Trump has used stereotypes of immigrants and especially Mexicans and
used this to form decisions and laws that affect millions of peoples loves such
as the withdrawal of the DACA programme. (Walters, 2017)

 

As seen above the legitimisation of racial
stereotypes has led to an increase in racial stereotyping. In the same way the
use of racial slurs, in particular the use of the word Nigger within the media
and films like Pulp Fiction has legitimised the use of the words, as people
have become desensitised to the meanings and origins of the slurs. (Giroux,
1994). Alongside the representation of language used with films recent global
events such as terrorism have also legitimised racial slurs. Terrorism has done
this by making people feel unsafe and scared, so people try to attack it but
the way in which some people respond is in the form of liberal pluralism and
they attack using racial slurs, especially towards Muslims. This is serving as
a label for people in society who only share one similarity with terrorists,
their religion. (Hall, 1989 and Hewitt, 2005)

 

The main racial slur used in Pulp Fiction
is nigger, throughout the film the term is used twenty-one times with different
impacts depending on who is saying it and the context it is in. (Juzwiak, 2015). Tarantino has been
criticised for his use of nigger in his films, especially Pulp Fiction and
Django Unchained. He was criticised for failing to acknowledge the significance
of the term and the history that surrounds the word associated with white
supremacy. (May, 2002 and Giroux, 1995). Hewitt explores reverse racism and
argues that white people are being unfairly discriminated because they are
unable to say nigger, whereas a black person can.  (Hewitt, 2005). In contrast to Hewitt, Allan
argues that nigger does not always have negative concertation depending on who
says it and this is because of the historical impact and the unequal balance of
power within the nation state, suggesting it would not be as controversial of a
topic if we had widespread corporate pluralism. (Allan, 2016). A quote from Ice
Cube explains this well, “Look, when we call each other nigger it means no
harm, in fact in Compton it is a friendly word. But if a white person uses it,
it is something different, it is a racist word” (Cited in Kelley, 1994). An
example of this in Pulp Fiction is how different characters use the word, in
the film Jules uses the term most, while Vincent never uses the term, showing
the divide between who can use the term. Another use of the word nigger is by
Jimmie says, “Did you see a sign that said dead nigger storage?” (Pulp Fiction, 1994). Jimmie
legitimatises his use of the word as a white man by making it clear that he has
a black wife, which he believes entitles him to say nigger because he has
overtly proved he is not racist by marrying a black woman. The use of nigger
has a derogatory slur can be seen in the pawn shop scene when racist owner,
clear from his language and the confederate flag in the shop, uses the term to
belittle Marcellus before raping him.

 

The use of racial slurs within Pulp Fiction
focus on the representation of black people, Modood argues that this hurts
other ethnic minorities by ignoring the racism that they encounter. (Modood,
1994).  However, there is some reference
to other racial stereotypes and slurs such as Ringo referring to a cultural
language barrier that inhibits him from accepting corporate pluralism because
he cannot understand them. The view that immigrants should fully assimilate
into American culture, devalues their culture but also shows a rise in liberal
pluralism because the white majority want to prohibit other cultures.

 

In conclusion, it is clear that the use of
racist language and stereotypes has had a profound effect on the way that
multiculturalism has been formed within today’s society. Although there has
been an increase in the acceptance of corporate pluralism in response to the
pluralist dilemma, it is evident that stereotypes and racial slurs which
continue to be shown in films and in the media, continue to undermine
multiculturalism. I believe the arguments put forward to remove all ethnicities
and cultures from the civic realm as argued by liberal pluralists such as
Hewitt, is not plausible and this means that there will be a continued white
majority. (Hewitt, 2005). In order to stop a white majority dictating the norms
and values of society, there needs to be an increase in the representation of
different ethnic minorities and cultures within the nation state. This will
mean that the opinions and experiences of different cultures will be taken into
consideration instead of being discussed as if they were a problem.

 

 

 

Bibliography

 

Allan, k., 2016. science direct. Online
Available at: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0388000115000200?via%3Dihub
Accessed 10 January 2018.

 

Bullivant,
B. (1981), The Pluralist Dilemma in
Education: six case studies. Sydney: Allen and Unwin.

 

Cohen,
S, (1972), Folk devils and Moral Panics,
New York, Routledge.

 

Giroux,
H, (1995), ‘Racism and the aesthetic of hyper-real violence: Pulp Fiction and
the other visual tragedies’, Social
Identities, (1).

 

Hall,
S. (1989) ‘New Ethnicities’, ICA
Documents 7: Black Film, British Cinema, (1), 441-449.

 

Hewitt, R. (2005) White Backlash and the Politics
of Multiculturalism, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

 

IMBD, 2013. IMBD.
Online
Available at: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0110912/awards
Accessed 10 January 2018.

 

Juzwiak, R., 2015. gawker. Online
Available at: http://gawker.com/the-complete-history-of-quentin-tarantino-saying-nigge-1748731193
Accessed 7 January 2018.

 

Keeley,
R.D.G. (1994) race rebels, New York: The Free Press:209-10.

 

May, S. (2002) ‘Multiculturalism’ in D.T. Goldberg
& J. Solomos (eds.) A Companion to Racial and Ethnic Studies,
Oxford: Blackwell.

 

Modood, T. (1994) ‘Political Blackness and British
Asians’, Sociology 28(4): 859-876. 

 

Murray,
C, (1994) cited in J. DeParle ‘Daring Research or Social Science Pornography’,
The New York Times Magazine, 9 October: 50.

 

Pulp Fiction. 1994. Film Directed by Quentin
Tarantino. United States of America: Miramax.

 

Said,
E.W. (1978) Orientalism. Harmondsworth. (‘Imaginative Geography and Its
Representations: Orientalizing the Oriental’, pp. 49-72

 

Solomos, J. and Back, L. (1996) Racism and Society,
Basingstoke: Macmillan. (Chapter 8)

 

Stevenson,
A and Waite, M. (eds.), (2011), Concise
oxford English Dictionary, (12),
Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Walters, J., 2017. The Guardian. Online
Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/sep/04/donald-trump-what-is-daca-dreamers
Accessed 9 January 2018.

 

 

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