Pulp Fiction: Going Against the Flow

The abridged version of my Media Studies 10 paper. Feel free to read all of it, some of it, or none of it. I even added pictures so you guys wouldn’t get too bored. Enjoy!

Ezekiel 25:17.

Spectacularly entertaining. Details executed to perfection. Thrillingly alive. These phrases are just a glimpse of the overwhelmingly positive response to Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (1994). This excellent film was a break from the past, with innovative camera work, eclectic and humorous dialogue, and unorthodox execution.

As opposed to many formulaic blockbuster movies of the time, Pulp Fiction broke completely from the mold, not just in style, but also in prevailing ideology. In Pulp Fiction, Tarantino goes against precedents and axioms to challenge dominant ideologies of race and gender.

"I solve problems."

Race relations are inverted to challenge a dominant ideology of race that suggests Anglo Americans are superior to other races and African Americans are more prone to illegal activities.

Gender relations are broken down to challenge the established ideology of gender, the way of thinking that justifies social classification of individuals into two genders – the ideological assumptions that women have to be passive and skinny to be attractive are picked apart many instances in the film.

By questioning the status quo, Pulp Fiction exposes the rehashed media texts of today and achieves something that is powerful and wholly unique.

Pulp Fiction intertwines three storylines, using non-linear storytelling to depict the lives of mob hit men Jules Winnfield and Vincent Vega, aging boxer Butch Coolidge, and small-time robber couple Ringo and Yolanda.

These separate storylines intersect at various points in the film, and Tarantino masterfully weaves in the missing details while providing an entertaining and humorous mix of dialogue and action.

Pulp Fiction flips race relations to challenge a dominant ideology of race that suggests the superiority of Anglo Americans and criminal tendencies of African Americans.

Jules in charge.

Early on in the film, Jules, the black hit man, is established as leader of the duo. For example, Jules is seen driving the car, opening the door, pushing the elevator button, all the while leading Vincent, the white hit man.

Furthermore, Jules does the talking as the two retrieve the briefcase from their target. These instances of a black man in charge over a white man challenge the ideological assumption of race that Anglo Americans are superior to other races.

Instead of treating the white race as if it were neutral, Tarantino puts the black man in charge to bring the existence of the white identity into plain view. Thus, African Americans would benefit from this representation in the text, as the film places the black man in charge over the white man, and consequently shatters assumptions that Anglo Americans are superior.

The normal white male leads in media texts made the existing organization of social relations appear natural and inevitable by assuming a “neutral Whiteness” (Grossberg 244), but Tarantino’s decision to oppose this ideological assumption proves he is able to eschew axioms and precedents, formulas that are commonly used in media, in order to achieve a text that is unique.

Similar to race relations in Pulp Fiction, gender relations are also broken down in the film to challenge the dominant ideology of gender, the way of thinking that justifies social classification of individuals into two genders.

The ideological assumptions of passive women and attractive women are etched away many instances in the film. In the opening and closing scenes of the film, couple Ringo and Yolanda are robbing a café at gunpoint.

Yolanda the crazy one.

Yolanda, the girlfriend, immediately jumps out to viewers for her viciousness, affinity of violence, and plain insanity. “Well, just execute him!” and “Shoot him in the face!” are two sentences we hear from Yolanda (Tarantino). In fact, she seems to be even more violent than her boyfriend, spurring him on and intimidating the café patrons.

Pulp Fiction challenges the assumption that women are passive and rely on men for guidance. This ideological assumption makes the existing organization of social relations appear natural and inevitable by reinforcing patriarchal society.

Men should be in charge, and women should be the supporters and sex objects for men. When Tarantino casts a woman to be crazier and more masculine than the man, it is clear that he is going against the flow of popular media.

By confronting the dominant ideology of gender with his own inverted view, Tarantino challenges precedents and cultural practices that serve as informal constraints.

Getting the Fever.

Women, as a result, benefit from this film’s representation because they are portrayed as people who take the initiative and lead the men, instead of the other way around in typical media texts.

In closing, Tarantino inverts race relations in Pulp Fiction to challenge a dominant ideology of race and breaks down gender relations to challenge the established ideology of gender.

Even though Pulp Fiction was revolutionary in filming style, dialogue, and execution, what truly set the film apart was that Tarantino did not heed to precedents and axioms regarding dominant race and gender ideology.

Instead of being boxed into certain assumptions that were tried and true formulas in media texts, Tarantino bucked the trend by challenging the assertion that these assumptions made existing organization of social relations appear natural and inevitable.

The result is a media text that is revolutionary as it is unique, a film that dared to be different.

  1. November 2, 2015
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