This is one of the more popular posts from my personal blog. Although, perhaps, more Media Studies than Visual Culture focused, I always intersect the two in my teaching anyway.
Ghost(face)s of Times Past? : Review of Scre4m
Ten years on from Scream 3 and Scream 4’s references to post-modernism are as novel as protagonist Sydney Prescott’s dress sense, only I’m not sure there is any intended irony with the latter. Scream continues to be drolly self-aware of the horror genre, anchoring itself in readily available postmodern discourse concerning the end of cultural innovation, the saturation of the mass media and the deliberate blurring of the real, the unreal and the hyperreal. The film tries to update the types of cultural media with which young people engage in a 21st century postmodern era – such as twitter, blogging, apps and youtube – and it does this fairly aptly, if not a little clumsily. But the problem with postmodernism is that you can’t really move on from it. So a sequel which is trying to evolve from its purposefully postmodern predecessor is a lost cause; a ghost from the past which is no longer able to scare anyone.
Having said that, watching it was an entertaining experience. It still managed to make me jump/laugh, whilst the narrative and story arcs succeeded in being unpredictable enough and the dialogue was smart. When the person behind the increasingly violent ghostface reveals themselves, they provide a monologue on their motive, referencing celebrity adulation and home-grown journalism, suggesting that it is no longer possible to be famous for anything unless it relates to engineered real-hyper-violent titillation existing in cyberspace. ‘Sick is the new sane’ and ‘I don’t need friends, I need fans’ are lines articulated sassily and robotically by the killer whilst they [no killer spoilers] replay to their final victim a recording of one of their previous murders, ready for posting on the internet. Despite this voyeurism being a new aspect of the ghostface killings, a reference is made just scenes before to Powell’s 1959 ‘Peeping Tom,’ reinforcing Scream’s reflexivity regarding its (or Williamson’s) capacity for postmodernist, premeditated rehashing.
In some ways the world has moved on in the past decade. When Scream first hit the box office, email was a recent phenomenon which had not really caught on outside of business. By Scream 3, teens were communicating via email, sometimes by wap on their mobile phones, but facebook and youtube were yet to be conceptualised. The inclusion of objects of new social media in the latest Scream script, remain just that; objects; devices which enrich and update plot development, accessories to the crime. They do not really work to progress or alter the Scream Franchise’s original thematic USP of being self-referential, Slasher satire. Ghostface is still ghostface; an indexical metaphor for the empty yet manipulative motivations of mass cultural production. It doesn’t matter who is behind the mask; it could be any of the characters, the fact is its presence is determined, unavoidable and readily reproducible.
I wonder if I enjoyed it because it was aimed at my generation – of people who followed the first three instalments – whilst studying at university the kinds of sociological issues and cultural tropes which the films sought to innovatively consider. The main characters played by Neve Campbell and Courtney Cox (Arquette) were Hollywood spectacles for our generation having appeared in landmark TV classics such as Party of Five and Friends. Yet where the guy who played bohemian Charlie in Party of Five (Matthew Fox) reinvented himself as a hunky hero in Lost several years later, Neve and Courtney largely play the same parts in Scream a decade on. Yet, they’re no longer the focal point hotties. And perhaps, this is a feminist issue. The film will no doubt help launch a few new silky skinned stars, whether they’re actually watched by their generational equivalent audiences, here, or not. It’d be interesting to study how this sequel, and in fact all of the Screams, are digested by today’s teens. Is Scream 4’s sole intention to provoke laughs, only more cryptically than the Scream trilogy’s spoof successors did (e.g. Scary movie)? And if so, is Ghostface’s premise correct, that people are now only satisfied to watch slasher-snuff viewable in real-time on their i-phones? The saturated news coverage concerning the question of Bin Laden’s photographed corpse perhaps backs their point. Either way, the media is still the message, and our awareness of this, doesn’t seem to alter its plight.