Sunday, November 22, 2009

Pulp Fiction's "Prologue"

Set up like a pulp novel, Pulp Fiction introduces characters systematically but without any real chronological order. Overall the film follows the interconnecting stories of two diners, two hit men, an aging boxer, a crime boss and his wife. All characters and situations are confined to a single day and most are fulfilled within the morning. The film has several opening scenes that introduce the characters by generally eavesdropping on them mid-conversation. Each grouping of characters has their own introduction except for Mia and Marsellus Wallace, these characters are introduced via other’s introductions. The first scene of the film establishes the emphasis on crime but also the emphasis on the masculine within the crime world. As though without thinking the characters assume the masculine and thus reflect the common cultural understanding of male foundation within the crime and “real world.”

This masculine predominance is assumed in the first scene with Honey Bunny and Pumpkin calling for the waitress with “Garcon, coffee!” (Pulp Fiction) This assumption of the male despite the clear female waitress acknowledges the male foundation of society. This male commonality is brought up again when the two discuss the potential of robbing the coffee shop. Acknowledging the female waitress and others on the staff they decide the “hero factor” within the coffee shop is small in comparison to other establishments. “Waitresses? Fucking forget it! No way they're taking a bullet for the register. Busboys? Some wetback getting paid a dollar-fifty an hour, really give a fuck you're stealing from the owner?” (Pulp Fiction) Pumpkin’s analysis of the workers creates a gap between a his version of a hero and the female and minority workers present. Assuming the waitresses and “wetbacks” are unlikely to fulfill the “hero” stereotype is a remark on the ability of women and minorities within the white male world to rise against the injustice of the situation and create difference. The white male world is assumed with the white manager as the given choice for the film. Remembering every detail of films are positioned to create the given effect the white manager is assumed to relate a white male authority figure within this scene as a microcosm of American hierarchy. The minorities working in the back and bussing tables indicate the “invisible” workers while the white women are visible workers earning money by providing personal attention as the middle person between the customer and the kitchen. All for the white male overseer and the business beyond him. At no point of this microcosm do Honey Bunny and Pumpkin think they will find resistance to their robbing of the cafe. Their categorization of the workers stems from somewhere. They are either assuming a cultural understanding of the white women, manager, and minorities or they are individually analyzing each worker according to their actions. The film does not reflect the latter so the former is assumed. The understanding of these workers actions proves problematic because it reflects a lack of resistance within white women and minority workers.

The lack of resistance from these two groups creates and allows the dominance over them. During the robbery no waitresses or minority workers are ever really addressed. The white manager is dominated first and from his command those lower on his hierarchy fall to the wayside. Honey Bunny and Pumpkin going first to the manager despite their personal connection with their waitress creates the invisibility, too, of white women workers under a white male overseer. The minority workers aren’t even spoken to and are rather just mentioned with the initial derogatory identification of “wetbacks.” During the robbery no waitresses or busboys (they are all male) confront Honey Bunny and Pumpkin and thus fulfill the assumption of them. Ultimately within the constructs of the scene the two robbers start with the assumed idea that no women or minority would provide resistance to their robbery and their idea is proved true as none does provide resistance. This scene is problematic with all its categorical assumptions but works as a cultural artifact because of them. As a cultural microcosm the women and minorities work for a white manager and are completely under the control of the manager and when appropriate the an outside influence (the white robbers). It is not until Jules, a black hit man, is confronted that anyone within the diner gives resistance. Jules giving resistance within the robbery is an interesting movement within the microcosm that gives power and authority to the black minority (from a sweep of the restaurant most patrons are white). Jules’s resistance is logical but backed with the universal center of power, a weapon and later his white partner, Vincent.
As a system the “Prologue” of the film relates the dominance of white males over all others with only slight exception of Jules who only resists when their plans impact his ability to fulfill his duties (as mandated by a figure different from himself). No characters besides the robbers are active all other characters are reactive and posed for invisibility.

Works Cited
Pulp Fiction. Dir. Quentin Tarantino. Perfs. Samuel L. Jackson, John Travolta. Miramax Films, 1994. Videocassette.

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