Antonio Gramsci

Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci believes that in a society, the governing intellectual and cultural forces of the era make up a form of hegemony. According to Gramsci, hegemony is the domination of ideas and cultural forms which induce consent to the rule of the leading groups in a society. Gramsci’s concept of hegemony is characterized through fascism, specifically Italian fascism. Fascism replaced the liberal bourgeois regime in Italy through its repressive control over the state as well as its influence over schooling, media and other social, cultural and political institutions.

An example for this could be seen as depicted in the novel 1984 by George Orwell. The novel portrays Winston Smith, one of the many civil servants under the repressive totalitarian regime of Big Brother, who is the ruling party’s leader. Winston Smith’s task is to perpetuate the regime’s propaganda by fabricating records and political text. Confined in a one-room apartment, living on food and drink rations, as well as being under constant and pervasive government surveillance and control, he becomes disconcerted and disillusioned about his own inadequate existence. This leads him to begin a rebellion that eventually leads to his arrest and torture.

Gramsci also discusses the distinction between political society, which has direct domination through coercion, and civil society, which constitutes leadership through ideology or consent. This can also be seen in 1984, where Ingsoc (English Socialism) is the ideology of Oceania’s totalitarian government. From the slogan “BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU”, we can see how the government’s constant surveillance controls every movement of every person, using fear and force to rule society. The government uses Newspeak as a method to control thought through language, as well as Doublethink (simultaneously believing two contradictory beliefs) as a method to directly control thought. This can be seen through the party’s slogan: “War is Peace; Freedom is Slavery; Ignorance is Strength”. Even the ministries’ names are ironic antonyms, products of doublethink. The Ministry of Peace deals with war. The Ministry of Plenty is responsible for rationing food and supplies, often declaring that they constantly increase the standard of living by a considerable amount when they in fact do the exact opposite. The Ministry of Truth is in charge of information such as news, education and entertainment, falsifying records and manipulating news articles to make everyone conform to the government. The Ministry of Love is in charge of Room 101; the room where dissidents and rebels are brutally tortured; their basic procedure is to expose these rebels to their worst fear in order to wipe out all remaining impulses of resistance and individuality. There is a movie version of the novel. It has 10 parts and can be watched here: 1948 by George Orwell (the link automatically directs you to part 1)

Gramsci’s theories and beliefs are also depicted in Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta comic-book series. The Norsefire regime rules the nation through fear and force and adulates strong leadership (i.e. the Fűhrerprinzip). Although V for Vendetta shows a slightly exaggerated system of government as compared to Gramsci’s theories (the Norsefire regime is highly xenophobic), there are many similarities between the two. The Norsefire administration controls its citizens through the institutions it has formed, naming them after parts of the body: The Nose is the detective branch, The Ear and The Eye are both surveillance organizations, The Finger is the uniform branch of the police, and The Mouth is the state-controlled media. There is also a film version of the comics, directed by James McTeigue.

V for Vendetta (short clip from the movie)

Cannon Fodder by Otomo Katsuhiro
In the cartoon film Cannon Fodder, we see what Antonio Gramsci describes as “ideology”: the ruling ideas which present the “social cement” which unifies and holds together the dominant social order. The film depicts the lives of everyone as dependent on maintaining and firing cannons in a dystopian city that is seemingly involved in a never-ending war. The “enemy” is never shown despite the reports and celebrations of success, and one will start to wonder whether there is an enemy at all, or if the walled city continues to fire into the clouds as a way to perpetuate a war that has become a means of their economy.

The characters are presented as haggard, pallid citizens who are wholly accepting of their state. Despite looking sorrowful and broken, none of them seem to think that there is anything wrong with the way they live; they live day to day as though things are the way they should be: sad and miserable. They support the standards of society; they are fully devoted to destroying an enemy who has remained unseen all throughout. They see their leaders as fearless, hoping to be like them.

Despite the grimness of the film, the viewers are made to see that this is what their society is; the ideologies of the ruling class hold together the dominant “social order”. The ruled class has been led to believe that their society is what a society should be like; they are merely going through the motions of their daily lives by being entirely accepting to what is presented to them.

Gramsci also mentions that in his day and time, the press was the dominant instrument in producing ideological legitimacy of existing institutions and social order, but many institutions such as the church, schools and different associations also played a role. We also see this in parts of Cannon Fodder, where school plays a big role in providing ideological legitimacy of existing institutions and social order. What is currently happening in their society (the “war”) is made known to the students and the school inculcates in them certain views and beliefs that are parallel to what they will be when they “grow up”. We see that the kid in the film, in spite of his young age, seems to already fully accept their city’s state and his fate as a cannon-loader just like his father.

Cannon Fodder Part 1

Cannon Fodder Part 2

Cannon Fodder Part 3

Web Work by Ma. Irene Valdez COM105A

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