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Bitch Planet #2 Analysis Part 1

Thanks to a recent complementary mention on Her Story Arc, I’m finally prioritizing the analysis of Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro’s Bitch Planet #2. These things can be a bit overwhelming at the outset, and I’ve been putting it off. But no more! Let’s dig into this thing already! All things will be spoiled, at least regarding the first few pages, so be warned. If you’d like my spoiler-free review instead, click here.

Page 1

Here’s the opening page for perusal. Note the way the figures tell a story all of their own, adjacent to but reinforcing the main story.

BitchPlanet02_Page1

The voice on the sound system, emanating through the back room of a formal dinner convention. Before we get the scene, we get the behind-the-scenes. Notably all of the cooks and servers are brown skinned, suggesting how race plays into class in this society. The one white man seems to be the manager. We see him sexually condescend/harass two waitresses–first encouraging one to smile and then patting another’s ass. The women are servile to the manager and the high class people out in the convention. The manager feels entitled to manage not just their work but also their selves–smiles and ass pats are his to take. Meanwhile, two of the cooks appear to get into some sort of fight.

All of this is narrated with the speech from the dining room all about the bores and the bored and the “psychology of tribes.” This introduces the main themes: first, the divisions of society like race, class, and gender, and second, the entertainment of society to keep these groups subdued (they get restless and rebellious when bored). Ironically, the speaker quotes Byron, a subversive in many ways, to make his point. This is one of the ways the voices of power in Bitch Planet deconstruct their own talking points.

Page 2-3

We follow a server out into the convention hall where we can now see large projections of the speaker, a jowly white man in his 50’s. The audience is largely white men. Most of the women in attendance are servers sporting short, strapless gold dresses, but there are a few women in ballgowns, presumably wives. All of the waitresses show their teeth only through large smiles.

The speaker is talking about Duemila, more frequently known as Megaton, but even his introduction of the game’s name reinforces the dichotomy of peoples, though there isn’t much consequence attached to this particular division. He goes on to discuss that everyone there is from all corners of the Earth and all tiers of the economic ladder. One wonders who he is speaking to–is this being televised? The folks in this room seem pretty uniform in both geographical and economical background. I can’t imagine he’s considering the cooks in the back room as part of his audience. So there is a sense of denial of how imbalanced this society is. Perhaps the speaker is in denial or perhaps he’s just hoping to maintain the denial the audience members have, a brainwashing that helps them feel more diverse and egalitarian than they really are. I imagine these are the kind of people who insist they don’t see color and that women already have equal rights, so could we all please just shut up about inequality already.

But that’s not the only hypocrisy on the double-page spread, which I’ll get to in a moment. First, there is an important reveal about the moral truths the Fathers espouse: there are five in total and one of them is that humans have an “ancient drive to form an us and pit it against a them.” The Fathers believe we are categorizing fighters, constantly finding a clan and then moving against another clan. It seems a convenient belief, allowing ethnic, gender, and class warfare to be accepted truths rather than flaws in the system that could be corrected.  He goes on to explain that Megaton is the outlet for this drive–two teams war on the field, creating one victor and one civilized humanity. And here’s that hypocrisy I mentioned (or is it a paradox?). By watching televised violence, the audience becomes civilized.

BitchPlanet02_Page2BitchPlanet02_Page3

Page 4

The next page offers the speaker when he’s not on the stage. We get to see the man behind the speech, and we find that he is enamored with his own power. When he calls a man named Brandon over to discuss the waning engagement with Megaton, he reprimands him immediately for using his first name, Ed, rather than calling him Father Josephson. When Brandon attempts to defend the choice, Josephson gets back on the us and them theme: “We are not equals, Brandon. We are not friends. Address me by my title or I will have you cited for disrespect.” Josephson solidifies the power imbalance by threatening Brandon with, essentially, non-compliance, though I don’t exactly know if that term crosses genders. It is an interesting example of how damaging gender expectations of women also can damage men. The assumption is that making women submissive automatically makes men dominant, but that requires only a dichotomy–two groups. Society is far more complex with hierarchies upon hierarchies.

Josephson wants Brandon to do something about the falling engagement in Megaton, but there’s another story going on in the background in women’s fashion. A series of women are shown, presumably attendees of the convention, since they wear ballgowns not the short, gold dresses of the waitresses. Most of these fancily dressed women are sporting accessories that cover their mouths. One appears to have a kind of bandage wrapped around her mouth and through her hair. Another wears a veil. A third wears a color-matched surgical mask-type cover. A fourth’s accessory only partially covers her mouth. The symbolism of the fashion is clear–compliance equates to silence for women. Be seen and not heard. Look pretty and keep your mouth shut.

Page 5

The final page before the title spread focuses keenly on our Mr. Roberto Solanza approaching Josephson with a solution to his engagement problem. The focus on this introduction suggests this is a turning point in the narrative. This meeting between Solanza and Josephson will start the story down a path that will change everything. My students would call it the inciting incident. With some subtle humor, Solanza’s introduction to Josephson plays with the dual names thing–Duemila to the urbane/Megaton to everyone else–when Josephson hears Solanza’s title and immediately connects him with “Bitch Planet” rather than using the official A.C.O.


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Early Observations about “Darkness On the Edge of Town”

Welcome back, Once Upon a Time! We’ve missed you.

Michael’s “Always… no, no… never… forget to check your references.”

“Darkness On the Edge of Town” – Bruce Springsteen (from 1978’s Darkness On the Edge of Town)

Everybody’s got a secret… something that they just can’t face.

Fantasia

4x12 Chernabog

Chernabog! From Bald Mountain, folks!

Maleficent

When confronted with the intrusions of Ursula and Cruella, Maleficent remarks, “And you know what I do with trespassers.” We’re assuming she isn’t suggesting she’ll fall deeply in love with these two.

101 Dalmatians

Once has come up with a really clever use of the green smoke that followed her original template around throughout the film. It was only teased at the end the last arc, but it’s definitely her power signature.

Lost

Cruella and Ursula get their fast food on at Mr Cluck’s Chicken Shack:

Gospel???

Rumplestiltskin’s bringing “the good news” to the Queens of Darkness. The first time seemed like a bit of a gag, but later he remarks that he’s “the answer to [their] prayers.” And Cruella hangs a bell on it when she says she’s not the religious type. It’s a sly inversion that ties into…

Paradise Lost

‘Cause here’s Rumple talking like a prophet while planning to corrupt the savior. And that theme is recapitulated in Chernabog’s selection of Emma as the individual with the greatest potential for darkness over Regina. The whole arc is gonna rock the evil from good/good from evil angle.

 Once Upon a Time 4×10 “Shattered Sight”

The scroll Ingrid used to enter Storybrooke in 2001 reappears as a useful method of getting people into, or back into, town.

Ingrid's Scroll

Erin’s Happy Shipper Moments

Captain Swan

  • cskisscoffeeDuring the hiatus, apparently this couple got comfortable. The first indication of this is Hook’s coffee and kiss waiting for Swan as she stops by the library on her way to the sheriff’s office. Both are smiling. They appear genuinely happy and in love. It’s adorable. They’re doomed.
  • During the ceremony to let the fairies out of the hat, Hook and Swan are holding hands and looking to each other for comfort. It’s all very sweet. Seriously, doomed.
  • Emma finds Hook in the back hallway of Granny’s, thinking. “Lurking and brooding. That’s a classic combination.” Also totally something she digs in men, this, exactly this, is her potential for darkness writ large.
  • She exhorts him to go party. “We should buckle some swash, or, you know, whatever.”
  • cpceremonyHe’s struggling with his involvement in trapping the fairies in the first place, having difficulty forgiving himself now that they’re freed again, because it was a choice of his, just a really, really bad one. And one he’s now got to live with. Emma, however, attempts to absolve him of his guild. “Trust me, this is a mark in the hero’s column.”
  • At the end of the episode, Hook and Swan sit at Granny’s having a nice little dinner and looking just tickled pink to be in each other’s presence. Incoming doom in 3, 2, 1…cpdinner

Swan Queen

  • For all the surface level lovey-dovey goo-goo we got in the shared moments between Hook and Swan, we got just as much intense, magic-infused life-saving between Regina and Swan.
  • Swan brings Regina root beer thinking she could use a break. Is this the counter-point to the coffee moment from earlier?
  • Swan finds the Robin/Regina picture. Regina opens up to her about it, saying Robin said it was “hope.”
  • The two share shoulder touches, use their magic together again against the chernabog.
  • reginalookThinking Regina is the target of the chernabog, the two pile into the VW bug and head to the edge of town. Although Regina complains about the car’s color and coffin on wheels nature, we all know what she was really saying: “I love you. I love you. I love you.” Regina poofs herself out of the car declaring she won’t let the both die and places herself as the bait before the magical town border. Emma speeds up and then steps on the breaks, throwing the chernabog over the city line and into non-magical oblivion. And then there’s a brilliant shared moment where the two appreciate the other’s part in saving her life.

Rumpbelle

  • Unfortunately, I knew Rumple was our “linguist” as soon as he got mail. I wonder how much he was peppering his behind-the-scenes email to Belle with invisible little I-love-yous and I’m-sorrys. Fanfic writers–GO TO!
  • Belle hoped Rumple found what he was looking for, even after all the hurt he’s caused her.
  • Rumple insinuates that Belle is the happy ending he wants. Man, too bad he didn’t realize that before she kicked him out of town.

 Captain Beauty (I prefer Captain Librarian)

  • Although Belle and Hook have never been copacetic in the past, post-hiatus they seem to have grown to care some about each other now that they share a particular kind of experience: having Rumple get the best of them. Belle attempts to assuage Hook’s guilt over the trapping of the fairies and Hook likewise tries to minimize Belle’s pain over Rumple’s betrayal. Hook makes a particularly interesting comment when he says, “Love is a weapon.” A repetition of Rumple’s statement from way back.

Sea DeVil

  • Ursula, on the phone with Regina, referring to Cruella: “We’re back together.” Yes, those implications are pretty clear.


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Once Upon a Time “Darkness On the Edge of Town” Previews and Predictions

 

Coming Tonight: Once Upon a Time 4×12

CAUTION:  spoilers, sneak peeks, and speculations

“Darkness on the Edge of Town”With Gold banished from town, the residents of Storybrooke attempt to resume their normal lives. Hook and Belle search for a way to release the fairies from the Sorcerer’s hat, while Emma, Henry and Regina continue to look for clues that could lead them to the Author. But when a terrifying darkness descends on the town, Emma and Regina are forced to confront the true nature of evil. Meanwhile, in New York, Gold and Ursula enlist Cruella De Vil to join their cause, written by Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz and directed by Jon Amiel.

Here’s the promo that aired after the last episode:

…and here’s the new plot teasing one that aired during the Academy Awards:

For the Spring Premiere, we got four sneak peeks, just in case our fiery anticipation needed fuel. In the first, Rumplestiltskin tells the Queens of Darkness what time it is.

In the second, Emma and Regina do lunch.

And in the third, from the same scene, they discuss hope.

Finally, in the fourth, an ungrateful gargoyle terrorizes Storybrooke

Producers Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis have repeatedly reiterated that their versions of Cruella, Maleficent, and Ursula are specific to the Once mythology and bare only passing resemblance to existing Disney counterparts. In a sense this is probably true, it’s also true that Maleficent was a major property following Frozen in Disney’s lineup and they’ve brought the character’s costume closer to both the classic character and the updated one. Last year also saw the twenty-fifth anniversary of The Little Mermaid and the marketing surrounding that continues. While there will be plenty of drift, we’re betting all three villains will bring loads of references to the popular films with them.

4x12 The Look

As for predictions, I’ll stand by some of the parallels drawn to Paradise Lost during our commentary on 4A. If the new promo is any clue, the Queens of Darkness are absolutely trying to bring forth evil from good. And, conversely, any redemption sought by Regina follows the mirrored ending of the epic, bringing good, ultimately, from attempted evil.

It seems like they’ll be drawing on that with individual actions as well. Looking at the final sneak peek, the salvific attempt to release the fairies may have inadvertently released Fantasia‘s ultimate expression of evil. We’re curious to see who’ll be tempted and who’ll be tempered.

Mostly, though, we’re just glad the show’s back this week.

And that they made the hentai joke immediately…


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Star Wars Saturday: ‘Lego Star Wars Droid Tales’

It’s the conceit of Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead–take a familiar story (Hamlet) and retell it from the perspective of characters of lesser import (Rosencrantz & Guildenstern) to offer dramatic irony and humor. This idea has been reused many times over, including in the Star Wars Universe with the comic series Tag and Bink Were Here.

Now Disney is offering up Lego-style animated retelling of all 6 episodes of Star Wars from the perspective of C-3PO and R2-D2. The series will consist of 5 episodes 22-minutes in length airing on DisneyXD in the weeks leading up to The Force Awakens’s release.

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Lego has a fantastic track record through games and The Lego Movie of turning up the funny on well-known narratives and characters. I look forward to seeing this re-envisioning of the Star Wars Saga as we amp up the marketing and anticipation for The Force Awakens.

 


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Frozen Friday: ‘Frozen Fever’ Trailer Released

If you’re Disney, and you’ve got a property as hot as Frozen, you use it to sell tickets for your next big release. Is there a precedent for releasing a trailer for a short film tied to the beginning of a full-length film? But Disney knows that people, whole families even, would go see Cinderella just to see the Frozen sequel-short, and they’re putting marketing power behind Frozen Fever as a product unto itself.

I’m glad they’ve finally figured out how to market Frozen. And just how marketable it is.

frozen-feverFrozen Fever’s trailer gives us a lively look at preparations for Anna’s birthday party. There are the characters we love, their silly quirks, and a song. Get ready for the song.

Frozen Fever, er, I mean, Cinderella comes out March 13. We’ll see you there.


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Book Review: The Turnip Princess and Other Newly Discovered Fairy Tales

The Turnip Princess and Other Newly Discovered Fairy Tales – Franz Xaver von Schönwerth translated by Maria Tatar

Turnip PrincessA rare discovery in the world of fairy tales – now for the first time in English. With this volume, the holy trinity of fairy tales – the Brothers Grimm, Charles Perrault, and Hans Christian Andersen – becomes a quartet. In the 1850s, Franz Xaver von Schönwerth traversed the forests, lowlands, and mountains of northern Bavaria to record fairy tales, gaining the admiration of even the Brothers Grimm. Most of Schönwerth’s work was lost – until a few years ago, when thirty boxes of manu­scripts were uncovered in a German municipal archive. Now, for the first time, Schönwerth’s lost fairy tales are available in English. Violent, dark, and full of action, and upending the relationship between damsels in distress and their dragon-slaying heroes, these more than seventy stories bring us closer than ever to the unadorned oral tradition in which fairy tales are rooted, revolutionizing our understanding of a hallowed genre.

Franz Xanver von Schönwerth (1810-1886) was born in Bavaria and had a successful career in law and the Bavarian royal court before devoting himself to researching the customs of his homeland and preserving its fairy tales and folklore. Maria Tatar chairs the program in folklore and mythology at Harvard, and has edited and translated many collections of fairy tales. Eeika Eichenseer is a historian and preservationist working for the Bavarian government and the director of the Franz Xaver von Schönwerth Society.

The Dinglehopper was excited to review Jack Zipes’ The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm: The Complete First Edition last Fall. The tales included in Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s original collection were rougher, stranger, and more violent than the versions most of us heard growing up. And yet they were still somewhat aggregate, selected and edited as examples.

Franz Xaver von Schönwerth began collecting tales after they were more or less done and earned their respect.  They praised his accuracy and sensitivity. Where the Grimms presented tales in something of an archetypal role, von Schönwerth recorded tales as told. More like an anthropologist.

As a result, the stories in The Turnip Princess and Other Newly Discovered Fairy Tales aren’t necessarily structured the way you might think. My initial impression, of at least some of the tales, was that bits and pieced might have been missing. Or that two or more tales had been combined. This was perhaps heightened by having read the Zipes so recently.

But what I was really experiencing were tales as told at a hearth or around a campfire or even at a public house. They aren’t the work of professional writers polishing plot and character. They’re oral, remembered and related. If elements appear to slip between one story and the next, well, that’s to be expected. Isn’t it?

This collection gives a real sense of time and place as a result. You come to expect twelve men to torture Hans on the third night or a mountain made of glass. It familiarizes a past as comfortably as an epic fantasy novel. The relationships between the tales recreate a vibrant living tradition that might not be visible without the diligence of von Schönwerth, the research of Eichenseer, and the labor of Tatar.

If you’ve read my non-fiction reviews, you might have noticed a certain delight with comprehensive notes. Almost a fifth of the book, conveniently placed at the end so the reader can read casually or rabidly through the tales as she pleases, is endnotes by the translator. Some dig deep into the past to reveal sources and trace them through regional history. Others discuss the Aarne–Thompson-Uther type the tale represents, its frequency and its variation.

If you just like fairy tales or if you fancy yourself an armchair aficionado, you probably need this book. Unusual tales, rare gems, and novel constructions mean that you haven’t read these stories or their like before. And while more of the tales will undoubtedly be translated in the future, this Penguin Classics edition is bound to be a standard text for some time to come.

Recommended for Clever Hans, George MacDonald, and Clark Griswold.

 

 


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Birdman, or (The Techniques of the Postmodern Text)

By now it’s pretty clear I’ve been hooked by Birdman’s talon. It continues to rattle around in my skull, making connections to other texts I know and love and creating new shades of meaning and significance. I know the film has its nay-sayers, but I never want more than a text that really makes me think hard. And Birdman has clearly accomplished that.

One of the texts Birdman reminds me of is my beloved White Noise by Don Delillo. Like White Noise, Birdman exhibits many qualities of a postmodern text, both through technique and illustration of human psyche. I’m going to deal with the technique first.

Irony, dark humor, ‘play’—often comes off as ‘tongue-in-cheek’

Birdman-Michael-KeatonThe irony and play is heavy in Birdman. The first bit of play is exhibited when Riggan goes through a list of actors to replace the fallen co-actor and can only come up with accomplished actors who have played superheroes or star in an adjacent style of franchise–Woody Harrelson, Michael Fassbender, and Jeremy Renner. Riggan struggles with his own diminished fame as a has-been screen superhero, but unlike these actors, he’s let his “serious” acting long fall away. Renner has The Hurt Locker to counter Hawkeye in The Avengers. Fassbender has numerous roles in films like Hunger to balance his twice turn as Magneto in The X-Men films. Harrelson has The Messenger to play against his role in The Hunger Games. Ironically, the fictional actor that does replace the original actor is Edward Norton, who also has played a superhero in The Incredible Hulk but was most recently seen in quirky darling director Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. The levels of play in the real actors/roles/superheroes/serious roles is definitely played tongue-in-cheek for humor and ironic building of Riggan’s character. The cherry on the sundae is Riggan’s dismissal of Robert Downey Jr. as the newest huge superhero when RDJ also starred in the film adaptation of Raymond Carver’s short stories by Robert Altman, Short Cuts.

Experimentation with new forms, styles, and literary devices—conventions are overturned, assumptions of meaning made meaningless

Although some dismiss the continuous long take as a gimmick of the film, in fact its an amazing feat of cinematography. It is the most obvious of the ways the film experiments with style, giving the film a hyper-realistic quality, like an intense documentary. But this hyper-realistic quality of the film is overturned when Riggan exhibits growing superpowers through his seeming fantasy life (though the level of fantasy gets questioned at the end). The film likewise uses the drum score as both non-diegetic and diegetic elements to the story, throwing into question the boundaries of the film’s reality.

Pastiche—collage of various genres, parody

Birdman-Movie-Visual-EffectsBirdman’s genre is hard to pin down beyond the label “quirky.” It is one part melodrama, one part satire, one part psychological drama, one part superhero film. This is pastiche. The film’s use of this technique is at its height when Riggan walks down the street with Birdman telling him to do Birdman 4. Soon the fantasy takes over the screen as giant winged antagonists screech and attack cars with fireballs. The film switches at that point from a backstage melodrama to become a superhero blockbuster, at least in appearance. This is still all contextualized as Riggan’s mental hallucination. The strange montage after Riggan shoots himself is quite literally a cinematographic collage of genres symbolized through the parade of franchise characters and marching band.

Intertextuality—using other texts as part of the new one

keaton norton times squareFirst, see the discussion of irony and play above, because it is rife with intertextuality. The various references to other superhero actors and films, both explicit and implied, is intertextual. Add in the audience’s knowledge that Michael Keaton also played Batman in the 1990’s but has fallen in fame since. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Riggan’s doing an adaptation of Raymond Carver’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” One of his interviewers quotes Roland Barthes, a literary critic. Jake mentions Martin Scorcese and then Riggan’s replacement nose looks like Robert DeNiro’s in Scorcese’s Raging Bull. Near the end of the film Riggan passes by a seemingly homeless man reciting Macbeth’s “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” speech. This layering of multiple textual allusions creates a pastiche of its own that isn’t genre based so much as it suggests the many conflicting texts we all have rolling around in our brains, some offering meaningful commentary or parallel themes but mostly just creating cacophony.

Fragmentation of plot or perspective, including temporal (time) distortion

birdman meditationThe fragmentation of perspective is clear in the film. At times we take the camera to be objective, weaving its way through the theater’s backstage and showing us moment by moment what’s developing. At other times it seems clear we’re getting Riggan’s perspective, especially as the Birdman fantasy develops and grows. When Riggan jumps off the building and flies through New York, we’re in that fantasy perspective. When he lands and the cabbie runs after him demanding fare, we’re back in the objective perspective. The ending leaves us guessing about which perspective we’re in or if we’re in a new perspective altogether.

Furthermore, Riggan’s own perspective is fragmented with his growing split personality of Birdman telling him what to do and how to feel. Throughout the film we see more and more uncertainty in Riggan’s perspective, and as that uncertainty grows, so do his Birdman powers/fantasy of powers.

Time is also distorted. Through most of the film, we have a clear understanding of moment to moment thanks to that continuous take effect of the camera. But once we get to the opening performance’s suicide scene, time fragments in mysterious ways. The erratic montage of marching band, Spider-Man, et al. on stage could indicate a brief amount of time in Riggan’s head or arguably infinity if his self-inflicted gunshot wound actually kills him.

Incorporation of pop and “low” culture—cartoons, music, “pop art,” brand names and television

_AF_6405.CR2One of the major conflicts of the film lies in the distinction between high and low cultures. On the one side is the high culture of Broadway theater and the established gravitas of Raymond Carver, a classic American literary voice. On the other side is the low or popular culture of superhero films and franchise movie-making. Postmodernists ultimately want to break down the barrier between these two supposedly distinct levels of art, and Birdman falls right in line with that goal. The distinction between the true or high art of the theater and the pop or low art of the franchise film are muddied through Riggan’s attempt to break from one strata to the other. While it is easy to see the critique offered of the superhero films, the critique of theater is more subtle until the end. It largely comes through the mockery of characters like Ed Norton’s Mike, who are shown to be absurd and self-destructive in their pursuit of the real on the stage. The finale, wherein the Times critic lauds Riggan’s “performance,” completely undermines the higher status of stage acting by equating truth on the stage to shooting one’s face off.

Metafiction—writing about writing, making the artificiality of art or the fictionality of fiction apparent to the reader and generally disregarding the necessity for “willful suspension of disbelief”

The most obvious metafictional moment comes when Riggan passes the jazz drummer in the hallway of the theater, breaking down the wall between diegetic and non-diegetic music and drawing attention to the construction of the film. But the metafictional elements of the film weave throughout largely due to the parallels audiences can so easily draw between Riggan Thompson and Michael Keaton, both has-been stars of superhero franchises.

Imitation of and celebration of the cacophony

Birdman ChaosUltimately there’s a lot going on in Birdman and it’s mostly chaos. The different threads of theme and meaning seem to fall apart. Riggan’s play, the film at large, and thus its view of human significance all can be nicely summed up with an intertextual reference to Macbeth:

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing.

Postmodernists have a hard time pointing to any one significance and saying, “That’s the truth.” Instead they bat around the options, value the questions over the answers, and I think Birdman does the same.

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