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  • Fighting Talk – Martial Arts Discourse in Mainstream Films

    Paul Bowman

    Chapter from the book: Bowman, P. 2019. Deconstructing Martial Arts.

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    After putting madness on the table, where can we go? How are martial arts regarded in the wider world, outside of martial arts contexts ‘proper’? Jacques Derrida and other proponents of deconstruction would often engage issues tangentially or transversally, focusing on ‘minor’ or ‘marginal’ dimensions – things that lie on the outer limits of supposed relevance. In this deconstructive spirit, this chapter examines conversations, dialogues and statements about martial arts in films that can by no stretch of the imagination be regarded as martial arts films. It takes this unusual focus in order to glean unique insights into the status of martial arts in mainstream popular culture. The work is interested in the ways that martial arts are understood, positioned, and given value within the wider flows, circuits, networks or discourses of culture. Films examined include Vision Quest/Crazy for You (1985), Lolita (1962), Roustabout (1964), Napoleon Dynamite (2004), An Officer and a Gentleman (1982), Full Metal Jacket (1987), Rollerball (1975), Trading Places (1983), The Wanderers (1979), Once Were Warriors (1994), and Meet the Fockers (2004); and some discussion is given to ‘limit cases’ – action films such as The Matrix (1999) and Lethal Weapon (1987). The analysis suggests that martial arts tend to be represented in non-martial arts films audiovisually, and that on the rare occasions martial arts are discussed, they tend to emerge as improper or culturally unusual activities or practices. Because of their familiar yet non-normal (unhomely/unheimlich, uncanny) status, along with their entwinement in senses of lack and related fantasies and desires, martial arts in these contexts are frequently related to matters of sexuality, insecurity and the desire for plenitude. Accordingly, although occasionally associated with higher cultural values such as dignity, martial arts are more often treated as comic, uncanny or perverse aberrations from the norm.

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    Bowman, P. 2019. Fighting Talk – Martial Arts Discourse in Mainstream Films. In: Bowman, P, Deconstructing Martial Arts. Cardiff: Cardiff University Press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.18573/book1.h

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    Published on June 24, 2019