Being There Essay, Research Paper
Figure-Ground: Indefinite amount of reality depending on what you make figure or ground. We see the world through figure-ground. What can be background can be figure. What can be figure can be background. Figure is what one pays attention to, while ground is what one blocks out. An example of this is when two people are together and talking between themselves. One person brings up something about an object, but the other person thinks the first person is talking about something other than the object. The first person does not give sufficient information about what he is talking about, so the second person guesses, or fills in from his own interpretation, what the first person is talking about.
In the film, there are a few scenes where we see figure-ground take place. One is when Chance is being escorted around the Rand house because of his injured leg. Chance is in a wheelchair being escorted up to his room by a Rand servant. The Rand mansion is so huge that elevators are required, especially for Mr. Rand who is so ill. While in the elevator, Chance says,
I ve never been in one of these before.
Then the servant says,
Mr. Rand has two of them.
Chance hears this and asks the servant,
Do any have televisions in them?
The servant finds Chance s question amusing and starts to laugh. The servant thinks he is being humorous when he asks about the television in the elevator. When he is done laughing, he tells Chance,
There isn t a television in any of the elevators.
When Chance says that he has never been in one of these, he means that he has never been in an elevator before. For his entire life, he has been stuck in a house that has no elevator. He was never allowed to venture out into the world, so he never came into contact with one. It was not in his experience. The servant in the scene thinks he is referring to never having been in a wheelchair before. Therefore, he goes along on his own thinking and tells Chance that Mr. Rand has two of them, meaning two wheelchairs. Chance then asks the guy if they have any televisions. He means do any of the elevators have televisions, but the servant thinks he is making a joke about the wheel chair having a television. The servant starts laughing at Chance s question because it isn t everyday that you hear someone asking if a wheelchair has a television on it.
From this scene, the servant views Chance as a humorous person. He thinks he is a joker, a comedian, if you like. This has significance in a later scene when the two take the elevator again. They are going up when the servant starts laughing. He is remembering what Chance said earlier. So the servant has constructed Chance as being a humorous fellow from their elevator conversations.
Another example of figure-ground is when Chance receives a telephone call from a newspaper reporter. Eve is there crying because Ben is so ill. A servant tells Chance about the call, but Chance delays in answering it because he has never had a telephone call before. It is not in his realm of experience. He does not know how to answer the telephone. Eve thinks Chance does not want to leave her to answer the telephone because she is so distressed; that he is staying with her out of compassion for her. To this end, she constructs Chance as being a caring, compassionate human being. That she is more important to him than a newspaper reporter.
Context: The totality of what s happening. All the pieces coming together. We use words and actions to bring stuff together, to make things whole and understandable.
Chance s metaphors about Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter built him into an intelligent, insightful, important personage. Mr. Rand was duped, the Press, Mrs. Rand, the president, and all of the president s advisors also bought this erroneous depiction of Chance. His colorful views of the seasons and garden brought everyone together. By him talking about something that everyone knows about, he can relate to people. By relating to people in this way, Chance is hailed as the smartest person for the time being. He was still just a man, a simple gardener. But to America, he was hottest thing around.
He found contentment in the garden. Although sheltered, he loved to work in the garden where he tended and cared for the plants. Nature s truths were his truths. And by reflecting the forgotten truths of nature, Chance is hailed as a hero. In a world full of propaganda, his simple observations come off as those of a genius. Here was a man who did not seek to justify himself. And the reactions to him by those who did justify themselves, revealed them for who they were.
Past Experience: Principal of observation. We see past experience through language and also see past experience through images we know. We see our past through other peoples lives and their actions. We construct people and their situations from our own ordeals.
When Chance stated that he had to leave the old man s house because the lawyer told him to leave, Mr. Rand s past experience with lawyers led him to conclude that Chance was an astute businessman who had fallen on hard times and lost his business due to the machinations of a shifty lawyer. He constructed Chance s business and its problems from his own past experiences with the legal profession. Also, his view on death he used his past experience to clarify what it means. As he sees Ben lying around getting sicker and sicker, he thinks of the old man. He says,
I ve seen this before. It happens to old people.
He uses his past experience with the old man as a reference to what is happening to Ben. Also, when the president and the press could not find any background information on Chance (due to the fact that he had spent a lifetime secreted away from society in the old man s house), their past experience with government agencies allowed them to construct Chance as a C.I.A. or an F.B.I. agent. How else would he be able to hide, or erase his background, if not with the help of these two agencies?
Ambiguity: More unclear the situation, the more information you have to bring to it. You have to interpret a lot more. Based on little information, you have to make huge assumptions. An ambiguous man projects very little of himself. The person doesn t give out to much, he just gives us little aspects and we usually fill in the rest.
Chance projected very little of himself through the whole movie. People had to make their own presumptions on what kind of person Chance was. An example of him being ambiguous is how he tells of his life with the old man and Louise. He tells Eve how he and Louise were close, how they had a special bond with each other. The only bond they really had was that Louise was practically his mother. She made his meals, she did everything for him. But Chance doesn t dwell into all this at first. He just admits that they were close. Eve automatically puts into her head that Chance and Louise had a thing for each other. She made her own assumption from the very little Chance had told her. She likes him a lot and it is hard for her not to have him. But eventually Chance says that Louise was the maid, not the lover Eve had thought.In the end, she starts laughing at herself for jumping to conclusions. By jumping to conclusions, she was pretty much guessing Chance s life. By guessing, she could be right and she could be wrong. She doesn t realize that, she feels what she presumes is right.
Social rules are the standards or guidelines that we as society set up for interactions. As we grew from childhood, we learned from our parents and from encounters with others what was suitable and not suitable to do when being social. We were taught things such as manners and politeness.
When in conversation, we can only make sense of what is said if we know the social context, which does not appear in the conversations words. This is part of ethnomethodology, the study of the methods people use to make sense of what others do and say. Ethnomethodology was founded by Harold Garfinkel who spent time studying conversations. Another important person in social rule understandings was Erving Goffman who came up with the notion of civil inattention where an individual indicates recognition of the other persons presence, but avoids gestures that might be taken as being rude, such as staring or distinct facial expressions.
Throughout the movie Chance portrayed some of the characteristics Goffman studied. Chance would never stare at a person or give crude or even happy facial expressions. He seemed emotionless and not interactive towards people, but in certain instances he spoke, but spoke and gestured inappropriately.
When Chance was kicked out of the only home he had, he walked down the streets of Washington D.C. When Chance felt hungry, he saw a black woman and asked if she would make his lunch for him. Since Louise had made his meals practically all his life, he figured black women were the providers of food. He felt comfortable accosting a stranger he did not know. In Chances eyes, this black woman took the appearance of Louise because of her clothes and color and the bag of groceries in her hand.
When hearing Chance s request, the woman became fearful because she was not accustomed to strangers asking her to get food for them. So she took off and hurried inside a doorway off the street away from Chance.
The social rule that chance broke was that he went up to a total stranger on the street, someone he did not know and had never seen before, and hounded her. We as a society know that it is not right to act rude towards people. But Chance did not know he was breaking a social rule. He had never been social with anyone, so he felt it was all right to ask the lady for lunch. Everything was provided for Chance in the old man s home. Chance didn t even consider approaching a white man or woman for food, because only a black woman fit into his past realm of experience. Only black women are food providers. But Chance is not in the old man s mansion anymore where Louise provides the nourishment he needs, so he gets worried about finding food. So he asks a black woman, who he thinks provides food for him, if she would make his lunch. When she says no, this confuses Chance a great deal. He doesn t know what to do because he has never done anything for himself.
After Chance had been hit by the Rand limo, he was taken to their estate. When being observed by the doctors in the Rand hospital room, he meets Ben Rand. Ben tells of how he is sick and that a disease has caused his body to not run right. In seeing how sick Ben was, Chance blurts out to Ben,
So you re dying huh?
Again, not knowing social structures, Chance blurts out a question about death which most people fear. But when Ben hears what Chance says, he doesn t seem to get offended or emotional by it. There s not much Ben can do except delay the inevitable by having blood transfusions everyday. But I think Ben knows he is going to eventually die soon, so he has accepted this notion and figures there s no reason to fight it anymore.
The social rule that Chance breaks in this scene is that he openly asks an old man about death. The thought of dying is something that everyone fears, especially older people because they know they are coming upon it. Bringing up something that causes fear and sadness in a conversation, especially death is hardly ever done. Most people today avoid talking about death because it is a sad experience, so we usually talk about happy things. In this case Chance, not a knowledgeable guy in speaking with people, abruptly brings out the idea of dying.
The day after Chance is hit by the limo, he gets the chance of meeting the President of the United States. The president is very good friends with Ben, so they meet to discuss the president s speech and talk economic issues. The president even gets Chance s opinion on the United States economy. After the president and Ben hear Chance s views, they both are amazed by his metaphors about the economy. But what is funny in this scene, is that Chance calls the president by his first name which is Bobby. He calls the most important man in this world by his first name.
When then the president hears this, he turns and gazes at Chance as if in awe. He has probably never been called Bobby since being president, especially not from a person he just met and knows little about. The president and other leaders are usually termed with names that represent power and leadership, not their real names that show no respect.
The social rule that Chance broke is that he called a powerful man he did not have acquaintance with by his first name. In todays society, we share an understanding that a
person higher in social class and society is referred to as Sir and Mr. In working situations, employees call their superiors Boss and Sir also. We all know not to call our boss by his first name, it s just simply inappropriate to do so. In Chance s case, he calls the most powerful man in the world by his first name which takes the president totally off guard. It s not everyday that we hear our president being spoken to as Bill. But since Chance is not that experienced in social interactions, he doesn t know how to talk or what is appropriate to say when meeting the President of the United States.
In watching the movie, one can see that Chance could be described as Jesus Christ. Jesus taught and preached to his followers and others through parables. Chance spoke from stories and metaphors. Jesus was a peaceful man who never showed anger. Chance was a modest man, an honest human being like Jesus. Chance s peace put others at peace.
A way Chance could be seen as Jesus was through Ben. Ben was an influential man in America. He was very high up in the government and had powerful friends. Ben knew Chance was a smart man, so he has him meet the president. The president quoted Chance on national television and that s when the whole world knew of Chance the gardener or Chauncey Gardener. One could look at Ben as resembling John the Baptist. John was Jesus cousin and a true believer in Jesus. John went around and preached about Jesus as the Son of God. Eventually John was killed because of his strong faith. Ben acts like this in that he gets Chance in the spotlight. Ben knows that America needs change and that America needs Chance s vision and ideas, so he places Chance with the president.
Another example of Chance being like Jesus is at the end of the movie. When the President is saying some kind words about Ben at the funeral, the pallbearers begin discussing Chance as being president. The bearers feel the current president is a fool and they want him out of office. They feel that Chance could become a great leader under their guidance. The pallbearers in this scene could be seen just like the disciples of Jesus. The movie doesn t show them preaching like Jesus disciples, but they said they wanted Chance for president. They were willing to risk their political stature on a person they had no background on and a person they had only known for a couple days. Jesus disciples were willing to give up their lives for their beliefs in Jesus and in God.
The last example in the movies of Chance appearing to be Jesus is when Chance walks on water. Jesus walked on water when his disciples were far away in a boat fishing in a lake. Just like Jesus, Chance starts walking on water of the lake which is on the Rand estate. Chance even sticks out his umbrella and measures the depth of the water to show us that it is indeed deep and that the only way Chance could be standing up is by walking on top of the water. This signifies that Chance is Jesus because no one can simply walk across water. This represents the Second Coming of Jesus, where Jesus comes to lead his people on Earth. In a sense this is what Chance is going to be doing because soon he will be President of the United States, leader of the most powerful nation on Earth.
Another character Chance could portray is an idiot. Throughout the film, Chance acts like a moron numerous times. But no one in the movie can see the stupidity of Chance s actions. Since he is so ambiguous, everyone makes their own judgments and assumptions of Chance. Chance talks concretely while everyone else thinks he is speaking abstractly. Chance is busy talking about his garden and the changing seasons while other perceive it as a metaphor. Nobody realizes that he really is talking about his garden. It is the only thing he knows about, the only thing he s ever done in all his life.
An example of Chance acting like an idiot is when he is dusting off a car that is already spotless, that is never driven and has flat tires. Only an idiot would do that. There s no sense dusting off something that isn t going to be used anytime soon. Another example is when Chance is confronted by the gang on the street. The gang starts to get obnoxious, so Chance pulls out his remote control and tries to switch channels. He thinks that by pushing the buttons on the remote, the gang will go away. He is a moron to think that, but he has watched television all through his life and when you push the button usually the channel does change. He is thinking this situation is just like a television channel, where you can watch something or change it if you don t like it.
A bigger example of Chance portraying an idiot is when Eve wants to have sex with Chance. Instead of having that one thing that all men crave, he watches television. When Eve asks him what s wrong, he responds,
I like to watch.
He of course means watch television, but Eve thinks he means watch her perform sexual stimulation on her own self. So while this beautiful woman is getting off on herself, Chance is sitting on the bed watching and engaging in the exercise show. What kind of man would pass up sex for a TV show? In this case, only an idiot would.
The last character Chance could have portrayed was an existential man. An existential man is someone who creates reality. Existence is created by that person and other around him or her. If a person is clever and skillful enough, he can get people to see whatever he or she wants them to see. The person is practically fooling everyone around him. He or she lives life the way it really isn t.They live life by being greedy, by making the world their playground and the people that live here, their own pawns.
Chance fools everyone in Being There. He is so powerful he can do what he pleases and that s just what he does. He begins by staging an accident by getting run over by Ben Rand s wife. What better way is there to get your needs, than to get hit by one of the most influential people in the United States. After being hit, the Rands take him to their estate. Here, Chance can fool Ben with his wit and get him to bring the president over. When Chance meets the President, he gives the president his view of the economy. The President likes what he hears, so he writes it in his speech on television and Chance becomes famous for this. This is what Chance wants, to be in the spotlight, to make his name known to everyone .
Chance then goes on national television and dazzles the audience in America with his garden and economic views. People think this depiction of the economy through gardens and the changing seasons is brilliant. It s like Chance has America eating out of his hand practically with these garden tales.
After Ben dies, it looks like Chance is going to take over for him, even taking care of Eve. But that s not all, the pallbearers, who were part of Ben s business group, start bringing up the notion of Chance as a possible presidential candidate. In Chance s mind, he knows they are thinking that. From the very beginning, he had wanted the presidency. So he insinuated himself into the confidence of the president s friends and other political figures and put awe in their minds with his intellectual ideas.
In the end Chance gets what he wants and to top it off, he seems to defy gravity and walks on water. This clarifies that Chance is so powerful, he can tamper with the laws of nature and gravity. He truly is existential.