Author Archives: Aena Cho

A painting in novel and movie: Girl with Pearl Earring

One of the primary features of postmodernism in aesthetic production including artworks, films, music, and, literature is the use of intertextuality.  There are numerous great examples of intertextuality; Peter Webber’s film (2003) and Tracy Chevalier’s novel (1999) of the same name, Girl with a Pearl Earring, would be definitely some of them.  The film and novel both give fictional accounts of the girl depicted in a 17th –century painting of the same title by Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer; more exactly, as known well, the novel came out first; then the film was made based on it.  The painting features a mysterious girl with a turban and a pearl earring; but her identity has not yet been determined (Wikipedia).  Thus, the plot of both Webber’s film and Chevalier’s novel is all about Chevalier’s own interpretation of the famous mysterious painting.

The plot takes place in the Netherlands in the 17th century.  The main character, a young girl named Griet, comes to the city of Delft to serve the Vermeer family. After a critical moment in her first encounter with Vermeer, he begins to look at her as the only person in the house who can understand his art. He sees her as someone who has a somewhat artistic soul and uses her as a model for his painting.  He develops a complex emotional relationship with her that causes his wife to feel jealous (Wikipedia).

According to Kristeva and many other theorists, “intertextuality refers to far more than the ‘influences’ of writers on each other” (Chandler, 2013); this is well evident in the relationship among the painting, film, and novel of the same name, Girl with a Pearl Earring.  First of all, it is obvious that in her novel, Chevalier does not merely refer to Vermeer’s painting but imparts an entirely new meaning to it with her own subjective perspective and imagination.  Likewise, Webber’s film is also not a mere media representation of the painting and novel.  The quiet and slow scenes of the film which are just as captivating as the canvas and the reversed method of seeing the art-making process which allows the audience to become already familiar with the painting before it is finished gives a special tone to the movie. The film successfully draws the audience into the atmosphere of the period and gives them a different perspective of that piece of art: it leads the audience to focus on not only the art itself and the romance behind it but also the social norms, economic situations, people’s lifestyles, and personal fears and struggles in a growing process of one young girl in the 17th century Netherland. In this sense, as Chevalier’s novel does, it also adds a new meaning to the painting particularly within the audience by creating and manipulating their appreciation and impression of the painting.  More importantly, it helps the 17th century painting become popularized” among the contemporary mass.  It has, in fact, encouraged the audience to read Chevalier’s novel, put the image reproduction poster of the painting on their walls, or even travel to The Hague, where the painting is held in (Brussat).  Whatever their choice is, it would always take them back to the painting; this can be seen as blurring the line between high and popular culture.

Johannes_Vermeer_(1632-1675)_-_The_Girl_With_The_Pearl_Earring_(1665)               94-scarlett-johansson-girl-with-a-pearl-earring-vermeer

Work Cited

1. Chandler, Daniel. “Semiotics for Beginners”. Mar. 1, 2013.

2. “Girl with a Pearl Earring”. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc <>

Postmodern Aesthetics in Spirited Away

Aena Cho

In the world of contemporary mass media, many different theories of postmodernism or postmodernistic philosophical concepts seem to be everywhere even in animations or cartoons for young audiences.  While they are mostly western animations, American in particular, including The Simpsons and Shrek, which have been mentioned and discussed in postmodernism studies, I would like to discuss a Japanese animation called Spirited Away (2001) in the light of postmodernism.

As one of the most successful films in the Japanese history, Spirited Away is definitely one of the masterpieces of Hayao Miyazaki who won the Oscar for the Best Animated Feature in 2003.  The film is not about a typical fairy for children but a fantasized capitalistic world.  Chihiro, a ten-year-old girl, while moving to a new neighborhood with her parents enters the spirit world called Yuya which is owned and managed by the witch, Yubaba.  After her parents are transformed into pigs by Yubaba, she takes a job working in Yubaba’s bathhouse to find a way to free herself and her parents and escape to the human world (Wikipedia).

st. meji       st yuya

First of all, the whole film is built on the theme of retro, nostalgia, and reconstruction of history; some of the typical features in many postmodernism films.  It stages a modernizing Japan in the Meiji period (1868-1912). Yuya, the mystical town resembles Meiji, Japan in terms of architecture, during which time the style was a mix of Western and Japanese.  In an interview, Miyazaki said that he wanted to portray that specific era which was much different from these days when “the worlds of spirits and of humans have become separated because humans have neglected spiritual values” (Ghiblink, 2001).  In fact, there is no distinct boundary between that historical period and the present in the film, which is also frequently shown in many other postmodernistic films.  Chihiro, the protagonist, is sent back and forth between the two different time periods.  More importantly, this film describes the modern capitalistic world in the historical setting in which there are huge gaps and distinctions in power among different individuals, classes, and countries. This is best played out through the antagonist, Yuyuba.  Yubaba is the only one who does paperwork, lives in luxurious rooms, and owns jewelry.  She is the bourgeoisie who owns the capital to hire lower-class laborers; the other spirits in the film.  Moreover, she symbolizes the western power dominating the rest of the world since she wears a western dress while all other spirits wear uniforms which looks like traditional Japanese clothing.


Identity confusion or loss of identity is another major theme featured in this film; and this is definitely one of the ongoing issues in the postmodern world where different races, genders, classes, and religions constantly come in contact with one another and mixed together.  In the film, one’s identity is not a fixed thing since the ways that he is represented is subject to change in Yuya.  For example, Yubaba alters Chihiro’s name to Sen and transforms Chihiro’s parent to pigs.  Haku, another main character in the film, also constantly changes his form from a human to dragon.  However, the most interesting feature would be No-Face man who has only a shadow-like body and wears a mask in order to hide the fact that he has no face.  He makes gold to tempt people and eat those who are tempted; he grows bigger and bigger and hence constructs his outside identity by eating them. According to the interview included in the DVD, Miyazaki explains that the No face man represents the modern capitalist production and consumption; system that grows by feeding upon human greed (Ghiblink, 2001).  In other words, No-Face man’s transformation implies that people’s loss, oblivion, or confusion of their original identities and values in the modern society is often due to the pursuit of greed and materialistic wealth.

no face

Work cited

1. “Spirited Away.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia

2. Ghiblink, Team. “Interview: Miyazaki on Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi”. Nausicca. Net. 2001.

Globalization, media/technology convergence, and Idol competitions

Aena Cho

Among a numerous number of American TV programs, American Idol, a reality singing competition program, is undeniably one of the most successful ones in the history of American television during the past decade.  Its huge popularity has led many other countries to adopt the same program format and create their own versions, such as Canadian Idol, Idols West Africa, Indian Idol, Indonesian Idol, and New Zealand Idol.  This “Idol craze” is not only limited to the field of singing, but it has also spawned all different kinds of reality competition shows, including dancing, cooking, and poetry reading (the United Arab Emirates has offered a take on Idol called “Million’s Poet.”). 

After finishing this week’s reading several questions about different theories in regards to globalization and cultural identities  have come to my mind: What is the “cultural identity” of all the different versions of the reality competition shows in the countries other than the U.S? Should we recognize them as American cultural contents and products?  Can we identify them as any one specific genre?   First of all, since the Idol craze is unarguably one of the effects of globalization, it would be necessary to consider it in the light of globalization theories.  In his Hybridity, or the Cultural Logic of Globalization, Kraidy denies seeing globalization and all the hybrid products as the result of either standardized homogenization or heterogeneity and diversity.  In his view, the world-wide popularity of Idol shows does not mean the cultural domination or imperialism of the American media commodity.  From his perspective of “transculturalism”, all the different international versions of the Idol shows are not merely the adoption of an American cultural content but a kind of cultural exchange – sharing cultural experiences, ideas, and products.  In fact, the Idol craze reflects many commonalities in all different social, cultural, and media environments in the world including the universal appeal of watching competitions along with each personal story of the contestants and the need to seek unconventional and inventive program contents in a highly competitive TV entertainment environment, and, mostly, people’s desire for a meritocratic society in which anyone can succeed with talent alone.  Such commonalities have enabled the world-wide “circulation of media contents” (Jenkins).  As a result, it would be possible to see the Idol show as not purely American.  To  share Stuart Hall’s perspective from his book The Question of Cultural Identity, although the idea of the reality-competition show is just represented as American, it is actually a universal cultural product arisen from the same needs and interests of the people all over world

As for the question of defining the genre of the Idol show, I would like to see the show as of “Remix”, a genre discussed in Fagerjord’s After Convergence: YouTube and Remix Culture. Indeed, the program is one of the best examples of the consequences from the convergence of old and new media and technologies.  As we know, the beauty of the show that is its main difference from other competition shows is generating super stars which requires the audience’s active participations and supports from voting to forming fan communities; all these are enabled by the advent of new media technologies including SNS and YouTube.  In other words, it can be said that the new media technologies gives rise to the unique style of TV show.  In this sense, the genrical identity of the show and the Idol craze are something “diverged” or “newly created” (Fagerjord, 199) by new media technologies from old, traditional genres.