Prompt 9/19

For this week’s blog post, you are to develop and support a short argument using Pillow Talk and/or the article “Touch Someone: The Telephone Industry Discovers Sociability” as your main source of evidence. Use one of the questions below as your starting point. You do not need to follow my prompts word-for-word or answer every question.

Assume the reader has seen the movie, but not as recently as you have. That means you don’t need to describe the movie at length. A sentence or two reviewing the main plot should be fine. Go into greater detail about the scenes or characters that are most important for your argument. It may help to consult chapter 15 of They Say/I Say, “Entering Conversations about Literature.” Since all movies are multimodal, and produce their effects through a combination of linguistic, visual, spatial, gestural, and aural details, you may also want to review Writer/Designer, pages 1-13.

Give yourself the freedom to be speculative. The most compelling writing about film or cultural objects (about anything, really) doesn’t try to prove a point that should be self-evident. Look for aspects of the source material that suggest more than one possible meaning or explanation, or start with something that confuses you.

This final piece of advice applies to every class and every kind of writing. Avoid generalizations about the world “back then” or “in that time.” When does “then” end and “now” begin? (If you actually have an answer, you should be prepared to justify it!) The same goes for generalizations about what “society” thinks and does. No society has ever held a single, consistent set of beliefs about sex, money, or anything else, nor has any large group of people acted on its beliefs in a uniform way. The society depicted in Pillow Talk is divided by class, race, sex…and those are just the most visible divisions.

Here are the prompts:

(1) In “Unpacking the Bachelor Pad,” Jessica Sewell argues that the design of Brad’s apartment in Pillow Talk reflected the so-called “crisis” in American masculinity in the 1950s. Thinking about Sewell’s claims, analyze another set (any interior space) from the film. What does the space tell you about the people who inhabit it? What made you come to those conclusions? Are there any objects that probably would have been perceived differently when the film was released?

(2) Why are there so many references to pregnancy in Pillow Talk? Develop an argument using at least two specific examples from the film. Do the pregnancy references reinforce the conventional gender roles in the movie, or do they suggest that something more complicated is going on?

(3) Brad’s prank takes advantage of an idea summed up in the Southwestern Bell Telephone Company slogan from 1923: the idea that “Your Voice is You” (Fischer 41). Develop an argument about the ways any of the characters in Pillow Talk characters (mis)perceive one another by voice alone (tone, accent, dialect, etc.). You may also want to recall the articles on code-switching from a few weeks ago.

(4) One implication of the article “Touch Someone” is that, sometimes, sociability has to be taught (and sold). Can you think of another circumstance in which people were/are taught how or why to interact with one another in a friendly way? Try to explain the rationale behind that program. Consider cultural context, gender and age differences, profit motives, whether you think the program succeeded, etc. What does this case have in common with the case of the telephone, and where do the cases differ?

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