Ideology, Tambien La Lluvia

Tambien La Lluvia image
Tambien La Lluvia

Your reading this week was Chapter 3 of Ecocinema Theory and Practice, “do ecocritics dream of clockwork green,” by Andrew Hageman. All through his essay Hageman refers to ideology. He is not using a simple dictionary definition of the term ideology, but building on a long scholarly history that has used this term to critique culture. In this course I have introduced the concept of mental frames, what Hageman means by ideology is similar. The term mental frames comes from cognitive science and implies that these are neutral ways of organizing our thoughts. The term ideology is broader: it seeks to understand the connections between mental, social and economic processes; and implies that ideology is not neutral but can be used to control some for the benefit of others – that power and politics are involved. Therefore there are ideological struggles – narratives about climate change are a current arena of such struggle – the struggle doesn’t just involve our reasoning, but our emotions and the current state of our society and economics.

Here is a little background on this use of ideology.

  • ideology = beliefs, norms, assumptions we live by
    • background assumptions about how things are and how things should be
    • often invisible to us, just the way things are
    • makes possible but also limits what we think and do
    • moral, cultural, social, political norms and assumptions
  • ideology changes over time and is different in different cultures, for example:
    • norms about gender have changed radically in the last century and are still changing rapidly
      • women only got the vote about a century ago – now that is the norm.
      • the concept that there are only two sexes is currently being challenged.
    • if you visit or go to live in a different country, the norms and assumptions of your own country become visible e.g.
      • what normal breakfast food is.
      • what the normal distance to stand near to a stranger is.
  • ideology is conveyed and enforced by our language, media and institutions (all always changing!)
    • language – most but not all languages have words for two genders and enforce gender by using the words (currently being challenged in many languages).
    • media – stories in fiction and non-fiction media reinforce how people should behave, how the world should work, what is important etc etc.
    • institutions – including the family, schools, work-places, the legal system, government.
  • there is a relationship between the economic/social structure of a culture and its ideology, for example and very crudely:
    • A feudal economic structure (king, nobility, peasants) is related to a strict hierachical ideology, each person has a place in the hierachy, kings are worth much more than peasants etc.
    • A capitalist economic structure is related to an ideology that focuses on the importance of the individual.
  • ideology has dominant narratives which are designed to control people and serve the people in power, for example:
    • Over century ago, one of the dominant narratives said women were not fit to govern so should not have the vote.
    • A current dominant narrative is that the more we consume the happier we are – this one is carried by all advertising and material on web, streamed, and broadcast that shows the people in rich surroundings with many luxury goods.
    • human exceptionalism and bounded individualism can be seen as two of the dominant narratives that Haraway is contesting.

Last week we talked about the way media works at the level of content and the level of form. Hageman’s essay also talks about how ideology works at both these levels.

  • Hageman uses the terms “constituted” (content level) and “constitutive” (formal level).
  • He argues that for eco-media to be effective it has to be radical at both the content level and the formal level.
  • He argues that Tambien La Lluvia succeeds because it does this.

Ideology and Contradiction – “Such breaking points must not be read as signs of failures to be lamented, but as indices of the contradictions within the ideology that determines our current ability to think and represent ecology.” p 65 Hageman

  • Because many of our ideological assumptions or mental frames are invisible to us, it is possible for them to hold contradictions that we are unaware of .
  • If a contradiction becomes apparent it may help us to see and then critique our mental frames.
  • Hageman thinks its a strength of Tambien La Lluvia that the director, Icíar Bollaín, really plays with contradictions.
  • The radical formal structure of TLL makes this play possible.

Tambien La Lluvia

  • TLL is a hybrid of a documentary and fictional feature film.
  • Formal levels – films within film
    • TLL is a film about the making of a film about Columbus and the Spanish conquest of Latin America by a Spanish film crew
    • TLL is set in Bolivia during the water wars of 1999 to 2000 in Cochabamba, Bolivia
      • it includes real news footage of water wars
      • it includes fictional re-enactments of scenes from the water wars
    • We also see scenes from the feature film on Spanish colonization the fictional film crew are shooting.
    • We also see “making of the movie” documentary footage, shot by one of the fictional crew members, who begins to think it is more important to document the water wars.
  • Each level comments/reflects on the others, drawing parallels but also revealing contradictions.
    • the 1999 water wars are juxtaposed against colonial history
      • the indigenous extras in the present are paid a pittance/Columbus steals gold from the indigenous people in the past.
      • parallels are drawn about the treatment of indigenous people in the past (obviously unfair and inhumane) to suggest that their treatment now is equally unfair and inhumane.
    • the contradiction between the material process of making a film versus political idealism of film makers is made visible
      • the film shows the violent exploitation of Spanish colonialism.
      • BUT the film is being shot in Bolivia because its cheaper than the Caribbean .
    • political correctness (anti-colonialism) of Spanish film crew is set against their reactions to the political crisis (they want to get out).
    • TLL presents a contradictory dilemma to its main characters and by implication to us all: Do you make your artistic and social critique – which might make changes in the future, in general awareness OR fix the situation right in front of you? Do you work in the battlefield of ideology or on the ground?
  • Characters acting at different formal levels also reveal contradictions
    • Daniel is the lead in the movie/leader of protesters
      • He is an indigenous hero in the Columbus film/ his role as leader of the contemporary protest threatens the finishing of the movie .
    • Costa, the most capitalistic of the film crew (the money man), ends up most moved by and helpful to the protesters. But only when it becomes very personal.
    • Sebastian is the most idealistic and political about colonialization – but he puts his film before the people and politics on the ground.
    • Daniel’s daughter – personifies the greatest contrast between the oppressed past and apparently “equal” future of the indigenous people of Bolivia
      • the crew congratulate her as they watch the rushes that show her trauma in the Columbus film – she is one of them, a potential actress.
      • but later she is wounded in the water riots, she is one of the people being oppressed, she has no ticket out.
  • The film within a film is a powerful strategy for involving audience in a what could be seen as a remote issue of environmental justice
    • involving the Spanish film crew gives a western audience sympathetic and familiar characters to identify with.
    • the fictional form allows points to be made narratively and emotionally, as a series of moral choices.
    • the Spanish crew act as a bridge between a western audience and the less familiar lives and struggles of the indigenous Bolivians.
    • emotional stories lead us to care about the people and therefore their fight
  • On the other hand: a former student Miho Kinoshito’s had this criticism, “Unfortunately, because this movie is mainly made by the perspectives of the film producers, I think audiences cannot fully understand the situation of native people. I wish if there were detailed descriptions how water is connected to native people’s lives and how water is important for them. For me, the way of describing native people in the film seems to be lack of understanding and respectful. Movies have power to uncover hidden facts that we have no access to, and because we are more familiar with people who exploit rather than those who are exploited, personally I wanted the film to show the water war from the native people’s point of view.”
  • Is this another contradiction and one the director did not intend?
    • Does the director’s stress on personal decisions distort a story about collective action?


Andrew Hageman, “Ecocinema and Ideology: Do ecocritics dream of a clockwork green?” in Ecocinema, Theory and Practice, eds. Rust, Monani, Cubitt, 2013: especially pp72-79

Additional Article of Interest: