Friday, July 11, 2014

Blue Jasmine, A College Dropout Or A Gifted Anthropologist?

Although women’s education is not the main theme of Woody Allen’s movie Blue Jasmine, it is an important leitmotif --serving both as a characterization  device and as a moving force of the plot. In the opening scene on the plane, the heroine Jasmine tells the unfortunate lady who happens to sit next to her that after she had met her future husband she dropped out of university. She asks her neighbor whether she could imagine her as an anthropologist.
The neighbor does not have an answer, she has no idea who this rambling lady is, but Woody Allen has made a clever choice. Jasmine has not completed her education, still she is a gifted anthropologist. She becomes involved in a long standing field study of the rich and  famous. She does not keep a scientific distance from her subjects, quite the contrary. For several years she lives among them, carefully observes their movements and studies their practices, gradually she adopts  their norms and attitudes and becomes almost indistinguishable from them.
For years Jasmine has not worried about completing her education, as it served its purpose—marrying a rich man. However, when this chapter in her life abruptly and tragically ends, she is forced into a totally different field. Here she could no longer function as an anthropologist, she has no desire to study her new environment or adopt its customs. Thus she turns to education again hoping that once more it will provide her with the delivery she so desparately needs.
Unfortunately this time around Jasmine cannot be saved, going back to school proves too difficult in her current state of mind, and the connections that she obtains let her down.
Education (or learning), as it is presented in Blue Jasmine, does not have any intrinsic value; it only serves as a means for a specific purpose or as desperate prospect for a way out. I feel that Allen's disbelief in human nature has resulted in his cynical view of education in general and of education of women in particular.
This view of education brings back images of bleak periods in the history of Feminism; for generations women had to work much harder than men in order to be taken seriously. Moreover, their dedication was mocked or frowned upon by men (and sometimes by women). Until the 1980s gaining admission to either Oxford or Cambridge was much more difficult for women than for men, since their enrollment was limited to the only few openings in the women’s colleges.
Once they were admitted, their presence in these universities was not always welcome. Earlier in the century the poet and critic John Betjeman expressed a highly negative view of Oxford’s women who “drive out many good men from the clubs and societies they invade.” He even accused them of raising the standard of examinations since “they work so more doggedly than many of the men” The prominent feminist Edith Summerskill (an Oxford graduate, a physician, a Member of Parliament and a Minister of Cabinet), wrote to her daughter Shirley, a student in Oxford in the fifties that “it would be quite inaccurate to suggest that we were welcomed into the universities or into the public life”
 Blue Jasmine does not take place in the 1950s, a period when women were accused of going to university only to find a suitable husband, but in the present. Thus Jasmine must have attended university toward the end of the 20th century; I don't believe that at that time many women dropped out of school in order  to become  socialites.
Critics would argue  that Blue Jasmine is one of Woody Allen's best films, and  I am quite certain that it will win numerous awards. And yes, it is true that Cate Blanchett is brilliant as Jasmine and Woody Allen's  homage to old Blanche from Streetcar Named Desire is touching. However, we should not forget how hard we worked to get to where we are today and leave the 1950s behind. So at the risk of sounding humorless, I say: "it's not funny" and demand not to be  sent back there.

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