Justin Chew, '13
Junior conducts summer research on film heroes at UC Berkeley
April 9, 2012
History major Justin Chew, ’13, spent his summer at the University of California, Berkeley, researching the archetypes of a male “hero” across all genres of ’90s American film.
The study addressed three analytical perspectives: audience reception, scholarly literature on modern American values, and film analysis. As film has become more popular, so has the idea of heroes in entertainment, Chew says.
“In the 21st century, film has developed into one of the primary modes of entertainment in the United States,” he says. “Growing box office receipts and the proliferation of new technologies are a testament to film’s popularity in U.S. mass culture, and its special place in the American imagination. The concept of the hero is similarly enveloped in mainstream American culture.
“Heroes can be reflections of a culture’s self-image, its anxieties in the present and its hopes for the future. They are portraits of common sentiments and ideals, inspirers of a particular optimism.”
Chew identified and explained the existence of a pervasive Hollywood male hero: the everyman. Drawing from a long list of Hollywood films across various genres and time periods, Chew argues that there exist distinguishable characteristics, plot points, and developmental arcs that are essential to the creation of the everyman archetype in Hollywood American films.
“A challenge, in addition to identifying the heroic archetype, was to explain how Hollywood constructed these images of the hero in hopes of understanding why he is the way he is, and what these circulating ideas might reveal about mainstream American culture in the 1990s,” he says. “There are a number of subtle factors that might contribute to a film character’s identity construction — a name, physical appearance, moral codes, individual choices, aspirations, desires, reactions, modes of expression, age, socioeconomic status, and individual talents — all of which could factor into how an identity is constituted."
The individual, yet collaborative, nature of his research was one of the most important things Chew says he learned. He discussed his research with professors, friends, acquaintances, and family, who helped him think about the material and communicate ideas in a clear and interesting way.
Chew had a variety of audiences, from people in the field to those who are less knowledgeable about the subject. Their opinions and thoughts helped him consider different angles and possibilities in approaching various research problems, he says.
“It was a very self-driven project, but given my topic, there was also an equally exciting opportunity to engage with different types of audiences,” he says. “I was challenged to be creative in finding ways to effectively communicate and think about problems and solutions.”
Though he conducted his research at Berkeley, he says that Richmond professors David Brandenberger and Abigail Cheever were readily available throughout the process.
“Dr. Brandenberger has been a great mentor,” he says. “His instruction, advice, and interest through each stage of the project’s development served as a source of personal and professional inspiration. And as an advisor and supporter, Dr. Cheever’s optimistic support in response to my ideas and concerns were significant in times of both doubt and enthusiasm.”
Chew will present his research at the annual Student Symposium April 13 at the Modlin Center for the Arts, along with 300 other students in the School of Arts and Sciences.