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Reading "Tender Mercies": Two Interpretations

Norman K. Denzin
The Sociological Quarterly
Vol. 30, No. 1 (Spring, 1989), pp. 37-57
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the Midwest Sociological Society
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4121451
Page Count: 21
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Reading "Tender Mercies": Two Interpretations
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Abstract

Two readings, one realistic, the other subversive, of Tender Mercies, a contemporary "alcoholism" film, are offered. This case study of a cultural text speaks to the problem of how a society represents itself to its members through its depictions of everyday life. It is argued that sociologists have been slow to utilize cultural representations of society. It is contended that a patriarchal bias structures the film in question. A subversive reading of its text shows how this bias works. It is concluded that films like Tender Mercies reproduce key cultural ideologies concerning men, women, family, and alcoholism. The experience of viewing a film cannot be reduced to causes and effects, but must rather be studied in terms of the fields of experience a film makes available to the viewer. A methodology for conducting studies of cultural texts is outlined.

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