Monday, April 2, 2012

Gender Cultures in "Habla con Ella"

“Male-female conversation is a cross-cultural communication” (Tannen. You Just Don’t Understand. p. 42). This quotation from Deborah Tannen drives the main point to the communication theory of Genderlect Styles. Tannen sees male and female communication as two unique cultural dialects. Male communication tends to focus on status, the ability to command attention and independence. Males also tend to communicate through shared activities. Females communicate to connect with other human beings. They form bonds through intimate and open conversations. Neither way should be viewed as superior nor inferior, just distinct cultural dialects. This cultural difference between male and female communication appears aggressively in the 2002 film, “Habla con Ella” directed by Pedro Almodovar (

The plot revolves around the connecting lives of two men, Benigno, a hospital nurse and Marco, a reporter for a local paper. Both characters share a similar story of a relationship with the female culture. Benigno has been assigned as a caregiver to Alicia, a young ballet dancer who has been in a coma after a car accident. Benigno as been secretly obsessive about Alicia years before her accident, from watching her ballet from his apartment across the street. Marco meets Benigno when Marco’s romantic interest Lydia, a famous matador falls into a coma after being gored in a bull fight. Marco had previously broken Lydia down in an interview and believes he caused her lack of focus which led to the incident. The relationship of the two men and the way they connect with each other and to the lifeless women drive the film’s plot. Their relationship not only supports the Genderlect theory but also challenges it.

Benigno, a nurse and caregiver for his aging mother for the past twenty years has more of a female way of communication, not only in his relationship with Alicia but with Marco too. In a conversation seen between the two men after both have been spending time beside the bed of their comatose victims, Benigno urges Marco to “talk to her(Lydia)” and it will help him cope with the unknown outcome of the accident. Until this point Marco has felt very awkward and out of place while staying with Lydia. While Marco remains silent on Benigno’s comment, Benigno leans down and tells the comatose Lydia that he will come around and eventually tell her how he feels. This connection-focused communication appears as Marco learns Benigno has been carefully caring for Alicia for the past four years. As Marco spends time with Benigno and Alicia in the hospital he discovers that Benigno openly shares all his thoughts with Alicia and has formed an intimate connection and relationship to her despite having never truly met her. This type of intimacy and openness with a central focus on connection leans towards the female culture in communicating despite Benigno being male. Alicia’s dad, a psychiatrist questions Benigno’s sexuality at one point.

While Benigno’s open, yet one-sided conversation with Alicia reveals a feminine side to his character, he and Marco also connect with the male culture of the genderlect theory. The relationship between Marco and Benigno strengthen as they spend their days caring for their comatose females. This shared activity is a doorway that males use to connect contrasted to woman who like to have open and intimate conversations. In one scene Marco and Benigno bring the two women to Alicia’s balcony. They dress them up and set them in comfortable relaxing chairs with sunglasses, hats and magazines so all four can share a peaceful and relaxing time in the afternoon sun. The two motionless bodies of the females lean slightly in towards each other at one point and Benigno remarks that, “They are talking about us.” Through this experience and other similar ones Marco and Benigno form a relationship that helps them deal with their situations and unrequited love.

While Marco and Benigno’s friendship forms through the victimized females they care for, the outcome of both men’s situations drastically differs. Eventually Marco loses the connection and relationship he has with Lydia and moves away while Benigno’s compassion for Alicia drives him to commit an unthinkable act out of his obsession with ¡her. The friendship is rekindled when Marco desperately tries to help Benigno who has been driven to the brink of insanity due to his aggressive affection for a woman unable to return the feelings. The genderlect differences appear again as Marco visits Benigno in prison to listen to him. While both main characters are male the two sides of Genderlect communication theory appear in the relationship they have together.



3.Tannen, Deborah, You Just Don’t Understand. Ballentine, New York. 1990.

4.Griffin, Em. Communication: A First Look at Communication Theory. Mcgraw-Hill, New York. 2009.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Reducing Uncertainty in "Memento"

"Our main purpose in talking to people is to 'make sense' out of our interpersonal world...We like certainty and dislike uncertainty...Increased knowledge of what kind of person another is that provides an improved forecast of how a future interaction will turn out" (Griffin pg 126). This quotes provides the heartbeat for what is the "Uncertainty Reduction Theory" of interpersonal communication between two strangers. Charles Berger says that he "believes the main purpose in talking to people is to 'make sense' out of our interpersonal world"(126). When two dogs first encounter each other they sniff around to reduce uncertainty between themselves and the situation, and while humans do not necessarily sniff each other from head to toe the same uncertainty reduction force drives our first encounter. When first encountering a stranger, there lies a great level of uncertainty in the relationship. However this uncertainty is reduced through what Berger calls his "Axioms of Interaction." These include: verbal communication, nonverbal warmth, information seeking, self-disclosure, reciprocity, similarity, liking, and shared networks. An increase in any one of those, say information seeking between two strangers will help reduce the amount of uncertainty in the relationship as doing the opposite will increase uncertainty. Each human desires to reduce uncertainty to one another through these windows of communication in order to better understand our interpersonal world. And as each of these axioms increase in certain situations relationships are formed and certainty is increased. Strangers become acquaintances and acquaintances become friends. But what if after meeting someone new, and reducing uncertainty to any extent was erased after a few minutes? What if after someones shares a uncertainty reduction interaction with a stranger, the next time they encountered them there was no remembrance of any encounter before? and the uncertainty level had dropped back to down the level of first encounter? What if no matter how many times you met someone, or had a conversation or interaction with, they were always a stranger at the next time of an encounter? This is the situation that Leonard Shelby finds himself in "Memento"(Christopher Nolan. 2000) when after a tragic accident he develops anterograde amnesia, a type of amnesia where after the accident that caused it no explicitly new memories are able to be made in the victims mind. When Shelby awakes each morning in a hotel room, with no memory of the night or the days before, no memory of why he is there, or what he is supposed to do, or who he has, can, or should talk to, his uncertainty level is at an all time high.
In the start if the film the audience discovers that Leonard Shelby, has made substantial progress in his circumstance due to his intelligence since the accident, his wife being brutally raped and murdered by two men where he was struck on the head causing the amnesia. He has formulated a way each day to where he can live with progress in mind instead of waking up in square one. He uses a direct system of leaving purposeful notes to where he will go, who he will encounter, and what he has to do in order to find the man who raped and killed his wife. He does this not only by permanently marking his bodies with tattoos but leaving a trail of photographs and notes which he keeps with him to find every few minutes. His goal is simple: revenge. However as he soon realizes at the beginning of the film he has met a few "friends" along the way that have either tried to help him, or lead him astray in his mission. For which reason? He cannot seem to remember. He encounters Teddy and learns that he has detailed great parts of his life ad condition and purpose to him, yet each time he encounters Teddy he cannot remember meeting him except through a photo he carries around. He also has much contact with a lady named Natalie, whom also knows much about him, yet his memory of her is absent. The uncertainty reduction theory in Shelby's life is beyond twisted. People feel more certain around him, because they have had such events as information seeking, and verbal communication, yet Shelby has to develop new ways to reduce uncertainty through mementos because he cannot remember any of these interactions. Verbal communication, information seeking and other ways of uncertainty reduction do not work in Shelby's situation. As he states in the movie, he has to rely on his handwriting, his note taking, and his ability to not be manipulated by his so- called "friends" in his search to find his wife's killer, but whether they work or not? That too he cannot remember.
Berger's "Uncertainty Reduction" theory does not seem to apply for Shelby, While it seems to correlate with Teddy and Natalie each time the interact with Shelby, his inability to remember who they are or how they know him inhibit his ability to become less uncertain in his situations with them. I believe this inability of Shelby shows the truth that lies behind this theory even more. Humans have constant interaction with each other on a daily basis, through occupations, school, friendships, etc. And through each relationship or interaction with another human the theory of "Uncertainty Reduction" was used to an extent, whether consciously or subconsciously. It is very difficult for humans to interact with each other especially in a needed progressive situation, as like a job, if a great level of uncertainty lies between co-workers, clients, etc. While each and every human utilizes techniques to reduce uncertainty between other humans, over all this helps better understand their own interpersonal world. We understand ourselves better when we share information with another being. We understand our personality better when we interact non verbally with a stranger. We discover what we want out of an interaction through information seeking and self-discolsure. We use this "Uncertainty Reduction" theory everyday in every situation and interaction we have with the world around us. The more we can reduce uncertainty the better we will be able to live and progress in our lives. I believe it is a direct correlation between the two. "Memento" gives us a peek into how difficult it would be to not be able to every reduce uncertainty in our lives or interaction no matter how hard we tried, and I do not believe any human would desire to live with the difficulties Leonard Shelby has to deal with and overcome.