The aim of this chapter is to re-create and interpret the ways in which a particular genre of Hollywood movies brings history and social reality into arts. We will focus on action movies in which acting and directing are influenced, directly or indirectly, by Lee Strasberg’s ‘method’ school. To be more specific, we are proposing an interpretative and sociological contextualization of three movies. The first, released in 1980 by Martin Scorsese, Raging Bull, captures the social milieu of the 1940s through to the 1960s. The second, Heat, and the third, Miami Vice, were released in 1995 and 2006, respectively, and were directed by Michael Mann. In these three motion pictures, we plan to identify and interpret, by way of sociological meta-narrative, issues of class, violence and masculinity. How do class and masculinity, as reified social entities in capitalism, assume such artistic forms that are potent enough to transform social malaise, exploitation and violence into artistic pleasure? We do not want violence in our lives, but we do not mind seeing it in a movie.2 Exploring this question constitutes the guiding thread of our efforts here. This, it should be said, is an ‘anti-Adorno and anti-Horkheimer’ question, whose 1944 influential essay presented mass culture as ‘stylized barbarity’, produced by what they termed as ‘bourgeois culture industry’ (Adorno and Horkheimer 2005). Choosing these three films was a difficult, but not entirely arbitrary,

undertaking. One could argue that Scarface, for example, could be the substitute for Raging Bull, and Goodfellas or Scent of a Woman a substitute for Heat. However, a closer look at Raging Bull, Heat and Miami Vice offers something more convincing: it offers a structuralist interpretation of the themes under examination here, while at the same time historicizing them. We have detected that these three films move from the classic sexism of Raging Bull, to the globalist and libertarian perspective of Miami Vice. However, at the same time there are meanings that do not change in any of the three movies. Heat is in a position-as we shall see below-to present all the explosive elements of an avant-garde masculinity in the operatic art of the 1990s (the contemporary-historical dimension), while incorporating some

age-old themes about class and masculinity that can be found in every artistic commodity, and not only movies, across the centuries (the structuralist dimension).3 Similarly, we saw Raging Bull as a repository for a number of cultural and sub-cultural events of post-war American society. Overall, the choice of movies was influenced by this dialogue between structuralism and historicism: we dropped movies in which the dialogue between these two philosophical currents was unbalanced. How do we use the terms ‘meta-narrative’, ‘violence’, ‘masculinity’ and

‘class’ here? Postmodern objections could be raised in that ‘meta-narratives’ constitute an all-encompassing, in fact, unrealistic, attempt to reconfigure holistic interpretations of the social reality, which is itself fragmented, compartmentalized and localized. ‘I define post-modern’, said Jean-Francois Lyotard in his classic, The Post-modern Condition; A Report on Knowledge, ‘as incredulity toward meta-narratives’ (Lyotard 1979, xxiv-xxv). We adhere to some penetrating criticisms of postmodernism (Callinicos 1991; Habermas 1981). We argue that only a post-Hegelian, neo-Marxian perspective can capture the meanings of social action in history. By ‘meta-narrative’ we mean the holistic structuring of theoretical and cognitive orders along the themes of ‘violence’, ‘masculinity’ and ‘class’, themes that are themselves structured in capitalism in reified forms. The de-reification of these themes from the researcher dictates exactly forms of meta-narrative, which is the only way to capture the fragmented, segregated and indeed reified social order caused by the advanced capitalistic forms of social/technical division of labour. If ‘meta-narrative’ is the overall analytical framework, then ‘class’, ‘vio-

lence’ and ‘masculinity’ are ordered within it as interpenetrating, de-reified social categories subject to the defining dualism of structuralism/historicism. What is ‘masculine’ in The Code of Hammurabi (circa 1750 BC) as opposed to ‘feminine’, is not identical with the masculinity of paganism, or the one that is structured alongside the Fordist factory of the most part of the 20th century. History and technological advances are matters with which the intellectual has to reckon with. At the same time, there are certain constant features. In Raging Bull we will see that Jake La Motta is in a constant battle with himself, wanting to prove his masculinity in the ring, in a male-male relationship of equality, something which he could not do through his absurd relationship with Vickie (Cathy Moriarty). Vickie was getting a beating, yes, but La Motta could not win this fight. The ring was the solution. Lastly, we define ‘class’ broadly as a condition of relative poverty for indi-

viduals and families caused by the social/technical division of labour under capitalism-a mode of production that separates producers from the objects and means of their labour. This system of unequal production and distribution of wealth, whether legal or illegal, cannot alleviate relative poverty in history; it can only re-produce it in an extensive form as capitalist history goes by. The roots of reification, in which social relations of exploitation appear to the individual as relations between objects, lay bare in the capitalist relations of productions.4 Hence our duty: to de-reify the social meanings of

the movies under examination here, unravelling the mystery of why violence and exploitation, when artistically presented, give us pleasure. Aswe shall see, these themes cut across all three films chosen here, but it is also

one which can be found in more pronounced forms in films such as Mean Streets (1973) or The Deer Hunter (1978). It should not go unnoticed that the directors themselves, Scorsese and Mann, were the sons of émigrés. Scorsese was the son of Sicilian immigrants (born in New York City in 1942). His father and mother worked in NewYork’s garment district, his father as a clothes presser and his mother as a seamstress. Mann grew up in a tough neighbourhood in Chicago (born in 1943). His father, a Ukrainian immigrant of Jewish descent, had fled the Russian revolution, and later was wounded in the SecondWorldWar. In Chicago, he started an unsuccessful grocery store. To a great degree, these biographies determine the genre they produced decades later. First, we shall focus on Raging Bull. We will then move on to Heat and,

lastly, Miami Vice. These are three movies that encapsulate a lot more than three decades. In fact, the entire post-war American society is present here, in all its imperial/hegemonic greatness as a producer of rare and aggressive cultural commodities. However, as we shall see, these films remain three different and, at the same time, equivalent, meta-narratives about violence, class and masculinity.