Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Any Sign of Life?

The isolated 'brass balls' pep talk by Alec Baldwin's character in the film Glengarry Glen Ross relies on rhetoric and capitalistic motivation. This young rich man speaks harsh words to the three older salesmen at a dwindling real estate sales office. He first threatens their masculinity, asking "Are you men?" Then he challenges their income by promising to only keep the top two closers, and fire the rest. Baldwin also demeans their value by praising and parading his own wealth.

The word 'leads' and the actual physical stack of leads are given new authority and significance. In the article "Marxism and the Philosophy of Language" author V.N. Volosinov talks about the forms of communication and their hierarchical structures. Although the seemingly tough character of Alec Baldwin is above the other men in socioeconomic status, he is speaking the technical language of men who are in sales. These men understand that their entire occupation is sales and phrases like "Coffee is for closers only", are easily understood. When he is challenged that the leads are the weak element in the men's failure, he retorts, "You're weak." These leads, however, become the most spiritual aspect of the conversation as they represent the unattainable yet most desirous of things. Volosinov states that "When these forms change, so does [the] sign...Only items within that circle will achieve sign formation and become objects in semiotic communication. What determines this circle of items endowed with value accents?" (279). The value of the leads is immeasurable as they represent hope to men on the brink of hopelessness.

The harshness of Baldwin's words are chosen specifically to inspire action, towards a mutually beneficial goal. These curses are motivating, and Volosinov would argue that "Any current curse word can become a word of praise, any current truth must inevitably sound to many people as the greatest lie" (280-1). The audience may watch this movie hoping good will triumph, but the reality of the character's livelihood is the ABC's of selling, 'Always Be Closing'.

Glengarry Glen Ross. Dir. James Foley. Perf. Alec Baldwin. GGR. New Line Cinema, 1992

Image: www.ebaumsworld.com/pictures/view/151377/

Volosinov, V.N. "Marxism and the Philosophy of Language." Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden: Blackwell, 1998. 278-81.

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