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INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF ORGANIZATION THEORY AND BEHAVIOR, 17 (2), 193-264 SUMMER 2014 A SYMPOSIUM ON PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION IN FILMS Editor: Sharon Mastracci Copyright © 2014 by Pracademics Press INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF ORGANIZATION THEORY AND BEHAVIOR, 17 (2), 194-198 SUMMER 2014 SYMPOSIUM INTRODUCTION Sharon Mastracci* Examining public administration and public service through film is not new (Borins, 2011; Chandler & Adams, 1997; Goodsell & Murray, 1995; Holzer & Slater, 1995; Kass & Catron, 1990; Kroll, 1995; Lee, 1993; Lee & Paddock, 2001; Marshall, 2012; McCurdy, 1995; McSwite, 2002; Weilde & Schultz, 2007)—indeed, popular culture continually produces material with which we can understand our field anew. Government and public service prove fertile topics for television courtroom dramas, hero stories featuring police officers and firefighters, and films highlighting the role of the military or the President in everything from historical dramas to alien invasions. Films employ metaphors and symbols to tell their stories. Metaphorical concepts allow us to understand and experience one kind of concept or event in terms of another (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980). Metaphors substantially structure how we understand a concept. For instance, identifying the concept “argument” as a battle or war wholly reshapes our understanding of it compared to identifying it as a dance. In the former, “though there is no physical battle, there is verbal battle, and the structure of an argument— attack, defense, counterattack—reflects this” (Lackoff & Johnson, 1980, p. 4). In the case of argument as dance, “no one wins or loses … there is no sense of attacking or defending, gaining or losing ground … the participants are seen as performers, and the goal is to perform in a balanced and aesthetically pleasing way” (Lackoff & Johnson, 1980, pp. 4-5). Likewise, the metaphorical concept “government as hero” leads to a very different understanding than -----------------------------* Sharon Mastracci, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor, Department of Public Administration, University of Illinois at Chicago. Her research interests are in human resource management, emotional labor, gender, and public administration in popular culture. Copyright © 2014 by Pracademics Press SYMPOSIUM INTRODUCTION 195 does “government as hindrance”, as partisan debates over health care, economic growth, and anything else demonstrate in stark relief. The papers in this symposium are ambivalent about the role of government and public service as heroic or hindrance. Pressley and Noel’s hyper-professionalized and rationalized public servants hasten the death of Joseph Merrick in Pomerance’s The Elephant Man. Public servants are objectified, according to Pressley and Noel, as performers in a carnivalesque sideshow, divorced from their intuition and subjective selves. Justin Joyce examines the rule of law and its implementation by formal government actors and informal actors in the 1992 film Unforgiven, and one is left with a poor image of government here as well. Little Bill is the sheriff of frontier town Big Whiskey, who is “a complicated, if not exactly complicated, representation of the law”. The sheriff proves to be corrupt and sadistic in his execution of the law, and fails to mete out justice to the perpetrators of crime against a prostitute: “Unforgiven narrates a powerful tale of retributive, decidedly personal, justice being called upon as a substitute for the failure of a conception of procedural justice that disregards a core constituency”. Vigilante William Munny is called upon to exact justice because government has failed to do so. Government fares no better in Andrea Mayo’s analysis of the 2012 film A Cabin in the Woods. The film within this film is an archetypal horror story of five college-age kids vacationing in a cabin in the middle of nowhere. This story is directed by scientists in a dystopic laboratory: “Hadley, Sitterson, and the other lab workers manipulate the cabin narrative and the behaviors of the five college students … [who] have been drugged in various ways to shift their behavior and bring it in line with five common horror stereotypes”. Government orchestrates a social engineering plan darker than the darkest Libertarian survivalist nightmares. Mayo’s operating metaphorical concept is government-as-laboratory and Hadley and Sitterson representing public administrators simply following the rules. Justice is served only when two surviving college students break free from the experiment in which they find themselves and end the cycle. All of humanity perishes as a result. Extending this theme of happy endings, Smith-Walter and Sharif examine thirteen apocalyptic films featuring zombies and/or plagues for their depictions of government as legitimate authority and source of safety 196 MASTRACCI and salvation versus government as helpless and ineffectual, even corrupt. Smith-Walter and Sharif conclude that public servants are not treated as a monolithic whole, but rather, local officials are differentiated from “far-off national officials”. The former are “more frequently presented as capable and responsive individuals who, in addition to their public duties, have a vested interest in addressing the problems of the community … national government officials … are often portrayed as incapable, subject to corruption, and abusive of power”. The depiction of government also depends upon the condition of civil society on which the film focuses. The authors categorize the subject films into one of three types: Before the fall of government and society, during the struggle to maintain social order, or post-apocalypse. Only in the first phase are public servants entrusted with saving humanity, but that trust is tenuous at best. In the symposium’s final paper, I contrast two Gotham City public servants in the contemporary The Dark Knight trilogy. Commissioner Gordon is a flawed, rule-bending and pragmatic public servant, while Harvey Dent is established as the honorable, by-the-book, uncompromising and idealistic district attorney. In the end, the flawed Gordon keeps his job while the principled Dent becomes the murderous villain Two Face: “The trilogy’s ultimate message about heroic public servants is that the flawed character succeeds. The artificially-constructed flawless hero … is a sham.” Taken together, these five papers do not characterize government and public service in unambiguously positive terms. Ralph Hummel (1991) asserts that if a story resonates, it is valid. And a story will resonate if it is familiar to the viewer/listener: Stories “inspire a trust in being able to move back and forth between one’s own experienced world and the world represented by story-tellers … the unfamiliar can become familiar because it can be assigned to structural categories already mutually understood between two subjects, belonging to different worlds” (1991, p. 37). The films examined in this symposium have resonated with audiences in various ways, and include an Academy Award winner (Unforgiven), box office blockbusters (The Dark Knight trilogy), and a cult classic (Night of the Living Dead). Perhaps the most positive depiction of government and public service is found in the oldest of these films: Night of the Living Dead (1968). Have our views of government darkened since those days? Perhaps future work could address this question and continue this endlessly interesting and fruitful research agenda. SYMPOSIUM INTRODUCTION 197 ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Many thanks to the authors for their excellent work and many more thanks to Art Sementelli, without whose support this symposium could not have happened. REFERENCES Borins, S. (2011). Governing Fables: Learning from Public Sector Narratives. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing. Chandler, R. & Adams, G.B. (1997). “Let’s Go to the Movies! Using Film to Illustrate Basic Concepts in Public Administration.” Public Voices, 3(1): 9-26. Goodsell, C.T. & Murray, N. (1995). “Prologue: Building New Bridges.” In C.T. Goodsell & N. Murray (Eds.). Public Administration Illuminated and Inspired by the Arts (pp. 3-24). Westport, CT: Praeger. Holzer, M. & Slater, L.G. (1995). “Insights into Bureaucracy from Film: Visualizing Stereotypes.” In C.T. Goodsell & N. Murray (Eds.), Public Administration Illuminated and Inspired by the Arts. (pp. 75-90). Westport, CT: Praeger. Hummell, R.P. (1991). “Stories Managers Tell: Why They Are as Valid as Science.” Public Administration Review, 51(1): 31-41. Kass, H.D. & Catron, B., (Eds.) (1990). Images and Identities in Public Administration. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications. Lackoff, G. & Johnson, M. (1980). Metaphors We Live by. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Larkin, J. (1993). “The Movies: The Good, the Bad and the Public.” Public Voices, 1(1): 93-98. Lee, M. (2000). “Bureaucrat Bashing in the Galactic Service: George Lucas and Public Administration.” Public Voices, 4(1): 23-30. Lee, M. & Paddock, S. (2001). “Strange but true Tales from Hollywood: The Bureaucrat as Movie Hero.” Public Administration and Management: An Interactive Journal, 6(4): 166-194. 198 MASTRACCI Marshall, G. (2012). “Applying Film to Public Administration.” Paper Presented at the Western Political Science Association Meeting, Portland, Oregon. McCurdy, H.E. (1995). Public policy and popular imagination. In C.T. Goodsell & N. Murray (Eds.), Public Administration Illuminated and Inspired by the Arts (pp. 177-188) Westport, CT: Praeger. McSwite, O.C. (2002). “Narrative in Literature, Film, Video, and Painting: Theoretical and Practical Considerations of their Relevance to Public Administration.” Public Voices, 5(1): 89-96. Wielde, B.A. & Schultz, D. (2007). “Wonks and Warriors: Depictions of Government Professionals in Popular Film.” Public Voices, 9(1): 61-82.