I have chosen to analyze the Amazon Prime original series “The Man in the High Castle” for my final project. The series is an alternate history story, describing what the world would be like if the Axis powers had won World War II and conquered the United States. The nation divided into the Greater Nazi Reich in the east and Japanese Pacific States in the west, both totalitarian regimes. I chose this series because it frequently depicts anti-hegemony efforts by the American resistance, and because of its interesting discussions on morality and what defines good and evil.
Overall, the series makes an argument against the ideas of pure good and pure evil. The characters, whether Nazis, Japanese, or American, are all generally likable, but are also typically flawed. John Smith, a U.S. Army officer who defected to the Nazis at the end of the war, is a dedicated father who loves his family deeply and makes great sacrifices to protect them. Yet, he also participated in the extermination camps set up by the Nazis in America after the war. The Resistance fights for freedom, tugging on American ideological heartstrings, but also regularly uses misinformation and blackmail to control its operatives, and commits acts of terrorism against civilians. Giving even the most evil of characters positive aspects helps make them likable, allowing viewers to connect and sympathize with them. Keri Blakinger criticized this lack of humanity in “Orange is the New Black,” which also featured many characters traditionally seen as immoral.
The series uses likable Nazis and American terrorists to challenge the moral absolutism with which we often view the world. This fosters a more critical worldview in the show’s viewers, who are encouraged to look objectively for the good in those society deems evil and vice versa. Viewers are encouraged to view ideologies as a chain of values, as Stuart Hall defines them, rather than strictly moral or immoral. Nazis are portrayed as valuing order, family, and safety; Americans as valuing freedom, bravery, and justice for tyrants. These ideals, which in and of themselves do not invoke morality, form the basis of these groups, rather than their actions to defend them. This worldview, I believe, fosters more effective coexistence of different ideologies in real life, certainly when the circumstances are less extreme than support or opposition to Nazism. By recognizing that “the other side” stands on equally acceptable values as their own, viewers are more likely to respect and tolerate people of different ideologies.
The show also serves as an excellent example of the concepts discussed in James Lull’s “Hegemony.” In the “Man in the High Castle” universe, propaganda films, underground rock concerts, and black market American goods are all used to subvert Nazi and Japanese dominance. While things like Bibles and concerts do not seem to pose threats, both governments respond incredibly harshly to their presence. The reason is that, as Lull explains, hegemony is incredibly fragile, and even small acts of resistance can snowball into rebellion if they reach a broad enough audience. Since the totalitarian regimes rely on their hegemony to maintain their rule, they respond to these threats aggressively.
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