Note: This is an in-depth analysis of the film The Cabin in the Woods. As such, it is heavily-laden with spoilers. Proceed with caution. If you want to watch The Cabin in the Woods, you can find it on Amazon Video to rent and buy here.
The 2012 film from Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard, The Cabin in the Woods, presents an original take on an old favorite. The film on its face, and by its title, is just another teen horror romp, but this “cabin in the woods” narrative is more than meets the eye, as the film quickly progresses down the path of a strange mythology.
In approaching the conventional horror movie narrative with a unique take, Goddard and Whedon use their pen to turn those common genre cliches on their head for the sake of parodic humor. This fresh take was exciting to many a horror fan, who went in expecting the same old and came out with a new horror film in the canon that rivals the great cabin in the woods stories like The Evil Dead.
However, looking deeper at the film, it may be possible to parse out an interesting discourse about the natures of parody and horror vis a vis narrative convention and ideological representations.
What I mean to say is that The Cabin in the Woods, while being a neo-classic addition to the horror genre, also raises questions about how genre conventions are used to reinforce dominant ideologies of representation.
This article breaks down the way in which The Cabin in the Woods uses these conventions and cliches of the genre to enhance its parody as well as depict character tropes, all in a way of answering the question as to whether the film manipulates hegemony, perpetuates it, or both.
First, let us take a closer look at the theory of ideology, hegemony, and representation.
I. What We Talk about When We Talk about Representation
An ideology can be seen as “a system of beliefs characteristic of a particular class or group” or “a system of illusory beliefs—false ideas or false consciousness—which can be contrasted with true or scientific knowledge” or “the general process of the production of meanings and ideas” (Fiske 165). Put simply, ideology is a social practice by which people construct meaning and value in objects and signs (Fiske 172).
Hegemony refers to the dominance of given ideologies. An ideology becomes hegemonic, as the Marxist Louis Althusser explains it, when “the ideas of the ruling classes [become] accepted throughout society as natural or normal” (Fiske 173). When an ideology becomes pervasive and widely accepted (or at the very least consented to), it becomes naturalized.
This process of naturalization is key to understanding the media’s role in creating hegemony. The pervasiveness of media allows for ideologies to become commonplace and consented to by audiences, even if such ideologies account for inadequate representations of certain groups. Examples of what has been deemed hegemonic in the West—and perpetuated by the media—are heteronormativity and patriarchy. Media can be considered counter-hegemonic when it goes against the standards of hegemonic representation.
This breeds the question: Does The Cabin in the Woods perpetuate hegemony or counter-hegemony in its representations? This, in Part Two.