I had the misfortune to take a class on Modern Art during my senior year of college. The first assignment was to write a paper on a picture we’d seen and analyze it according to some of the earlier readings in the class. I wrote about the Tropic Thunder movie poster. You’ll notice I skip mentioning blackface (and my professor did, at great length); this is because we were limited to an extraordinarily short number of words.
Tropic Thunder Movie Poster
The Tropic Thunder movie posterÂ provides a good introduction to many of the concepts discussed in class. The poster features 3 men (apparently soldiers) posed together in front of an exploding background, along with the names of the 3 actors: BLACK, STILLER, DOWNEY JR. At first glance, it is an iconic action-war movie poster and you realize it is an advertisement (ie, a representation) for an action-war movie.
Yet associating it with this icon reveals differences that change oneâ€™s perception of the movie involved. The tagline associated with the movie: â€œGet some.â€ Get what? Get tropic thunder? That sounds like a porn star or something. One of the apparent soldiers (BLACK) wears rose-colored sunglasses, has bleached-white hair, and is screamingâ€” well, itâ€™s not clear how exactly, but heâ€™s not screaming in rage or in horror. The next (STILLER) is the least off but his expression is just a little too intense. And the third (DOWNEY JR) just looks goofy, is smoking a cigar, andâ€¦hey, isnâ€™t Downey a white guy? Whyâ€™s a black actor labeled as Downey? And Black and Stiller, when did they start doing serious films? These departures from an iconic action/war movie all combine to tell us that the film poster is actually for a comedy.
The poster also allows a discussion of representation and photographic truth. Because we know this is a movie poster, nobody believes that the events it represents actually happened. But it does represent a coherent set of events (ie, a story) that might be remembered by those who experience them (watch the movie) and brought forth by viewing the poster. And for those who havenâ€™t seen the movie, the poster itself might cause a chuckle and inspire the viewer to imagine such a movie. And while the representation implies that photographic truth is not absolute, viewers still retain some expectation that there are photographic truths within the poster: the explosion might be a computer render, but somebody took a picture of the actors in these costumes and then put them on top of the explosion. But this assessment is only partly true: while (presumably) the actors really wore these costumes, viewing the other three posters (which feature each actor in the same pose, but in a full-body shot) show that the actors were photographed separately. So there is still photographic truth within the poster, but it is even less than one might assume.