The narrative of life in the big city has been around since its inception; a hub of diversity and movement to which people flock to, to both find and lose themselves. This narrative of the big city would not be complete however, if it was without the juxtaposition of the wealthy and misfortunate who inhabit it. I feel that as the subject of his graphic novel “Die Stadt” Frans Masereel did well to include various images, some of which tell the story of two perspectives at both extremes, one gives us a glimpse of a glamour and the other of suffering. In this reflection I will be focusing on three images I’ve selected that showcase the interaction of individuals from these both extremes and analyze how they contribute to the classism that it both troubling and inherent to life in the big city.
In this first image I interpreted the scene as one before a show at a theater similar to a red carpet event where individuals meet and greet with one another. On the lower left side of the image in stark contrast to the men in suits and top hats is a worn looking figure who seems to be avoiding everyone else’s gaze. The man looks apprehensive and uncomfortable to me as he presumably continues to make his way through the crowd. I can relate to this image as I’m sure other’s can, of course probably not to the extent of the individual in the image, but in some ways the feeling of alienation is very relatable.
On more than one instance I’ve found myself in a situation where I might have felt underdressed, or ill-equipped to exhibit my best self, or maybe I felt intentionally excluded. Whatever the case, scenario’s such as these can lead to some good albeit uncomfortable perspective on one’s perceived status of opinion of self-worth. These feelings of unease and alienation are captured here in this image within the man making his way through the crowd, in this instant he is the glaringly out of place in his own city.
The second image I chose is one of a group of men standing around what looks like a dead or dying man. Most of the men in the image seem to gawk at the man on the floor, a few in the back seem to be engaged in an animated conversation, a few look pitying, and on the right side I interpreted some looks of combined anger and disgust. A majority if not all of these men exhibit privilege over the emaciated man on the floor. They, the well dressed able bodied men can afford to stand around and watch the city and it’s happenings.
The last image I chose is a more chaotic one, it appears to be the scene of a protest turned violent. There is a mix of individuals in this image, in the foreground a modestly dressed woman runs away while a man in a suit appears mid fall behind her. Clashes within society and their ranks have reoccurred throughout our history and most notably recently, whether united by a common target or by nitpicking amongst themselves on issues of race or sexuality etc. I feel that in this image and others like it Masereel shows the chaos of the city and how in one instance, with the blare of a rifle, status and class become arbitrary and worthless.
What I take away after viewing “Die Stadt” is how timeless the work is. We have come leaps and bounds since the industrial revolution but the same issues continue to be intertwined with society and life in the big city. Any moderately large city will have its own issues, but among them, as captured in the images, are poverty, un/employment, and the gap between the rich and the poor. As I clicked through the scanned images I could easily envision them as portraits of life today, the individuals that make up both polarizing viewpoints and concerns like tectonic plates beneath the city, moving and sliding next to each other until the tension causes them to turn violent.