Two Perspectives on the Tyranny of Time: Polychronicity and Monochronicity as Depicted in Cast Away

By Kaufman-Scarborough, Carol | Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA), March 2003 | Go to article overview

Two Perspectives on the Tyranny of Time: Polychronicity and Monochronicity as Depicted in Cast Away


Kaufman-Scarborough, Carol, Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA)


When there's no tomorrow. (FedEx slogan)

Time. We try to manage it, control it, schedule it, save it, spend it, but one conclusion remains: most people say that they never have enough of it. Such pressures are thought to exact a significant toll on the quality of men's and women's lives in Western cultures. In order to address their needs, products such as day planners, palm organizers, calendars, and beepers for children are available in various low- and high-tech formats. Instant deliveries, overnight sales, online markets, and various means of communication never let us be out of touch. Such innovations can be called "the matter of time."

Theorists who examine modern American culture propose that social meanings are attached to and communicated through various aspects of daily consumption, through our products, our themes, our slogans, and our entertainment (Hirschman, "Ideology" 345). Novels, television programs, and motion pictures have been suggested as additional vehicles that transmit and reflect cultural values and patterns of behavior (Jowett and Linton 38; Hirschman, "Ideology" 345; Hirschman and Stern 576; Holbrook and Grayson 375; O'Guinn, Faber, and Rice 297). Such connections often involve the use of cultural ideologies as they act as cultural agents in shaping our everyday Uves as consumers (Levy 53; Mick 203).

Structural-syntactical analysis is suggested by Hirschman ("Ideology" 344) as an interpretive approach that can be used when analyzing a consumption ideology embedded within television programs, such as Dallas and Dynasty, in which signs and systems that relate them must be decoded. Structuralism considers the relationships between two or more signs that often take the form of binary oppositions, such as old and young, or rich and poor. Similar binary opposites, found in the motion picture Cast Away (2000), are polychronicity and monochronicity, and dieir entire schema of contrasting ways of approaching time. The primary structures in Cast Away are found in die binary opposition between die main character's time pressured life and first, his girlfriend's desire to spend time in a relationship, and secondly, his four years without time pressure on a tropical island.

The man-made time schedules, measurement devices, and time cultures are all created by the world; hence "The World on Time" slogan of FedEx is a secularly driven system whose goals are efficiency and progress, measured in real time, real movement, and die accounting of things to be done. The relationship-driven systems, in contrast, are based on meaningful relationships. Things are often given meaning through the relationships that they embody and the secular world of work can be viewed as an intrusion.

Archetypes are concepts that anchor key meanings embedded in societies that are used to analyze, order, and explain events that happen in real life (Hirschman, "Consumers" 57). They are often images, figures, and forms that tend to occur over and over throughout various societies, giving meaning to processes that occur again and again. They can be helpful to consumers in forming "essential culturally-shared conceptual maps by setting-up oppositional categories of thought" (63).

Archetypal images related to time use are numerous, including clocks as tyrants, hourglasses depicting time running out, stopwatches conveying pressure, and sunsets depicting natural cycles of nature. Fables contrasting steadiness and deliberate effort depict the tortoise and the hare, children's books provide The Little Engine That Could, and movie directors provide The Time Machine and the Back to the Future series. Timerelated phrases have deep meanings, such as "time is money," "time flies," and "time waits for no man." Markers of time are established in all societies that are causes for celebration, such as births, marriages, and anniversaries. Just which birthdays and anniversaries are given special meaning, however, are specific to the cultural value system. …

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