Ghost Dog: Cross Cultural Communication, The Melting Pot, and Final Notes

Cross cultural communication is the study of how cultures are different and similar to one another and how they communicate among each other.  One recurring theme of Jarmusch is of showing differing cultures in America.  In Stranger than Paradise, we see a New York integrated American take his Hungarian cousin (who happens to love Screamin Jay Hawkins) on a road trip, in Down By Law we see Roberto Benigni as an immigrant in a Louisiana jail, and in Mystery Train we see Japanese tourists who are enamored with Elvis on the way to Graceland.  While they keep their cultural roots, they do take in American influences (mostly music).

In Ghost Dog we see Americans of many different cultures: Italian, African American, Native American, Haitian, and Spanish.  We also see many examples of characters taking up interests from other cultures.  For example we have Sonny Valerio who loves rap music, Mr. Vargo has a passing interest in Native Americans, and our main character is an African American who dedicates his life to the Samurai code.  In fact, the music itself has cross cultural influences.  Part of what makes Wu Tang Clan so popular is its fusion of rap music and its appreciation of Asian cinema; particularly the kung fu film.  So even though these cultures do have differences, their influences do rub off on each other.

We also see these characters interact in a variety of ways.  I find it amusing that the racist mafiosos hold their meetings in the back of a Chinese restaurant and are short on their rent to a Latino landlord.  They of course want to stay on good terms with the landlord or else he will evict them.  Ghost Dog has the majority of the contact with different people and he has differing ways of communication with each.  We see him pass many people in the neighborhood, and they give gestures or nods of recognition in passing.  In a featurette on the DVD, the RZA describes Ghost Dog as an OG (Original Gangster) or someone who is a staple of the block.  With his conversations with Pearline, their common enjoyment is in reading.  Ghost Dog shows he has not only read the Hagakure, but also approves of her choices such as Frankenstein and The Souls of Black Folk.  And of course we come to Ghost Dog and Raymond.  These two people are so similar that they practically have a psychic link as to what the other is thinking.

This doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of this chapter, but I suppose I will put this in as a final note of analysis.  My last topic will be that of the use of various media in the film.  A common theme in the movie is at various points in the movie when characters watch cartoons.  Many of these cartoons are mirrors of the action in the film.  There is one cartoon which has Betty Boop catching pigeons in the same way Ghost Dog trains them.  Another has Itchy and Scratchy competing with progressively larger guns which is similar to the final show down between Louie and Ghost Dog and so on.  At this time this is the only significance I see in the cartoons.  If anyone else spots anything to this let me know.

Books also play a theme in Ghost Dog.  Chapters of the movie are separated by quotes from the Hagakure that the audience reads at the same time Whittaker reads out loud.  These fit the theme of the coming chapter in the film.  Also reading brings with it enlightenment to the characters.  Ghost Dog is educated as indicated by his scene with Pearline, and he has more cunning than his enemies.  Louise Vargo is reading Rashomon and later becomes the head of the Valerio family.  And the final shot we see Pearline sitting in her mother’s kitchen reading the Hagakure and being transformed by it.  The meaning I take from this is that of reading becoming a pathway to enlightenment.

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