Master of None, Bicycle Thieves, and The Blind Man’s Lost Dog

It has become a common theory in the world that through our long history of storytelling that a point is being reached that all the stories have already been told. The thought behind this belief mostly stems from the advancement of media literacy, recognizing skeleton story frames such as the “Hero’s Journey” and other archetypes that have molded the way in which stories are told through multiple media platforms. While the surface of the media landscape has appeared to shrink with a seeming lack of uncharted territory, the underground well of inspiration that shows itself through intertextuality has grown rapidly. Intertextuality is how a new media borrows some sort of signifier from another pre-existing media source to directly attach context of the previous media into the new media. A prime example of intertextuality, would be the Season 2 opener of Aziz Ansari’s Netflix Original Master of None.

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Master of None concentrates on Dev (Aziz Ansari) as he traverses through both the trivial and complex problems of the modern world. Dev ends season 1 in a state of being unable to commit to the trajectory of his life, and the potential shackling of his agency to be spontaneous and do the things he’ll regret not doing in life. This prompts him to make a drastic decision to travel to Italy and become a pasta maker. When the show reconvenes with Dev settled in Italy does he encounter his own bizarre version of Vittorio De Sica’s Ladri di Biciclette or Bicycle Thieves (1948).

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The intricacy behind Master of None’s homage to the Italian classic goes far beyond mere parody as the intertextual bond between the narratives shapes how the audience perceives the episode. The first valuable connection between the two tales is the item stolen, which is Dev’s case is his phone. The significance of it is that it might seem as though the item is trivial to lament over, for there is no shortage or minimal personal eminence with a bicycle or phone but under the certain context does loss seem more severe. For Antonio, his bike is used to fulfill his job to hang up posters across town, without it and not having enough money to afford another, Antonio acknowledges his whole livelihood is put in jeopardy. In Dev’s case the phone has the number of a girl he just met and without it he is unable to get in contact with her. Understanding that Dev is similar to Antonio reinforces that the item stolen is less about the functionality of the specific item but as the solutions to Antonio’s poverty and Dev’s loneliness. While it could appear that Antonio suffer larger consequences, Master of None’s version services as a social commentary on how our problems have shifted from being external to internal conflict.

The episode further associates itself with Bicycle Thieves with using Mario the boy Dev meets as a stand in for Bruno, Antonio’s son. The reason this inclusion is important is the fact that it keeps the character unselfish to a degree. Antonio needs the bike back in order to financially support his family. In Dev’s situation, the fact that he had taken a picture of Mario with a Famous soccer player on his phone might not have the same impact yet still further connects Dev to Antonio through a guilt that their folly is harming others. Then for both protagonist there is a moment in which both become a thief themselves. Antonio does it driven by desperation as he attempts to steal another bike, while Dev’s thievery is a misunderstanding created when he accidently runs off with someone’s phone. When Antonio is caught he’s humiliated and extremely distressed, the fact that his story has no resolution has him suffer severe consequences for his failure. When Dev is caught in his misunderstanding no much happens besides a quick apology. Essentially, Antonio suffers permeant consequences for his failure while Dev only suffers a set back to his problems.

Master of None not only borrows from Bicycle Thieves but the influence of a much larger movement of Italian Neo-realism films. When not directly referencing Bicycle Thieves, the episode in sort of tone, visual presentation, and other snippets are drawing an intertextual relationship with other films such as L’Avventura, La Notte, and L’Ecclisse. While the parallels Master of None draws to these other classic Italian films are more prevalent in later episodes, the point is to concrete the show into the same categorization as the Neo-realistic film. The show hopes to assert that in episodes like “The Thief” and others is that the show purpose is not to be solely comedic, but also a grounded depiction of reality, and how harsh it can be to face the brunt of it.

Creating My Own Intertexual Relationship

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There are many ways that the origin media can be remixed into making different approaches with similar signified meaning. In this interpretation, the struggle of the man in “The Lost Dog” shares a level of common suffering with Antonio in the original Bicycle Thieves. Again, the connection is strengthened by the object that is “lost”. In “The Lost Dog” image, a dog is another object that while there is an emotional attachment, ownership of a dog is more of privilege or a luxury rather than any sort of life-threatening circumstance. However, in a relatable circumstance to Antonio, the man in this version is not your typical dog owner. This man is blind, and like how Antonio needs the bike to overcome the disadvantage of his lack of wealth, the dog owner needs the dog to overcome his disability of lack of vision. Both the dog and the bicycle services as a literal means in which the character is able to get around, and by invoking the same imagery of the film does this image borrow the signifers to incorporate the dissolute state of mind the protagonist is in from just one static image.

In this example, the dog is a stand in for the child, Bruno. The dog also represents the idea of something innocent dependent on the protagonist which will suffer from the protagonist’s failure. Like a child, a dog also is at the whim of its caretaker and is impaired to take care of itself in the world as a child would find it impossible to financially support themselves. Similarly, to the Master of None rendition, there is the addition of some humor in remixing the original. To a similar fashion to how Antonio in Bicycle Thieves is taunted by the abundance of bicycles that roam the street, the dog owner unbeknownst to him is taunted by the dramatic irony of just how close his furry companion truly is. The image was kept in black and white and kept most of the visuals of the original to reserve the same tone. Like Master of None, the “lost dog” image might be a “sillier” idea, it’s is not entirely taken out of reality. It still portrays a man who desperate in a colorless world who sits at the curb in a defeated manner.

While some may suggest that the world is running out of stories to tell, the world of stories is further evolving. The stories of past generations are now becoming the seeds which get planted into new versions of stories. The more we comprehend intertextual relationships between media can we have more impactful media literacy to understanding how the past creates the present which will inspire the future. Master of None is an inventive show that was able to construct a unique story presenting its own messaging, without forgetting to acknowledge the significance of its source material. So while are maps are filled with places in which we have already encountered does not mean that there is not any more yet to be explored.

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