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In the Sturken article wherein she makes the connection between Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” and the film viewer I was struck with the many similarities between the character’s experience and that of the film viewer. I think it has even more similarities to a television viewer. However, it gets really interesting when Sturken recalls that through the carrying out of the story, the central character gets discovered as the voyeur and is thus endangered.
Does this bely a certain guilt the television viewer feels. It would be a tremendous episode of “The Twilight Zone” if the television viewer was suddenly discovered to be a peeping tom on the lives of unsuspecting citizens of tv land. This notion of the viewer and connotations that has for psychoanalysis should cause deep reevaluation as to how we present our subjects. The meta device of characters within film and tv watching other subjects whether it is through a crystal ball as in “The Wizard of Oz” or through a magic mirror in Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” is a ubiquitous concept. We have been watching eachother since the dawn of human consciousness, but this concept of viewing has only been subject to enhanced problematizing as the thing exists in a world of video surveillance, pornography, and constant filmic entertainment. As a culture we are looking, no peering into other people’s lives with ever increasing abandon, but I wonder if that sets well with our hidden subconscious or if we expect something ill to come about as a result of our voyeurism.
I really enjoyed reading Bartky’s article because she addresses how men and women present themselves in terms of movement, body language, posture, and gesture. For example, when observing women and men, men have more of a tendency to occupy space by sprawling out and women tend to secure their limbs closer to their bodies. Also, in terms of femininity, women are more concerned with their looks and buy beauty products that are destined to fail. Aging can not be stopped and eventually a woman will see herself as inadequate trying to live up to societal standards. She refers to culture to talk about what is current in the female body, “small-breasted, narrow-hipped, and of a slimness bordering emancipation.” Back in the 15th century, if a woman was considered robust or curvy she was considered attractive by wealth. If you were poor, obviously food was hard to come by, therefore you were skinny. One artist that comes mind that expresses the idea of femininity is Audrey Flack. She no longer paints, but when she did, she painted specific feminine objects in clustered compositions. She focused on photographs of iconic figures such as Marilyn Monroe, perfume bottles, fingernail polish, pearl necklaces, rings, trinket boxes, and flowers, etc.
In Sturken’s article, I am particularly focused on spectatorship. In class I had mentioned how historically speaking, men were only allowed to draw women. Women were only allowed to do decorative arts, crafts, and still-life paintings, but women were not taken seriously as scholars. It wash’t until the early 1970s before women began drawing/painting men. Instead of a man gazing at a woman’s body and desiring her, women turned the tables and started to paint self-portraits and how they viewed their bodies. Women also started to focus their gaze on nude, male figures.
One famous author that comes to mind is Linda Nochlin. She did a spoof off of an 1800s photo of an attractive, naked woman holding a fruit tray and compared that to one of her photos of a naked man holding a tray of fruit. This piece, “Buy My Bananas” is very important especially when talking about spectatorship. Instead of a man gazing at this attractive woman, this photograph’s composition has now transformed to a rather disgusting man. As a woman, as for many women, perhaps the message about gaze changes. We do not read this image as a desire or fantasy. Keep in mind, this image comes back culture. The photo of the man was taken in the 1970s. Today, were are more concerned with being well-groomed.
“Clearly, male looking is not without its limitations and consequences” – pg 78., ‘Spectatorship, Power, and Knowledge’ by Surken and Cartwright
I find this a really interesting, and particularly relevant remark to make in todays society. There seems to be a fear of masculinity by many women, which I have always failed to understand. Whilst I know that often, men are physically stronger than females (with a few exceptions), and that men are almost always seen as the dominant gender, the constant fear of attack by males, seems very unfortunate. I am not sure why this fear exists, but can’t help but feel it is partly due to the media spotlight on such attacks. Whilst I understand it is important to focus on these issues, it seems that not enough media attention is focused on the recover, and life after attack from a male, which implies that such attacks are ‘the end of the road’.
Linking this idea to Bartky’s article (“Foucault, Femininity, and the Modernization of Patriarchal Power”) regarding the power of gender, and gender performance; it seems that this fear women have of men acts as a power over them – everyday, you hear individuals telling women not to go somewhere on their own, or when its dark, for their own safety. This seems remarkably like the prison system example given in this article, as one does not (always) know if/ when an attack is going to take place. This fear is installed within females, and so they avoid these situations, just as the prisoners behave well (avoiding bad/ unacceptable behaviours) as they do not know when they are being watched.
I really enjoyed this weeks readings (although I have not yet read Thursdays reading), as I think it was applicable to real life; not all spectators are the ‘ideal’, and everyone viewing media has had different experiences (due to gender, race, culture, etc), which I felt has been forgotten in some of the other articles focussing on Psychoanalytic theory. Of course, to learn a theory, things must sometimes be taught in this way, but its nice to know the class is now looking to how these theories actually play out in reality.
I touched on this in my project proposal, but I thought it might be nice to bring it into the discussion here:
On Sturken: Much analysis of the intersection of gender and cinema focuses heavily on the “apparatus” of cinema, which is the theater itself and the way in which we use the space socially. Generally, emphasis is put on scopophilia, the voyeur inherent in a group of people sitting silently in the dark, deriving pleasure from watching things unfold through the window of the screen. However, few address the other half of cinematic medium, sound.
I’m interested in considering the ways in which gender is constructed through sound as opposed to imagery. When we talk about those who have power, we often use the expression they “have a voice”. This can have literal manifestation in cinema–who’s speaking? How often are they speaking? When they’re speaking, how often are they expressing agency or control, or moving the plot forward. Breaking Bad’s Skyler White is often left to silence, because she feels she’s totally lost her agency and will. Also of interest is the way in which people use the voice for performance of gender. Actresses from the Golden Age of Hollywood–at least those representative of absolute feminine ideals of the time–spoke softly and elegantly. Males would posture and often assert their power through their speaking voice. How else might gender be constructed in film through sound?
I identify as a cultural studies scholar using the lens of media to examine issues of race, power and privilege. I am also a content creator. One of the cardinal criticisms I face from those outside of the academe, and even from some within, is what is the purpose of dissecting media? I’ve been told that television, movies, literature and the other facets of the media complex are simply entertainment, and those that consume media should know that it doesn’t extend much further than that. Others have told me that I should be more invested in the sciences that matter, like engineering and political science, rather than devoting time to interrogating media image.
What the unconscious viewing audience doesn’t realize is media is never just media. Television is never just television. Movies are never just movies. Kearney’s (2011) chapter on the role of spectatorship in the viewing experience supports this thesis, and also validates the importance of the work I’m producing as both a scholar and a media maker.
According to Kearney (2011), psychoanalytics and spectatorship can be used to theorize media because our unconscious mind represses our desires, and media fosters the mirror image of childhood. I reject much of psychoanalysis because it’s irrelevant to the scholarship I produce in terms of representation, but spectatorship is particularly interesting to me because it differs depending on the person viewing the media text. For instance, Black American women watching a Tyler Perry film experience the characters, plot, dialogue and overall construction of the movie much differently than other viewing audiences.
I adhere to the Black Feminist spectator lens, which encourages women of color to “talk back” or use a conscious lens to critique the media that represents them. Black Feminist Thought scholar and activist bell hooks (1992) defines Black Feminist spectatorship as an “oppositional gaze” that actively resists inaccurate stereotypes. Boylorn (2008) defines the oppositional gaze as a resistance to the “intended and embedded ideologies that are based on racist and internalized racist views.” I use the oppositional gaze to critique the representations of women of color in romantic comedies and even in hip-hop music. In essence, the oppositional gaze positions viewers as active agents of resistance, rather than impressionable figures in the psychoanalytical theory of film viewing. Cultural studies forefather Stuart Hall (1993) has also argued that the way viewers interpret media texts is impacted by the intersections of their identities.
So though Kearney (2011) offers an excellent explanation of spectatorship, particularly as it relates to the feminist and male gazes, I can’t firmly support the initial theory of spectatorship. It doesn’t account for critical spectators (like me) that don’t just consume media, but choose to “talk back” to it through both the creation of my own scholarship and my role as a scholar.
One of the most problematic comedy films of the last decade is Eddie Murphy’s “Norbit,” released in 2007. The film centers Murphy as Norbit Albert Rice, an orphan that is stripped from his best friend Kate Thomas (Thandie Newton) when she’s adopted and he’s left in the orphanage. Norbit is constructed as a man without a backbone. He is incapable of verbalizing his desires and he’s at the whim of his emasculating wife, Rasputia Lattimore, who’s also portrayed by Murphy. Rasputia is constructed as a fat, overbearing, self-centered, loud and aggressive woman that finds pleasure in torturing her husband. In fact, she reaffirms the sapphire character made famous in “Amos ‘N Andy.” Rasputia is calculating, cold and incapable of loving others. In contrast, Kate is constructed as slim, quiet, lighter-complexioned and full of love. The construction of both characters place women of color on binaries that don’t satisfy the fullness of our womanhood and humanity. This is all too commonplace in media, and is the cardinal reason Black women must consume media as critical spectators.
The first reading I picked up this week was the one from The Routledge Companion, because I feel like these readings are good at explaining the issues that the rest of the readings will be dealing with in simple terms. I don’t know if it was because of this, but I actually had no problem with understanding any of the readings this week.
My two favorites, surprisingly, were by Foucault. I thought it was very interesting how he begins to trace the history of sexuality all the way back to the Greeks. Most of the information from “A Boy’s Honor,” was completely new to me, for example, how he explains that during those times, beauty was a concept that was applied more to men than to women. It made me wonder how and when it was that this changed, though I guess he explains in the other reading how women come to be seen as inferior because they are in a position Foucault deems as submissive. I thought it was interesting how in the end he relates everything, in this case the very history and structure of sexuality, to power, which made this similar to the reading about panopticism. He doesn’t only talk about the obvious relations of power that come to mind when one thinks about sexuality, but also about ones I had never considered, such as the parent-child relationship. I also liked how he goes over this history looking at it from different angles; he explains how the Greeks saw it, but also how the church and the medical field explained sex and sexual conducts. Something else I enjoyed about these readings in general was how, for example, in the Judith Butler one, they relate and pretty much came from the feminist theories we read about in the previous classes.
There was one reading in particular this week that I feel will be useful for my research and even for my critical analysis paper, and it was the one by Ruth Holliday, where she talks about her project with video diaries and the notions of the closet and of coming out. This reading is helpful because it allows us to see how she uses theory to try to make sense of some of the content in these videos.
The two readings that I enjoyed and I think could help me in my research were the articles by Alexander Doty and Judith Butler. In the piece by Doty, I found it interesting how he expands the meaning of the word “queer” and suggests that texts that normally identify as heteronormative can generate queer readings. He emphasizes that “queer” does not specifically relate to a gender/ sexuality category and is actually a ontological classification. This is a liberating way to analyze a film text where there may be no ostensibly gay characters but it is possible to read the film as having homosexuality as a subtext. In my research, I enjoy decoding texts which appear mainstream on the surface but are able to represent marginal or alternative voices, which are apparent only when one gets a more layered understanding of the text. Doty’s arguments in this article will be useful in conducting such an analysis.
The other piece I liked was Butler’s excerpt from Gender Trouble. The idea that really stood out for my here was Butler’s argument that just as there are many connotations of the word “woman”, there could be many understandings of the word “patriarchy” as well. She mentions that there is no such thing as a “universal patriarchy”, and before I read this piece I hadn’t thought of it this way. I wanted to work on a research project about social media as an outlet for feminism for upper-class women in India, and my thesis was going to be that this is a form of “elite” feminism, and does not go beyond superficial issues. But I realize now that it is still a kind of feminism that reacts to the way patriarchy operates in the upper and affluent classes of my country. This idea opens up a new possibility for my research project and will help me look at the subject from a different point of view.
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