Friday, February 27, 2009

NY Times on the Snuggie

Snuggie Rode Silly Ads to Stardom Over Rivals

I kid you not.

Update: Leo's grandparents bought him a Snuggie last weekend, so there is now one ensconced in my home. It's the kid's, but he lets me use it.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Foucault and Ang/Hermes questions

1. With regards to the repressive hypothesis discussed on page 10, Foucault disagrees with the arguments because he sees society as being more tolerant than repressive, which is true with regards to French society. Can the same be said about American culture though? No. How then has American censorship changed from the 17th/18th century compared to today?

For one, the role the church plays has taken on a secondary or even tertiary position as we have become a society governed by the state rather than by the church. Despite the role religion has played recently in the discourse, it has not been forgotten as people still use the teachings of their religion as a way to keep others “pure” until marriage. Secondly, the presence of censoring sex through public discourses has changed in that coitus is not seen as something should only be done based on biological (it being a woman’s “duty” to bear children) or economical (having as many children possible to work the land) rationale. Today, not only are women prolonging the age at which they have children, they are also choosing not to have any at all. As the cost of living has risen tremendously since the 18th century, people have chosen not to have a big family, or any children, because of the economic drain it would impose on the family.
The discourse of sexuality pertaining to children has in my eyes changed on a smaller scale compared to the change in the church and adults. There is a great unease with people when it comes to thinking and or talking about infantile/pre-adolescent/adolescent/young adult sexuality, especially when it comes to the infantile/pre-adolescent age groups. Despite known knowledge about sexuality beginning in the womb, people choose to turn a blind eye to this issue. Perhaps because it removes the “innocence” people have when thinking about children or maybe they just don’t know how to broach the subject. When it comes to the adolescent/young adult cohorts, more discussion is being had publicly because of the rising pre/teen sti/pregnancy/abortion rates. Thus, sexuality among pre/teens is still talked about in a preventative manner rather than an honest, informational manner. So, while sex, according to Foucault (1976) was “driven out of hiding and constrained to lead a discursive existence,” the discourse still talks about sex as something that is ignored in infants/small children, shunned and viewed negatively amongst pre/teens and preferred to be engaged in only by those adults who are in a committed relationship, preferably married (p. 33).

2. What sort of devices of surveillance and corrective discourses were used to combat the assumed guilt non/adults were seen as having with regards to their sexuality?

In the colonial era, it was perfectly acceptable for neighbors to literally peek into their neighbors’ windows to see what was going on in the house. Thus, the concept of “policing you neighborhood” became a literal translation especially when it came to sexual practices. It was every person’s duty to make sure that no transgressions against God were being committed in the bedroom. This meant those married couples engaging in any “non-vanilla sexual activity” and for those who were, they were brought forth in front of their community and made to repent against their sin(s) with the promise never to commit that same “crime” again. Unlike in today’s society, people in the 18th and 19th century did not carry their crime’s stigma with them for the rest of their lives, as long as they were sorry and never caught doing the same criminal act again, the notion of forgive and forget was very true.
When it came to sexuality and all non-adults, the approach to safeguard them from sexual temptation was combated in numerous ways, two of which I will discuss now. The first was a device designed specifically for adolescent boys whose bodies were maturing. This specific device can be thought of as an anti-erection invention in that the boy would put it on sort of like a pair of underwear and the phallus was positioned in a way within the device so that if he should become erect while sleeping, a spiked metal ball would come in contact with the tip of his phallus. The purpose of this device then was to get a boy’s body to associate pain with his erection so that his phallus will not want to become erect. Another method used for adolescents was if an arrangement had been made between a girl’s family and a boy’s family with regards to marriage, the soon-to-be husband was allowed to spend the night at the girl’s family’s home, but could not be trusted to control his sexual urges during the night while everyone else was sleeping. To prevent any sort of hanky-panky that could go on when no one was watching, the covers of the bed the boy was sleeping in would be sewn to the mattress so that he could not get out of the bed at night.
There was this obsessive compulsion with sexuality then during these times, and while discussions were being had about sexuality, the nature of those conversations were not to education people on sexuality but rather to keep people from resisting to give in to the devil’s temptations. For both adults and their children, they were led to believe that since they must always be on the lookout for any moment of weakness they might encounter with their body or someone else’s, they were denied the right to eat certain foods. It was once believed that spicy foods had a direct correlation to a person’s sexual appetite. As a result, spicy foods were banned from the diet of everyone. In addition, it was thought that whole grains kept people’s sexuality in check, which led to the General-Mills company to capitalize on this need for healthy foods.

3. Looking back on the history of sexuality in America and how it has changed since the first colonists arrived, was Foucault right in saying that we do not live in a sexually repressed society?
The answer to this question is not as clear-cut as one might expect it to be for there are multiple levels that come into play when trying to answer this question. For instance, I could argue that society is still repressed sexually, if not more than before with regard to the “nervous” woman. During the 20th and 21st centuries, woman who were diagnosed with certain medical afflictions pertaining to their physiological and mental state were treated with masturbatory therapy. Two specific types of therapy were to either have a doctor or nurse use a dildo on a woman to get her to climax, as it was reported afterward that the woman’s physical and mental state appeared to have gotten much better, or to prescribe that a woman sit in a hot spring to get the woman to climax from the jets of water hitting certain parts of a woman’s body. This practice was so common during those times that advertisements could be found in any regular household magazine opposite the page for clothing or household items. No longer are these practices in use medically because of the idea that women are asexual and because of the increase in knowledge about the human body that has allowed for physicians to better recognize what is ailing a person’s mind or body.
Interestingly though, sex education films produced in the early 20th century were made for teenage males to warn them about the “dangers” of sex. While the act of coitus was never fully explained, the focus of those films was to scare them into holding off on having sex until marriage. The roles of women in those films were always the giver of a sti rather than a recipient of one which presents a contradictory image of women. On the one hand, women were not to be trusted sexually because they would give an unsuspecting guy a sti, but on the other hand, women were socialized to be pure and innocent when it came to their sexuality. Another interesting point to make about these early sex education films is that the if a reason was given for how a woman became infected with a sti, it was usually because she felt lonely and or neglected by her husband and sought refuge in the arms/bed of another man who consequently had an infectious disease. Even though the woman in this scenario was infected by another man, you are not made to feel sympathetic for her, but rather for her “innocent” husband who now has to go to the doctor to see if he too has been infected. Thus, that was just one more way to represent the “fallen woman” and Madonna/whore persona within cinematic media. So, even though sexuality was discussed and sexual medical practices were used, it was done more so in a repressive or medicinal manner rather than an expressive approach.

4. In the Ang and Hermes piece, their focus was to examine the role gender plays in media consumption as opposed to only looking at how gender is represented in various media outlets. While the difference between the two approaches might seem subtle, they are very different in the type of questions that can be asked. For instance, the authors raise a question of interest to me pertaining to couples who like to watch porn together. What unspoken messages are being sent by women who watch pornography?
To quote Wendy McElroy (1995), “…I am a woman so who is so psychologically damaged by patriarchy that I have fallen in love with my own oppression” (p. vi). Are women who watch pornographic media or make pornographic media reinforcing their own subordination in a patriarchic society? Does the type of pornographic media a woman watches or makes effect how she is resisting or accepting her subordinate status in society? For instance, if a woman engages in watching or making mainstream pornography, that which is made by white men and aimed at heterosexual white men, as opposed to watching or making non-mainstream porn, specifically, that which is made by white women for heterosexual white female viewers, make one genre better or worse than the other? Mainstream porn has been under attack in the U.S. for centuries because of the assumed lack of morals, violent themes and treatment/presentation of women and after centuries of trying to censor and eradicate porn from American society; women’s response was to make porn geared towards women. Now, what sets the two types of porn apart from one another are often believed to have to do with the presentation of sex in each category. Mainstream porn has also been accused of lacking loving/affectionate themes, so to fill that void women began producing porn that involved loving and or affectionate themes for their female viewers. By making those types of films, does that not also oppress women because those types of films imply that women by nature are only interested in those media that involve loving and/or affectionate themes. Like the romance novels, that type of pornography is used as an outlet to tap into another world with which to escape to. Do women really like that sort of porn though? Granted there are some women who do, can it be said that the majority of women find that type of porn entertaining?


Fellow readers,

By the end of part two, on pages 48-9, Foucault seems to be arguing that when power increases, variations in sexuality and pleasure multiply. However, If this is true, then we should be at a point of unprecedented conformity of sexuality because this society has systematically disempowered people by making possible decisions for individuals. We are left with little but the ability to choose between predetermined options. So, is Foucault ‘s notion of power that of the individual, or is he talking about the empowerment of institutions that develop at the cost of individual liberty and power? [his explanation of power on p. 92 seems to fall outside of either category] Does it not seem too convenient for Foucault begin his grand “History” of sexuality a mere four hundred years ago?

"Politics is war pursued by other means."

"Sex, the explanation for everything."
[An effort to make this blog more "bloggy"]

Foucault cont'd:

On 140, Michel describes biopower as "the subjugation of bodies and the control of populations." He seems to be speaking specifically about humans and, more broadly, "social bodies." What is the usefulness of biopower as a concept applied to non-human life as in an agricultural or genetically-modified organism sense? What does the scope of a feminist critique of biopower contain? Beyond gender equality, perhaps it would go on to question anthropocentrism and humans' entitlement to the earth's "resources." As a more amorphous and insidious method of control, what does resisting the biopolitical look like to individuals? to populations?

Re: Ang and Hermes:
Ang and Hermes do a good job complicating previous research by challenging the conception of a female audience having a homogenous feminine gender. They also question the validity and genearalizability of previous research that isolated peoples’ experience of a text from its relation to other texts within the bricolage of our post-modern mediascape. Importantly, Ang and Hermes also cite the fact that media use is a “social process” with a multitude of forces that mediate the effects of media on people with ever-changing subject positions. Each of these complications are welcome in a field that seems to continue trying to establish apparent direct media effects despite widespread abandonment of the belief that media messages cause predictable behavior via the hypodermic needle theory. Much psychological research seeks to understand human behavior as a social phenomenon that is affected by the perceived expectations of others. Why do Ang and Hermes and other researchers seem to avoid acknowledging this in their research? Why hasn’t the research we’ve focused on so far considered third person effects? Perhaps women continue to absorb gender roles and expectations through the expectation that everyone else is affected by such media stereotypes. This, at least, partially explains the lack of evidence for direct media effects in the face of an overwhelming conformity amid conceptions of sex and gender.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Questions 2-26

At the end of the Foucault book, he poses a mental exercise to ponder.  “We are often reminded of the countless procedures which Christianity once employed to make us detest the body; but let us ponder all the ruses that were employed for centuries to make us love sex, to make the knowledge of it desirable and everything said about it precious” (159).  The function of discourse is ultimately to exercise control over, and presumably arrive at a masterful understanding of a subject. Foucault contends that it is ultimately us that are enslaved by the discourse as we become unable to conceptualize ourselves outside of it.  How does this concept relate to hegemony?  I’m left with the feeling that I’ve been duped my desire to better understand things, when it ultimately serves to keep me in check, which is a hegemonic function.  The proliferation of discourse on sex forces us to understand sex only through the lens of the discourse, so how can we try to better understand the nature of texts like romance novels if we are unable to think outside of the established discourse.

            Ang and Hermes do a terrific job of articulating the problems and contradictions we all run into when discussing gender and/in the media.  One of those contradictions I frequently encounter is the assertion that all viewers and consumers of media interact with the text and create their own meanings from it.  We accept as fact that there is no uniform, predictable, homogeneous audience response.  How then can we discuss cultivation theory, which suggests that prolonged exposure to a media text will ultimately lead to the adoption of certain ideals that are unrealistic, untrue, exaggerated, etc.  Many scholars assert that females (and possibly males) come to accept unhealthily thin body images as the norm because of their constant exposure to them in the media.  Wouldn’t this conflict with the idea that we are constantly managing and negotiating the meanings within these texts?

            I found the Ang and Hermes discussion of audience studies to be incredibly compelling.  But is it really possible for scholars to ignore the role that certain factors may play in predicting an ethnographic result.  Gender may be more of a slippery slope, for obvious reasons, but I find it difficult to believe that class doesn’t play a giant role in determining how people are likely to receive a text (If for no other reason than Distinction).  We live in a pseudo-fractured society.  Indeed, we share experiences across gender, race, and class lines, and they may not be rigid in determining what we watch and like. But the habitus of an upper class individual will not reflect that of a poor person.  What are the advantages of separating a group by class in order to study their response to a media text?  What are its limitations? 

Monday, February 23, 2009

reading questions for 2/26/09

Both of these readings are incredibly concerned with discourse. Foucault pretty much slams his audience over the head with it (I’ve never read the word so much in one setting, ever), but Ang and Hermes also heavily deal with discourse. To choose the word discourse over theory, or some other derivative, has a lot of implications. Or at least I feel like it does. Am I totally wrong about this? I feel like discourse is more directly connected to power than theory is, as discourse implies a universal institutionalization. Discourse is also concerned with a lot more than what is said and the implications of that, but also with who said it and when and in what context, etc. Why is it important to these authors to focus on discourse, as opposed to theory? Is there a difference? What difference does it make, especially in regard to power?

On page 10, Foucault asks if power is ultimately repressive, if it serves no purpose other than to repress. He uses much of the rest of the book to prove that this is not the case. He sees power as coming from everywhere, present in all relations, and even grants acts that are usually deemed passive (like silence) with attributes of power. He’s essentially telling us that power is everywhere, that we can’t resist it because it’s a part of everything. But he concludes the book by saying that, in order to free ourselves from the repressive hypothesis, we must resist the discourse of sexuality. Is this contradictory? If we can’t resist power, how can we resist this discourse?

I loved Foucault’s analysis about sexuality as a construct, specifically the part about how sexuality is used to try to come to an understanding of personality, or a person’s fundamental character. Basically, I love that he’s saying that sexuality doesn’t exist in the terms in which we think of it. Gay people are only gay because the discourse on sexuality needs to differentiate from what it has established as normal. There is nothing constitutive about a person’s identity based on how that person partakes in sexual pleasure. But for many queer people, a queer identity is really important. Entire communities are based around these identities. Are they false identities? In trying to deconstruct the discourse of sexuality, has Foucault invalidated communities?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

and they all lived happily ever after

Radway mentions that the Smithton women’s “need to see the story and the emotions aroused by it resolved is so intense . . . [that] the women dislike having to leave a story before it is concluded” (59). I understand this in the context of Radway’s findings, because the women seek an emotional reaffirmation and the feelings that go along with finding the ideal partner to both protect and nurture them, but I find this contradicts the narrative structure of the soap opera which essentially delays such endings or resolutions indefinitely. Assuming there is a proportion of women who consume both media products, how do we reconcile this? On one hand, the gratification comes with the conclusion, but on the other, the gratification is in the continual process.

One way the Smithton women justify their reading is by claiming to learn facts and knowledge while reading, thus proving that “the novels are not merely frothy, purposeless entertainment but possess a certain intrinsic value that can be transferred to the reader” (107). I want to suggest that the negative view of romance novels as unproductive, simple-minded distractions translates over to many, if not all, forms of popular culture. Much like the Smithton women, we often have to justify our enjoyment of television shows (I know it’s bad, but . . .) or certain music played on the radio (I know it sucks, but . . .) or, for me personally, my enjoyment of video games, which still maintain, regardless of statistical data, their infantilized and marginalized societal position. In what ways are these justifications a product of patriarchy, and in what ways to we reinforce conceptions of usefulness when we acquiesce to providing them?

Radway argues that the female foil character in a good romance novel “views men as little more than tools for her own aggrandizement . . . [and] is perfectly willing to man-ipulate [my edit] them by flaunting her sexual availability” (131). I’m sure I’m not the only one who thought of the villainess character from soap operas. Like my previous question related to soaps, though, I find a contradiction in the way this character is viewed by the Smithton women compared to how the villainess is supposedly viewed by her audience. I did not get the indication that the Smithton women “loved to hate” the female foil nor did Radway position her as a symbol of feminine power; rather, she is what her name implies, a foil to the true and ideal female lead, an intelligent, innocent, and ignorant girl who, unlike her counterpart, is capable of true love and selfless compassion and caring. Again, how do we reconcile the two polarized readings of these two very similar characters, the female foil and the villainess?

Writing in 1984, Radway argues that “whether such [feminist] developments [in the romance genre] will be widespread and general in the future is impossible to say since we have no way of knowing how many women will give up their safe, limited, and barely conscious contestation of patriarchy for the uncertainty of feminism’s conscious assault on both its categorization of the world and its institutional structure” (220). I think it is clear to say that Radway includes, if not specifically, then at least generally, the Smithton women when she writes that sentence. Over twenty years later, have romances changed? How have they evolved to more directly challenge and incite women against a male-dominated society, if at all? If the core readership has remained similar to the Smithton women, is this model of the romance novel even possible if women reject all but one specific kind of romance narrative, one that alleviates, but does not directly oppose, the pressures and subordination patriarchy imposes?

The future of romance novels?

As I read Radway, I found her observations of romance reading in a particular historical moment interesting and her observations on how the women used the romance genre to "escape". Also historically how she follows how the political women's movement of the time period influenced readership and the type of novels that the women may be attracted to.

Also her first chapters about the history of books was fascinating to me as a library professional as I did not realize how genres were started as a publishing industry here in the United States. As her study was conducted in the late 1970-80's, I wonder how much the publishing industry has changed in regards to the romance genre? Has readership gone down or up? What are the current demographics of romance readers today?

Also I wonder what genres might also provide the same "escape" and pleasure as for the women readers Radway interviews. Has the emergence of "chick lit" replaced or given another type of genre women can relate to? What are they relating to in regards to chick lit?

Also, there is a growing number of lesbian and gay romance novels as well. I personally enjoy Jane Fletcher, who writes fantasy romance novels involving two lesbians. It's been a while since I have read one of her novels, but I wonder if those books also follow some of the same themes, plots, and character developments that the romance novel contains from Radway observations.

Radway discusses how reading romance gives the women a chance to relax, gives them time of their own, allows them to indulge in fantasy, and escape (p. 60). Many of these same ideas are seen in Reader Response Theory, which is a reading theory that educators are taught in regards to school-age children. What I have not seen (at least in my limited experience with educational theory) is this being applied to adult readers. Yet, many of their experiences seem to fit within how theorists have observed younger readers who "escape" into literature and make meaningful experiences.

Here's a definition of Reader Response Theory:

readerresponse theory, a body of literary investigations, chiefly German and American, into the nature of the reader's activity in the process of understanding literary texts. A major contribution to debates on this topic was made by Wolfgang Iser ( 1926 – ), whose books The Implied Reader ( 1974 ) and The Act of Reading ( 1979 ) argue that a literary work is incomplete until the reader has ‘actualized’ those elements that are left to her imagination. The more controversial arguments of Stanley Fish ( 1938 – ), in his essays collected as Is There a Text in This Class? ( 1980 ), include the claim that literary texts are produced by the strategies of interpretation that guide us to seek certain meanings in them; and that the way we read poems is determined by the ‘interpretive community’ in which we are trained

reader‐response theory" The Concise Oxford Companion to English Literature. Ed. Margaret Drabble and Jenny Stringer. Oxford university Press, 2007. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. Marquette University. 19 February 2009

For my last thoughts, I'm going to end on page 211. Radway brings up an interesting observation when she says "the act of reading as combative and compensatory. It is combative in the sense that it enables them to refuse the other-directed social role prescribed for them by their position within the institution of marriage....Their activity is compensatory, then, in that it permits them to focus on themselves and to carve out a solitary space within an arena where their self-interest is usually identified with the interests of others and where they are defined as a public resource to be mined as will by the family."

This duel role that these women play in their communities, as mothers who take care of their family and household and then the independent women they are as they allow space and time for their wants and needs is something I think Radway shows through her observations throughout the book. Again, I wonder is this type of reading only held to the romance genre or has that changed? Is this unique to popular culture as a whole, this appeal only to a very specific type of woman in a particular society or is it possible to see in other cultures or genres?

Radway Readings

Last semester in a class on film genres, the authors we read grappled with the contradictions of doing post-stucturalist genre theory. Repeatedly, authors called for an attention to history in order to unsettle monolithic claims about genre creation and use. Radway’s book, as an example of genre criticism, is an impressive example of historical research. She generally avoids universalism by reminding us that readers and texts operate within larger systems material and discursive production. However, her research is so well situated within a historical moment, that I wonder how to relate her research to a different time and place? I’m not asking how her theories apply to contemporary romantic form (though that is an interesting question), but what kind of theoretical work do we need to do in order to ask that question.

Romance reading is serious business for both Radway and her readers. The readers’ emphasis on the seriousness of reading is one strategy used to defend a devalued cultural act. Romance texts employ “literary” techniques in order to inject seriousness into the textual level. The readers report different kinds of pleasure that they get from the act of reading. However, the over the top register of the romance was not one of them. Do romance texts foreclose camp readings? What is at stake for the readers to disclose finding pleasure in exaggeration of the form? Is there a Harlequin equivalent to the fan fiction genre of “crack!fic,” where the success of the story rests on its ability to consciously manipulate and expose the conventions of more “serious” fan production?

Reflecting on my enthusiastic reception of Reading the Romance, I think that one of the reasons I like the book as much as I do is my affection for Dot and the Smithton readers. By the end of the book, I felt close to these women. Is it possible to view Dot and the other women, not as informants, but as fictional characters? How is Dot’s character constructed? What strategies does Radway use to foster emotional investment with these characters? Does this process parallel the techniques used by realistic novels to ensure identification and “affective reaction?” (196)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Rape and romance

Thought I'd post a few clips from the 1979-1980 story of Luke's rape of Laura from the daytime soap opera, General Hospital. The story drew on romance novel conventions, such as those Radway discusses. This story is particularly well known because Luke and Laura go on to fall in love and, about 2 years after the rape, get married in the highest rated daytime soap episode ever. They were a massively popular couple. Once they officially got together, the rape was sort of hushed up, and never discussed until the mid-'90s, when their teenage son finds out. The original rape story, however, was more complex than the aftermath leads one to think. I can fill in the story gaps and details in class, but here is the general scenario. Laura is married to a guy named Scotty. She goes to work as a waitress in a disco run by Luke Spencer. Luke falls in love with Laura and they become friends. One night, convinced he is going to be killed for his involvement with the mafia, this happens:

Laura admits she has been raped to Scotty and her family but says she doesn't know who raped her. Luke and Laura talk about the rape--endlessly!--for about 9 months, debating whether it was really rape or not. Here's a scene in which he admits he raped her to his sister, Bobbie:

Throughout this period, Luke is tortured by his memories of what he did to Laura. Meanwhile, Laura continues to protect Luke (for multiple, convoluted reasons related back to the mob)and in conversations between them and between each of them and others they discuss what rape really is. Ultimately, Scotty finds out that Luke was the rapist, as this scene shows (note: there is another scene in the middle that you need not watch if you don't want):

We can talk more about this in class if we have time, but thought it might be useful to see a moving image version of a story somewhat like those Radway discusses.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Mr. T is really a sensitive girly-man

1. In Chapter 11 of Television Culture, on masculinity in gendered television, Fiske discusses how masculinity is a paradox of power and discipline (208), and a “cultural bribe” due to a man’s loss of independence when work becomes his central identity. The cultural bribe seems to come from built-in structures of capitalism, keeping the male role focused on duty to family, nation, and country. In representations of masculinity on television, Fiske provides examples as to how male roles are gendered in order to maintain the status quo in a patriarchal and capitalist society. However, as in his chapter on femininity, Fiske mentions that in some TV shows, spaces are created where the narrative can “open up,” allowing for male audiences to subvert dominant roles, and, in essence, become resistant to dominant definitions of male gender roles. Other than the example he provides illustrating how Miami Vice “softens ” traditional male roles (221), what other examples of more recent television shows might support this argument? And,
do you believe this type of “softer style” actually serves as a point of possible resistance?

2. In Gledhill’s article “Pleasurable Negotiations,” she states that changes over time in our cultural history make older “dominant” readings of texts outmoded, and that alternative readings often end up becoming the preferred readings. She goes further to talk about how TV & film critics' interpretations create “new cycles of meaning production and negotiation” (175) and includes all sorts of non-professional criticism (classroom lectures, letters to the editor, etc.) as offering additional ways to break through dominant patriarchal discourse and shape new meanings from texts, as society changes. Can critical evaluation of texts actually inform audiences and spark resistance to dominant structures by offering newer, more “alternative” readings? Are audiences becoming more sophisticated and aware of dominant/gendered structures, and more able to resist them to create their own meanings? Are they becoming more adept at bypassing the roles provided and interpreting them in new ways? Do you think the mainstream accessibility of media criticism and analysis affects how TV shows are gendered? Is the future looking rosy or dark?

3. In Fiske’s Chapter 10, he points to the slow movement of plots in soap operas, and how it allows women to savor “reactions and feelings.” (184) Also, in many soaps, there are those moments happen frequently, usually at the end of one plot scene, where the camera not only does a close-up on the woman or man’s face, but it lingers uncomfortably long, as we see the expression in real time, changing with an exaggerated emotional reaction. In contrast, in his chapter on masculinity, he offers a similar “savoring” that happens with men as they view slow-motion shots that focus on physical ability (e.g. the sweaty muscles of an athlete in motion) or excessive action (e.g. a car flying over an embankment and going up in flames). (Chap. 11, 219) These examples of narrative structures or editing tools seem to clearly re-create within the text, the theory that women want to process emotions and people’s feelings, and that men, on the other hand, not only focus on the event, but slow it down to savor in the glory of the exciting action. Can you think of any examples where this is turned around? Or, for example, when a woman watches one of these “slow-motion” male-oriented action scenes, is there an alternative reading women might have that would give a feeling of power and release? And visa versa?

Reading Questions

1. Bobo's article on audience response to The Color Purple takes an audience centered approach to discussing the ways in which a subject or audience imprints their meaning on a text and uses that meaning to form a group collective of shared experience and histories. In discussing myths, specifically the “exotic primitive” myth, Bobo cites Mark Schorer and says that the truth of a myth doesn't matter as much as the function of the myth to validate a group's history in a manner that's satisfactory to a culture, and also that traditions aren't born when someone creates them, but when a collective reads/interprets them (100). Both these ideas give agency to the audience and their use of a narrative or a text; by Bobo's interpretation of a myth, how many myths are involved in the writing, directing, and receiving of The Color Purple or similar works? What groups or cultures are these myths serving? What values are they serving? Does one myth or narrative hold more power than another- why or why not?

2. Bobo goes on to mention Hall's principle of “articulation,” the moment when an underrepresented group wrestles control from dominant ideology and makes their own meaning and that the strength is maintained only when the group goes on to put the altered discourse to use and goes on to act in a political manner (105). What does she mean by putting this discourse to use? What actions can a group take to either proliferate, maintain, or strengthen that altered discourse? Is this altered discourse maintained more on a private or public level, or both? How possible or what is necessary for the underrepresented group to make their “voice” more embedded into the dominant ideology?

3. Gledhill states in her article that receptive negotiating is the “most radical moment of negotiation- the most variable and predictable” (172). She goes on to discuss that mainstream production commodifies marginalized groups or beliefs to simultaneously give them attention while getting them, or the pressure to represent them, under their control. She also discusses the instability of identity- that it is never fixed and, likewise, an audience's interpretation of a text will vary depending on shifting personal and historical factors and viewing situations (174). Considering all these unstable factors, what does a scholar access by analyzing audience response to a text? What is the “best” way, given such shifting variables, to understand how a subject reacts to a text; what, if any, generalizations can be drawn? What are the practical outcomes/benefits to such an analysis? How does making a subject more aware of her response to a text in relation to her personal history benefit her and others? Kuhn states that “the distinction between social audience and spectator/subject, and attempts to explore the relationship between the two, are part of a broader theoretical endeavor: to deal in tandem with texts and contexts” (348). This dualism seems to support that texts reinforce already situated norms and ideology; so what is gained practically by understanding how audiences interact with texts- what are the advantages of a media-focused discipline?

4. In “Gendered Television: Femininity,” Fiske talks about deferment in soap operas and how, by having no definitive climax, the audience finds pleasure in the desire for/process towards pleasure rather than the attainment of it (183). He suggests that “endless deferment need not be seen as a textual transformation of women's powerlessness in patriarchy. It can be seen more positively as an articulation of a specific feminine definition of desire and pleasure that is contrasted with the masculine pleasure of the final success” (183). Furthermore, this deferment or emphasis on process rather than product is constitutive of a feminine subjectivity as it opposes masculine pleasures, and soaps therefore validate this “deferment principle” as a source of legitimate pleasure against the patriarchy (183). How/why is this deferment to pleasure feminized, and if so, is it truly a pleasure within and against the patriarchy? More so within than against? Does this “deferment principle” glorify putting what is desirable out of reach to avoid disappointment of the process ending? Practically speaking, is finding more pleasure in the process healthier than finding pleasure in the product?

reading questions for 2/12/09

In the first whole paragraph on the top of page 96, Bobo extends her ideas about black female viewers of The Color Purple to the experiences of all marginalized viewers. She talks about how these viewers automatically come at a text from an oppositional standpoint, because of continual misrepresentation. In essence, this is coming down to an argument of authenticity. Can a person who is not (or furthermore, could never be) a member of a community faithfully and authentically present a picture of this community? What does it mean for viewers of The Color Purple that Steven Spielberg was responsible for the film? What are the ramifications of a white male constructing meaning for black women?

In this same paragraph, Bobo continues on to say that “Out of habit, as readers of mainstream texts, we [marginalized viewers] have learned to ferret out the beneficial and put up blinders against the rest.” (96) I enjoyed this reading because so far, it’s one of the only times we’ve dealt with “the other” within “the other” – the experience of marginalized peoples outside of the standard male/female dichotomy. In many of our readings (and specifically in both of the Fiske chapters), I’ve gotten the sense that the assertions made are in regards to homogeneous groups of straight, white men or women. For instance, Fiske does little to deal with Mr. T’s blackness. There is an amazing quote in the bottom right corner of figure 11.2 on page 207. Mr. T says that the gold chains he wears “are a symbol of my great African ancestors, who were brought here as slaves in iron chains. I turned my chains into gold, so my statement is this: I wear gold chains instead of iron because I’m still a slave, but my price tag is higher.” This is a profound statement from a black actor, and one that Fiske doesn’t deal with. Also, very little attention is given to queer readings of these texts, or the experiences of queer (or, god forbid, trans) readers in general. Is it possible to dissolve this homogeneity, or are some of the theories we’ve been reading really only applicable to this standardized straight, white male or female?

In reading Brunsdon’s article, I started thinking about soap operas as a Marxist narrative. While I realize this is a stretch, stick with me for a minute. On page 78, Brunsdon talks about the narrative structure of the British soap Crossroads. She says that “The fictional community…is kept interacting through a series of interlocking economic relationships, but this business interaction is only of diegetic importance as the site of personal relationships.” It’s interesting that the series moves forward and gets its plot structure from economy, and that these economic relationships determine the personal relationships of the characters. This sounds like an incredible example of the base/superstructure model in which the economic base determines the culture and ideas (superstructure) of the community. But the interesting thing about this community is that women are the ones in power, and furthermore, that this narrative affords “a potential moral equality of all individuals”. (80) Granted, the storylines feed into all kinds of hegemony, but it still puts an interesting spin on the traditional workings of community. Could soap operas be read as a Marxist narrative (although not a super-revolutionary one)? Or am I bonkers? Furthermore, if the standard conventions of society are left in place, but women now control them instead of men, is this revolutionary?

"The A Team closes the gap between the penis and the phallus."

So says John Fiske in the "Gendered Television: Masculinity" chapter of Television Culture we are reading for this week. See what you think. First, here's the A-Team credit sequence:

And the credit sequence for the Mr. T cartoon:

Search Mr. T on YouTube and you will be there for a very long time.

Here is one of the MANY A-Team homages using the characters and settings of the Grand Theft Auto video game. This one uses GTA: San Andreas. Carl Johnson is game's main character:

Thursday, February 5, 2009

More on readings for 2/12

In my end-of-seminar fried brain today I neglected to say a few things about next week's reading that I wanted to say.

The Gledhill, Brunsdon, and Kuhn articles are all about feminist film and media scholars trying to grapple with how to study feminine pleasures and genres without turning wholeheartedly to a psychoanalytic approach or one that focuses exclusively on what texts do to us. They are thus more theoretical. I suggest reading Brunsdon before Kuhn because Kuhn references the Brunsdon piece.

The other two are more attempts at exploring the gendered address of various media forms in ways that take up some of the first group's ideas. The two Fiske chapters examine gendered TV genres. Please note: this was written in the late 1980s and references some long-gone shows: The A Team! The Bobo piece seeks to understand how black women audiences responded to the film The Color Purple and, amongst other things, illustrates a more "social audience"-centered approach.

On the whole, then, in addition to the questions of the specific gendering of various forms, we will be looking at the ways that scholars have tried to find ways of thinking about these issues that balance a number of different approaches and concerns--an important theoretical shift away from where we were this week.

Field trips?

Here's the info on the two films we discussed in class and here's the full Union film schedule.

If people are interested, maybe we can organize some outings, perhaps even with a pitcher of beer or two afterwards, courtesy of me.

Women Without Borders Film Series and Experimental Tuesdays

Tuesday, March 3 – 7pm – Free Screening

Deliver * Milwaukee premiere!

(Jennifer Montgomery, USA, 100 min., video, 2008)

Director Jennifer Montgomery in person!

The Milwaukee premiere of Deliver, Jennifer Montgomery’s all-female, video remake of Deliverance (1975). Shooting in the Catskills rather than Appalachian Georgia, a cast of experimental filmmakers/academics (Peggy Ahwesh, Jacqueline Goss, Meredith Root, Su Friedrich and Montgomery) play mirages of themselves—urban artists looking to unplug in the unspoiled wilderness. Montgomery follows John Boorman’s original movie and James Dickey’s original book closely, as the gender inversion complicates hegemonic notions of nature, power, and sexual violence, all on a stretch of river called, yes, the Beaverkill.

Experimental Tuesdays and Cinema Classics

Tuesday, March 10 – 7pm– Free Screening

Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles * new 35mm print!

(Chantal Akerman, France/Belgium, in French w/ English st., 201 min., 35mm, 1976)

A classic of both feminist and experimental filmmaking, Chantal Akerman's portrayal of Jeanne Dielman (Delphine Seyrig), a Belgian single mother who prostitutes herself to support herself and her son, unfolds as if it were a real-life, real-time documentary. While depicting Jeanne’s daily life over three days, through comprehensive observation of the rhythm and surface details of her domestic routines, a slow, almost imperceptible revelation of things going wrong has a shocking resonance.

Co-presented by Experimental Tuesdays at the Union Theatre and the UWM Women’s Resource Center

More reading questions

Flitterman-Lewis’s explanation of how psychoanalysis can be a useful approach in film studies gives us some plausible understandings about the internal relationship between film texts and spectators. Based on the earlier film and psychoanalysis scholars, she tries to understand how film, or watching a film, is working like a dreaming to serve a place where the unconscious comes into play. She then, as Baudry theorized, talks about the conditions of film projection that are what watching film is similar to a process of dreaming, including the darkness and immobility. This is, however, based on the traditional way of watching movies. Let’s think about today’s media circumstances. More people watch films on DVD and through other devices like the internet. They do things, like eating and talking to others, while watching movies. How do these different media environments affect the relationship that spectators have with films? How do changes on external factors in the media influence the theories of the relationship between psychoanalysis and film/TV studies?

Mulvey’s article is particularly interesting in that it explains in what sense female viewers are passive and male are active in searching for pleasure in looking in a patriarchal society. She argues that the women displayed in films often become objects of the combined gaze of spectator and the male protagonists.” (64) Spectators possess the power of the male protagonists through identification with them. The unbalanced power structure between male and female is exposed in that glamorous male stars are often characterized as more perfect, more complete, and more powerful ideal ego instead of the erotic object of the sexual gaze as women are projected. However, since the movies that Mulvey examines are male-centered, her explanations would be perhaps limited. How are the male gazes projected in what is so called “chick films” or movies that focus on women? Let’s think about Sex and the City for a minute. Samanda’s handsome boyfriend Smith often becomes a sexual object for females (women are projected as sexual objects too in many cases in the show). Although Mulvey left a space for those types of movies and shows because of the page limit, we may want to think about how similarly or differently voyeurism, or any other types of psychoanalytic terms, is working in female-centered movies in comparison with the movies that Mulvey examines.

All the three readings this week were helpful for me to know how psychoanalysis can be a useful method to understand the mechanism of how people get pleasure from popular media. Especially, Modleski’s book gives us the dynamics of which women interact with popular media. However, I think I have a problem with the method that she uses in analyzing the interactions of women with the media. Although she mentions the criticisms on her book – method, in particular – and advocates psychoanalytic method which gives us an opportunity to see the unconscious of women viewers and readers, I still have a suspicion about if the method fully can tell about how women consume the media. Without actually getting in their head, how can a person know what others unconsciously think? Modleski says that her analysis is a practice of reading texts “symptomatically.” (xix) Then she goes to question how ethnographers could analyze readers’ symptoms. But, how can a person study the symptoms of readers or viewers without actually interacting with them? In other words, without observing how readers or viewers react and understand the media, is it possible to know what their symptoms are and what those mean (Modleski barely observes how readers and viewers understand the books and shows)?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Week One Reading Questions

1.Both the Mulvey and Flitterman-Lewis article explain how the spectator of narrative film is situated to adopt a male-perspective gaze or reading of the film; Mulvey states that “in a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female” (62) and goes on to discuss how female heroines function as both the erotic object for characters within the film and for audience members outside the film (63) and how the male spectator, through identifying with the male protagonist, partakes in the objectification of the lead female role (64). To illustrate her point, Mulvey mentions several films- films in which the male gaze is most apparent (Vertigo, Rear Window), at which point her analysis seems more directed at the films' narratives rather than an application of psychoanalysis to film. Mulvey convincingly argues that these films' narratives reinforce oppressive patriarchal structures- a narrative analysis of these films seems to look at the conscious articulations of the patriarchy rather than the unconscious; I guess I'm missing the link in practically applying psychoanalysis to film, rather than using it as a theoretical foundation for a structuralist or narrative analysis. Doesn't addressing the more conscious aspect of film (the narratives) suggest that, while there may be an unconscious male gaze, this oppressive spectatorship is reinforced by learned narratives and roles and can therefore be undermined? What might a cinematic text absent of the male gaze, both from the author and the fictional characters, look like? Mulvey seems to suggest that avant-garde film may provide a space for film without a male gaze, but is there something inherently “male” in watching or voyeurism- regardless of what the subject is? Is “visual consumption” gendered regardless of the object?
2.When discussing Freud's “infantile sexuality” Flitterman-Lewis explains how an infant's future yearnings “will be marked by a need to recover that totality of sensations” which includes physical pleasure (205). The article goes on to discuss how the ambiance and physical layout of the cinema (and the viewer) are reminiscent of a dream state or a reproduction of the “structure and logic of a dream” (211) and that “the simple acts of film going or watching TV are shaped by unconscious desires” (207). To what extent do these desires interact with the actual narrative and visual content of the film? Do we find TV watching, and more so film watching (at the theaters) pleasurable because of its mere visual stimulation or does what we're actually seeing (Julia Robert's legs or Mickey Rourke's face) determine how desirable we find the experience? Is it as pleasurable sexually (as psychoanalysis might imply) or merely physically, or both? Is the pleasure derived from viewing/”getting lost” in a representation of reality or does it matter what we're seeing and the narrative we're interpreting? How conscious or unconscious is our pleasure when watching film if we're saying “no” to reality and “yes” to a dream?
3.Both articles suggest that a viewer consciously identifies with either the oppressive masculine role or the watched feminine role in a film. Mulvey analyzed movies in which much of the screen time was given to either the female or male lead- most of who were relatively young white people. If psychoanalysis film theory is more focused on the spectatorship of film-TV watching rather than the structural aspects of the film itself, can the way in which the viewer identifies with the text's characters be more complex than just identifying with their like gender? A non-infant audience identifying with an other (the film's actors) seems more conscious than the analogy with the infant in the mirror; are there other factors/demographics/contexts besides gender that may influence the way an audience identifies with the characters?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Poetry Corner

While reading Modleski, I kept thinking about Sylvia Plath's poem, "Daddy." Specifically, this excerpt:

Every woman adores a fascist,
the boot in the face,
the brute, brute heart
of a brute like you."

This ties into the phenomenon brought up when Modleski cites Greer who argued that women seem to cherish "the chains of their bondage" (30). Perhaps we can discuss this more in class.

Finally, while reading the Plath poem, I was reminded of another poem I encountered in an undergrad course. If you're interested, I'll post it below. It's about a woman who loves a man that relishes beating other women - its complex emotions stick with me to this day.

What Was There to Bring Me to Delight But to Love and Be Loved?
-Paisley Rekdal

I declared, and immediately rejected this. For instance:
a man I loved onced liked to hurt women and would tell me
what he did to his lovers. The sight of a woman's slight hips
as she was knocked over a television might give delight. Or the way
bones sounded in skin that bumped or scraped against a wall.
He used to claim he could hear things like this, not
the scratch of a woman's back on a wall, but actual
bone rubbing muscle, skin, joint, the sound
as if sticks rattled in cloth. It frightened him, he said, he found himself
pushing other women to prove he couldn't really hear the sound.
And I loved him. I loved forgiving him. I must admit this
though he never laid a hand on me,
I knew enough about this kind of loss.
There were more significant things
to demand from the world. Such as how
a word could call up more than violence, idea, person, become
reality with only the finest limitations
of meaning. Such as monster, perhaps,
or grave, or delicious. I could say, for instance, that this man
was a delicious monster with his strap-colored hair and soft mouth
though where does that place me
in the universe of word? Perhaps you could say I
was the monster, searching not for where rivers ran but to the source
of rivers, the frozen nugget of an idea of river: so cold
it almost burns the rock around it. I was the one willing to sacrifice
so many others of my kind; I could listen for hours
to his stories of women whose bones itched within them
and all I could think was hand, eye, mouth as if to say the words
was to take his fingers into my mouth, to suck
the warm pink nails between my teeth, or lick the egg taste
from his eye with my tongue. These were more real to me
than the fact he would cry out on the phone or in my bedroom
where we would talk. He would cry and all I could think was
More, let my thighs be another casing for you
if this is the kind of grave you want
. I almost thought grace. I almost
gave in once but, and this is the truth, he was afraid of me. I
was the coldness of rivers, he said, I was the source
and when he looked down at me lying on the sheets rumpled
like a ruined skin, he called me his destroyer.

Perhaps the real question in the world is not
what to love, but how to forgive.
What does it take for the monstrous
to be delightful in the eye of God? As if beauty itself
wasn't also obscene - and really fleshed claw, a peony
a flowering of blood. Or perhaps a word is really all it signifies, all
we can trust in fact; to name a thing
is to make it so. When I called this man a man, you must believe
he became one for me. The source of the river,
not its oceangrasp. What happened to the man I loved
is that eventually he choked a woman almost to death.
We weren't speaking then. Even I, it seems, have my limits.
But I can imagine how he would have told me he could hear her spine
crying out to him, an accusation of the flesh. What more is there
but to love like this and to be loved?
he asked me once.
You are my source of delight,
an eternal search for grace
, I answered. I almost said the grave.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Reading Questions

Modleski attempts to create a connection between the stages of growth for a heterosexual female and a collection of media texts that she believes correspond to those stages. She suggests that the Harlequin romance novels help women better understand heterosexual courtship, Gothic novels help women come to understand marriage, and ultimately soap operas help women deal with their life as a wife and mother (53). If Modleski is correct and these texts serve as means to understand women’s place in a heterosexual patriarchy, then what role can they play in ultimately undermining the ideology that has led to their existence? I found her analysis at times to be incredibly depressing. She makes it clear that women who interact with these texts have the potential to learn how patriarchy affects their lives, but there is no indication that it is a conscious understanding, and so there is little chance that it will yield positive changes to the structure. Speaking of soaps, Modleski says that they “help to reconcile her (wife, mother) to the meaningless, repetitive nature of much of her life and work within the home” (90). Why is there not a soap opera that teaches them to reject the aforementioned drugdery of domestic life? If these texts offer only unconscious and passive understanding of the problems women face, which only leads to acceptance of them as inevitable, then aren’t they part of a larger problem? While Harlequins may succeed in helping women understand the courting process, the goal is only identification of the role they have traditionally played within that process. This leads me to wonder if they are only serving a hegemonic function?

Mulvey believes that cinema spectatorship is gendered, suggesting that movies are, perhaps inadvertently, structured in a way that encourages identification with the male protagonist as he erotically gazes on the female characters. While this point is well argued, isn’t this true for all texts of a patriarchal society? It’s no surprise that women are often the object of the male gaze in cinema, since that is their typical role in everything from advertising to video games, sitcoms to pop music. In fact, I have a difficult time trying to identify a single popular media text that doesn’t situate the viewer/listener/reader as such. Even the Harlequins, Gothics, and soap operas so dutifully examined by Modleski are guilty of positioning women in relation to how men see them. They reinforce the idea that “men watch women, and women watch themselves being watched by men” (Modleski, 44). Modleski agrees with European Marxists who dismissed the idea of an in-group and an out-group within ideology, whereby the in-group is subjected to ideological illusions perpetuated by an out-group that is ideologically impervious (Modleski, 19). Are there examples of media texts that do not position women as the object of male gaze? Is it possible to create a popular media text that does not position women as the object of the male gaze? Are media texts doing harm by teaching women how to come to terms with the way men view them in a patriarchal society, especially if they fail to simultaneously encourage women to challenge their status?

A reoccurring theme in the readings this week seems to suggest that parts of our ideology are an uncontrollable byproduct of Freudian self-consciousness development. All of the readings identify the Oedipal complex as a significant component in our understanding of the relationship between gender and pop culture. Moreover, it is integral in understanding gender as a whole since the Oedipal moment signifies our adoption of the social characteristics of the same sex parent. Aside from identifying a strong conduit for passing along gender ideology, psychoanalysis has also identified what it is about cinema viewing that humans find so pleasurable. Flitterman-Lewis claims that “when we watch a film it is as if we were somehow dreaming it as well; our unconscious desires work in tandem with those that generated the film-dream” (211). And accordingly, our dreams represent the unconscious and suppressed desires of the human psyche. I’m left with a chicken vs. egg paradox. Are films made to exploit the womb-like characteristics and invoke repressed desires through dreamy cinematic sequences? While I do find many things about cinema viewing pleasurable, perhaps even for the reasons expressed by Flitterman-Lewis, their evolution is unclear. Do we go to the cinema because of the inherently pleasurable characteristics identified through psychoanalysis, or did we create a cinema experience over time that reflects our subconscious desires? If the cinema experience is supposed to reflect our repressed subconscious desires, wouldn’t this conflict with the Mulvey article that suggests that films position women for the erotic gaze of men? (I doubt that it is the subconscious fantasy of ALL women to be the subject of the erotic gaze of men.)