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.)

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