Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Empire Strikes Back

In “To the White Extreme: Conquering Athletic Space, White Manhood, and Racing Virtual Reality,” Leonard argues that extreme sports games, specifically Tony Hawk Underground (skating), Amped and SSX Tricky (snowboarding) systematically erase, trivialize or caricature people of color while at the same time reducing the presence of women to mere erotic objects and sexual rewards to solidify and carve out a new space for the (mistakenly perceived) threatened white masculinity. As these games are all from the early part of the 21st century, based on the article, how do they fuel or oppose a post-racial and post-feminist popular culture? Additionally, how are civil rights and the feminist movement taken into account, if at all? Do these games fall into the categories of a post-racial/post-feminist society or are they more regressive, conjuring representations of a post 1960s/1970s era? Finally, while the other texts this week dealing with The Man Show, Talk Radio, and Lad Mags tend to “lash out at women, minorities, gays, lesbians, and the poor,” as Douglas points out in her article, the position taken in these videogames seems much more systemic and internalized. Are these representations intended to be malicious or are they merely the result of the internalization of a culture in the midst of feminist and racial negotiations?

In far less subtle ways, Johnson argues that The Man Show also emerges out of a (I would argue white) masculinity that feels under threat by the forces of feminism and political correctness. Here she explains that The Man Show successfully created a “straw woman,” of sorts, out of the modern woman who enjoys the small successes so far gleaned from the feminist movement. Utilizing protest rhetoric, The Man Show is able to position women as the tyrannical dominators, granted as they were with an excess of power after the women’s liberation movement of the 60s and 70s, and symbolically reverse the perceived power hierarchy in society through a lens of “victimization.” Can The Man Show then be described as a hybridization of feminist backlash and post-feminist recognition that feminism has done its job? What implications does thinking women have, in fact, gained too much power in a post-feminist society? In the conclusion, Johnson makes connections between The Man Show and Playboy as both exhibit signs of masculine rebellion. While Playboy might be argued to be a text that demanded for men an escape from the domestic sphere into a fantasy bachelor pad, is The Man Show asking not so much for an escape from but for a coup of the domestic space? How is this protest different?

All of these texts, to some extent, exercise the annihilation of the feminine and in some cases, the presence of women altogether. If women do appear, they are reduced to the sexual components of their body and positioned as pleasure objects for the male gaze. In “Sex, booze, and fags,” Edwards points out that this male gaze, amongst lad magazines in England, anyway, is increasingly being refocused not on woman-as-sex-object but on male-as-ideal-masculinity, a homoerotic gaze where heterosexual, and indeed violently homophobic, men end up staring at bare-chested males in advertisements for clothing and cologne. How are these ads “read” by these New Lads? Are the objectified images of women peppered through the mags enough to make up for this apparent contradiction? How can homosexuality be so violently oppressed while these New Lads hang posters of David Beckham and other male sports stars up in their houses? Finally, what fuels this defensive sexuality? Is it just a response to the sexually ambiguous New Man or is it part of another modern crisis in masculinity?

In Thornham’s article, “’It’s a Boy Thing,’” the girls she interviews admit to playing dumb when it comes to videogames for their male audience. Sara commented, “I’d clown about and mess about and pretend I couldn’t work out what to do.” However, some of these girls were quite good at the games outside of certain social contexts; they just understood they weren’t supposed to admit to this or indeed that they weren’t supposed to have those skills even in private. If as Thornham suggests, social context and gender expectations are key in understanding performance and pleasures in videogames, might these same principals apply to other activities in life? Do girls and women purposely “play dumb” or underperform in other contexts because of the gendered-nature of the activity? Conversely, do men do the same for traditionally feminine activities? What are the major implications of this finding? For instance, if one gender or the other is culturally thought to be less skilled in a given professional field, will that result in an underperformance by that gender in that field? What is the danger, then, in gendering even casual leisure activities, like videogames?

No comments:

Post a Comment