Sunday, April 12, 2009

Marcus' questions

Sorry these are late.

1) I had a thought about Mulvey’s comments on the “the voyeuristic-scopophilic look.” His thoughts on female passivity seem to imply that females are unaware that men are watching, which I think is a bit short-sighted – what if the woman, either her character or the woman herself, depending on the media, is aware of the male gaze? Is it, then, still voyeuristic? And can the male still be considered the active participant under those circumstances?

Take Uma Thurman’s character in “Kill Bill,” for instance. An argument could be made that a spandex-clad, sword wielding blonde is designed to appeal to a predominately masculine audience. But the entire film is very, very aware of itself as a film, and several characters break down the fourth wall at times. Is that, then, still voyeuristic? And how can that translate to news media, where sources – male or female – are almost always aware that they’re part of a story?

2) I think there’s a clear link, as Mulvey and others have noted, between capitalism and sex. Sex sells, and capitalism is basically about selling things. But is that necessarily a bad thing? Certainly, I’m not advocating sales based on gender degradation or stereotyping or anything like that, but I also think that expression is a big part of empowerment – and gender is a very important part of personality and purchasing habits. So why try to homogenize capitalism? Is it possible to have a marketplace of ideas based on competing conceptions of gender, or is capitalism simply a misogynistic entity?

As I’ve said before, I kinda like capitalism, and I don’t think sexless societies are very healthy. So there’s gotta be some middle ground, right?

3) I think there’s at least one embarrassing anecdote behind Gabino’s fascination with sorority stereotypes. But, since I can’t really count that as an independent question, I’ve got another one – similar to my first question. How can we assume the stereotypes are all about the viewer? There’s a clear sorority stereotype out there, but most of the conversation about stereotypes relates to the viewer – but what if some of the sorority girls themselves are playing up that stereotype on their own? They’re smart, they know the stereotypes as well as anyone. If they wanted to rebuke them, they could – and many do. But for those that don’t, it’s a deliberate choice. So is it really fair to consider stereotypes entirely artificial?

Certainly, it doesn’t work in every case – just because a girl wears athletic shorts doesn’t make her a valley girl, and just because an Arab is in an airport doesn’t mean it’s fair to “randomly” search him a million times. So it sounds insensitive, I know. But still, in some cases, I think it’s more complicated than an insensitive projection.

4) Dyer’s assumption that power structures assign stereotypes doesn’t work in every case, I don’t think. Sometimes it does – the Middle Eastern example I used above is very clearly a product of political power, several different political powers even. But to follow his logic, the sorority stereotype would be a product of a masculine hierarchy … which is a bit sexist in and of itself. It implies that college girls adopt habits prescribed to them by the jocks and the football players, and that they’re too stupid to come up with their own ideas. Or use those ideas to, say, achieve complete and total control over said football players.

I think the big problem is that “power structures” tend to be rigidly defined, and are often obtuse. It’s much more complicated than that, I think.

5) Throughout these readings on stereotyping, I kept coming back to two books I read as an undergrad – “Heart of Darkness” and “Orientalism.” It especially came through with Gilroy’s comment that multiculturalism has become about promoting equality rather than studying differences. He missed a key point, I think – that stereotyping is often more about the viewer than the object. Instead of discussing multiculturalism or cultural studies in a pluralistic fashion, why not analyze the mechanics of the perceiver instead – what about a frat boy, or a media executive, or a sorority president attracts those individuals to sorority stereotypes, for instance? That was Said’s whole point in “Orientalism;” these readings touched on that, but not quite as much as they could have.

I agree with Said … just not when it’s applied to Conrad, who is typically considered pretty racist. I would argue that “Heart of Darkness” is more about white society than black society, and isn’t intended to be taken literally at all – it’s not about crazy Africans, it’s about a white man going insane and seeing things that aren’t reliable, and why he sees them. Why not study these stereotypes the same way, instead of steering the conversation immediately toward multiculturalism?

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