Saturday, February 26, 2011

Who's that Sexy Woman on the Front Cover....

You know, growing up in a world where videogames and horror films have been as much apart of my life as the heart that keeps me alive and kicking, there has always been two particular questions that have formed a cloud of rain over my head. First, why are the female protagonists depicted with voluptuous curves and disproportionate breast-to-waist ratio within the aforementioned forms of mass media? Second, why does society generally find this attractive? All in all, my troublesome questions bring me closer to the bigger question at hand. What is the male gaze? How does one essentially go about defining the principles of the male gaze? Is it obscure and subjective or possibly literal and objective? I believe a working definition is in order.

One could describe the male gaze simply as men looking upon women. Another would explain that the male gaze is the ‘way’ in which those same men view women, exploring through and beyond their outer physiques. In her critical yet analytical essay, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” Laura Mulvey argues that the male gaze is used to analyze how men look at women. Moreover, Mulvey believes that it reveals an unequal power relationship within the gender dichotomy. Mulvey states, “The man controls the film phantasy and also emerges as the representative of power in a further sense: as the bearer of the look of the spectator, transferring it behind the screen to neutralize the extra-diegetic tendencies represented by woman as spectacle (839).”

Drawing a relationship between Mulvey’s male gaze and video gaming, I ask you to look at one that truly draws a fine line between gender roles and sexual oppression in the portrayal of women; that being the critically acclaimed videogame, Mortal Kombat: Armageddon. Once again drawing my analysis from personal experience, the fighting game has revamped the way in which the players interact and control their respective fighters. But, there is one setback to this notion; that is the scantily clad clothing and weaker fighting move-sets that have been pre-scripted onto the female fighters. Unlike their over-muscular male counterparts, one could assume that the females have been the subject of slut shamming by the male audience due to the nature of their disproportionate breasts and thighs in relation to their corset-like chest region.

It is also plausible to look at the aforementioned as a form of voyeuristic domination and sexual violence. I mean lets face it here; you have half-naked, big-breasted women being physically dominated by their male opponents. Yes, the female fighters actually do have faster attacks to compensate for the strength but if you strip away the fighting abilities, the special moves, the fighting arenas, and the player themselves, all you remain with is the dominant male and the inferior female. As Mulvey states, “voyeurism has associations with sadism: pleasure lies in ascertaining guilt, asserting control and subjecting the guilty person through punishment… (840).” When we look at the violent videogames today, we see it as an excuse for these young male audiences to play out and enjoy their bizarre ‘fantasies’. In other words, they are both sexually and virtually active.

Now in order to truly understand one side of the gaze (that being the male’s), we must understand the other. The oppositional gaze, as bell hooks defines it, is “the rebellious framework for which people on the opposite end of the gender and race spectrum could ‘look’ and establish a feministic meaning behind what is essentially being viewed (116).” Basically, bell hooks is giving the subjected (Blacks in her case) the opportunity to give new meaning what is it they are actually observing on-screen and to reject the prevailing ideologies behind them. Why passively accept a dominant definition of what beauty is, when one could actively define it his or herself? hooks says, “one’s enjoyment of a film wherein representations of blackness were stereotypically degrading and dehumanizing co-existed with a critical practice that restored presence where it was negated (117).” Personally, looking at the outline of slasher films, I have noticed a recurring pattern. The black characters seem to always die periodically until there is always the final girl that remains to kick ass. Quite interesting when one carefully looks at the attributes listed to those characters: overconfident, cocky, bitchy, daring, so on and so forth.

It is also a fact that being in this particular class has opened my eyes wider to some of gray areas within actively viewing a film. Reading Mulvey’s psychoanalytical assessment on the male gaze in relation to bell hook’s argument for the oppositional gaze has further increased my cherishment for the ways in which I see the portrayal of women in films and also for how I determine their true roles rather than looks. For instance, let us take Casino Royale, a fairly familiar 2006 Bond film that I took the liberty of viewing a second time (actively). The male protagonist, James Bond, is often seen wooing Vesper Lynd, the voluptuous yet charismatic feminine desire of Bond. Though this may seem like a typical trait for males, Casino Royale successfully deviates from that norm by introducing M, Bond’s superior, to the plain field. M signifies the rationale and element of focus that allows Bond to elaborately proceed through his quest in a rather cool, calm, and precise manner rather than a womanizing cold-blooded killer. Her intellect and judgment of character allows her to bold the line between what it is to be a Bond Girl, and what it is to be a Bond asset (so to speak).

Work Cited

Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Film Theory and Criticism : Introductory Readings. Eds. Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen. New York: Oxford UP, 1999: 833-44.

Bell Hooks. “In Black Looks: Race and Representation.” Boston: South End Press, 1992: 115-31

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