Monday, February 13, 2017

TV & Screens (Core Response 1): Gender Performativity and Ideological Critiques within Television

In “An Ontology of Everyday Distraction: The Freeway, the Mall, and Television,” Margaret Morse discusses how “television is similar or related to other, particular modes of transportation and exchange in everyday life” (194). Though I found Morse’s arguments and connections between these objects fascinating, the concluding remarks made me reconsider the validity overall. My issue with Morse arises from the following statement:
Because the realms of privatization present a façade of self-sufficiency and self-determination, means of change are easier to imagine as coming from those realms outside than from within.” (213; emphasis added)

In this instance, Morse claims that facets of opposition to hegemonic ideologies present within television as both a form/industry and as a narrative entity cannot arise from within this system/object (i.e., from television itself). This is a remark I find highly problematic for several issues, but I will highlight a divergent view of television doing quite the opposite, politically, that Morse argues is impossible in the above quote.

Judith Butler’s discussion of gender is useful in direct relation to creating opposition from within television itself. In short, Butler argues that gender performativity establishes “the rules that govern intelligible identity” of gendered categories, ultimately “operat[ing] through repetition” (198; italics in original). Overall, Butler discusses how this repetitive performance establishes that the “subject is not determined by the rules through which it is generated because signification is not a founding act, but rather a regulated process of repetition that both conceals itself and enforces its rules” (198; italics in original). In other words, repetition of gender naturalizes acceptable/unacceptable gender characteristics. Yet, and highly important here, Butler argues that as this naturalization of gender occurs, so too can “these surfaces become the site of a dissonant and denaturalized performance that reveals the performative status of the natural itself,” thus making opportunities for resistance within the performative nature of gender exist (Butler 200). Jeffrey A. Brown further argues that “challenges to the natural or essential assumption of gender must arise from within the system,” specifically referencing the parodying of gender performance as an example (23).

I would like to provide a brief televisual example of gender performance as critiquing gender ideologies—something Morse would argue is impossible to do from within the highly privatized industry of contemporary US television. In AMC’s The Walking Dead, Carol consistently takes advantage of the Alexandrians’ unfamiliarity with her (in season 5) by performing the domestic housewife stereotype, baking cookies and watching baby Judith. Viewers, on the other hand, know she has single-handedly taken down all of the cannibalistic Terminus community to save the entire group. In this way, Carol’s performance of the housewife typology critiques gender, in television itself and in society/culture overall, by demonstrating its performative quality.

Carol with Cookies (The Walking Dead)

Carol destroying Terminus, Saving the Day (The Walking Dead)

Brown, Jeffrey A. 2011. Dangerous Curves: Action Heroines, Gender, Fetishism, and Popular Culture. Jackson: University of Mississippi Press.

Butler, Judith. (1990) 2006. Gender Trouble. New York: Routledge.

Morse, Margaret. 1990. “An Ontology of Everyday Distraction: The Freeway, the Mall, and Television.” In Logics of Television: Essays in Cultural Criticism, edited by Patricia Mellencamp, 193-221. Bloomington: Indiana University.

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