Thursday, March 30, 2017

Core Response 3: Genre (Week 11)

I found the idea of the dual texts that Jane Feuer alleges that Sirk films (and by extension, the kind of hour long serials that Feuer is talking about) possess to be most interesting in the articles. The primary text (narrative level), intended for the mass audience to simply entertain and delight; “the melodrama, pure and simple” (Feuer, date: 6). As well as the secondary text, which seeks to complicate and subvert the conservative dominant ideology that these serials appear to espouse both through Brechtian distancing techniques inherent in the form and at the level of the narrative.

This is particularly interesting to me because the clear bias (that at least Feuer alludes to) toward the informed and knowing audience rather than the mass audience, the pure fans of these television shows, seems simultaneously counterintuitive and increasingly obvious to me. Counterintuitive because the producers of these kinds of television programs are not only aiming “above” their loyal fan base to a “knowing” target audience, but the loyal fans in question are only receiving half of the intended message of these programs and the producers of them are fully aware and complicit in this gap of knowledge. Not to harp on my fascination with the “rupture”, but it greatly interests me that these programs knowingly propagating contradictory messages (based on the existing biases held by different audience members). Obvious, when one considers the Brechtian techniques utilized by these programs and the magnified, bordering on the absurd, stylization of these programs.

I think that the efficacy of these techniques and the “winking” attitude that the creators of these programs possess is most visible when screening an episode of Dynasty to a room full of Masters and Ph.D. level television academics and writers. I think that a certain amount of enjoyment from the part of the “knowing, informed” audience comes from the absurdity of the text, for example when the two matriarch characters (I’m not going to learn their names) fight in slow motion the pool for two full minutes before storming off, with the camera fixed on each of their asses, we know not to take the drama of the scene seriously which allows us to forgive the flaws of the show and “enjoy” the primary text in all its absurdity.

It’s actually kind of brilliant of the producers of Dynasty. They elicit attention from both the “mass audience” who regard the drama in all its seriousness and elicit attention from the “knowing” audience who regard the dramatic tension with a ridiculing gaze.

My supervisor in undergrad wrote about this stuff a lot. Dr. Alexia Smit… Look her up, ya’ll.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Beyonce + Nicki Minaj

Two interesting articles in light of today's discussions in class:

Core Response: TV+Postfeminism

In the article For White Girls Only?: Postfeminism and the Politics of Inclusion, Butler states that the attempts and fights for equality by feminist have created discontent for women in different aspects. And the death of feminism leads the exist of post-feminism. Post-feminism, generally speaking, is a way of reactions to against contradictions and absences in feminism, which especially exists in second-wave feminism and third-wave feminism. As a student coming from another country, feminism has been defined and practiced differently in the US and my home country due to its characteristics under different historical and social background. But after reading Butler’s article White Girls, I have found many common characteristics in feminism/postfeminism, and their relationship and contradictions.

While there are common points, there are also differentiations in western and eastern feminism. And these have been formed by the different economy, social status, culture, and history.  Initially, the research content is common. Eastern and Western feminism is defined and practiced based on women as their own research part, which is a critical interpretation of the status of women's social status. If Western feminism is from class, race, nation, country, law, customs and other aspects of women. The survival and development of the problem, trying to change the man-centered culture and social system, so as to change the gender relations, so that men and women can fully develop the society. On the other hand, Eastern feminism is deeply influenced by Western feminism. It is not only the most important theoretical source of eastern feminism, but also the goal of early eastern feminism to follow and catch up. After the Beijing Women's Association in 1995, some foreign students and foreign scholars, universities and research institutions of experts and scholars, on the one hand through the translation of Western feminist origin, the introduction of Western feminist research results, on the other hand the use of feminist theoretical methods and Conceptual category of Chinese women's history and the status quo in-depth study and exploration, and strive to play feminist for the mainstream culture of the fracture, subversion and deconstruction. After 10 years of development, eastern feminism gradually became mature.

Postfem Core

I'm interested in attaching the articles this week to an analysis of Emma Watson and the recent controversy over her Vanity Fair shoot in which she showed some skin in a shrug that didn't totally cover her breasts (or at least enough of them according to the controversy). The question that arose is pretty straightforward: Can Emma Watson still be the uber-feminist that she is, still work with the UN, etc. etc. if she's willing to portray certain types of sexuality in the media? Banet-Weiser might argue that Watson's commitment to feminist causes, while perhaps noble in the abstract, is also a function of her status as a commercialized identity -- it is, in fact, a part of her self-branding to choose to make feminism a core part of her media work. This feminist branding is only possible because the struggles of feminism have been somewhat normalized: "the normalization of feminism has prevented it from existing as a discrete politics; rather it emerges as a kind of slogan or generalized 'brand'" (Banet-Weiser 208). While certainly Watson's work within feminism has brought her notoriety and increased her image, I find Banet-Weiser's claim that feminism has been nearly completely evacuated of meaning and turned into a commercialized shell of its former self, troubling and perhaps not quite nuanced enough.

I want to argue, using the readings for this week, that the whole reason this controversy even arose is due to a troubled relationship between postfeminism and choice - under which the mechanisms of meritocracy disguise continuing inequality and cultural misogyny.

While I disagree with McRobbie that current iterations of postfeminism construct "the new female subject" as "despite her freedom, called upon to be silent, to withhold critique, to count as a modern sophisticated girl, or indeed this withholding of critique is a condition of her freedom" (after all, we are currently seeing a swing back in which media personalities and everyday women alike are more willing to call themselves feminists and to engage in at least some form of feminist discourse), I do think McRobbie understands the relationship between postfeminism and choice. Within postfeminism, she claims, choice is:
a modality of constraint. The individual is compelled to be the kind of subject who can make the right choices. By these means new lines and demarcations are drawn between those subjects who are judged responsive to the regime of personal responsibility, and those who fail miserably (261).
So if choice itself becomes a way to restrict and police the behaviors of women, what recourse do feminists like Watson have? After all, Watson's initial response to the controversy about her semi-nakedness was to appeal to choice, to the fundamental feminist desire to allow women to maintain the choice over how or when to display their bodies. She told Reuters: "Feminism is about giving women choice. Feminism is not a stick with which to beat other women with. It's about freedom. It's about liberation. It's about equality." However, Watson's argument that choice and the freedom of choice inherent within feminist ideals authorizes her photos misunderstands the way that choice functions in postfeminist society. Let me be clear, I think Watson has the right to show whatever part of her body she wants to the media and to claim to be a representative of feminism. Like her, I don't see the two actions as mutually exclusive. However, to appeal to choice as a feminist ideal is to misunderstand the way that choice functions as an arm of patriarchal power. Watson has been judged to have made the wrong choice in her Vanity Fair photoshoot, and instead of understanding the cultural backlash as essentially misogynistic, Watson has argued she has the right to choose -- no one seems to be upset that she was allowed a choice, they're merely claiming that she made the 'wrong' one, and this is the cultural enacting of the "regime of personal responsibility" that McRobbie highlights.

In a world where choice itself is fraught with both self-determining power and the ability to severely restrict and punish, how does one form an inclusive and liberating feminist politics -- feminism that doesn't hinge on whether an individual has made the right choice (allowing punishment under the guise of meritocracy) but which actively seeks to break down the cultural policing that makes choice a dangerous game?

Monday, March 27, 2017

Are Post-Feminist Characters Actually the Worst?

I saw this article on BuzzFeed recently about the "25 of the Worst Main Characters From TV Shows" and in addition to Piper Chapman, Walter White, and Dan Humphrey (and I would add Lucas Scott to my personal list) the two main characters from Girls and Sex and the City also made the list. According to BuzzFeed and their users, both Hannah Horvatt and Carrie Bradshaw are annoying, self-centered, and needy women and I began to wonder if this is what our TV representations of women have become? According to Angela McRobbie, post-feminism is defined as the process in which the feminist accomplishments of the 1979 and 1980s have “come to be undermined” (255). McRobbie continues by saying: “[post-feminism] proposes that through an array of mechanisms, elements of contemporary popular culture are perniciously effective in regard to this undoing of feminism, while simultaneously appearing to be engaging in a well-informed and even well-intentioned response to feminism” (255). If we look at these two characters it is easy to see them as well-rounded and accomplished women. They are both college-educated, are actively pursuing their careers, and are sexually liberated individuals. However, upon closer examination, do either of them really exemplify a completely positive representation of a modern woman? I know I have quite the soft spot for Carrier, or at least Carrie’s closet, but upon closer consideration I would have to say probably not. Each woman has her moments as a well-rounded individual and are in ways representative of current women, but overall their flaws tend to outweigh their positive attributes therefore not fully allowing them so serve as positive representations of female characters.     

Week 7: TV, Ethnicity + Race (Non-Core Response)

The readings of this week did an excellent job of illustrating the failings  of diversity in media, where white is still neutral and race constitutes as an otherness that can only be overcome through assimilation. I particularly responded to Esposito’s definition of Meritocracy “as the recognition of individual merit and the belief that anyone (regardless of life circumstance) can achieve the “American dream”  as well as how this discourse “ allows the privileged to place blame on the marginalized for any failure to achieve.” (523, 524) Esposito was smart to use Ugly Betty, which takes place in a workplace, to illustrate how meritocracy affects marginalized people’s ability to achieve as well as white employees/employers failure to recognize the validity of this. Whereas I agree with Esposito that Ugly Betty encouraged traditional views of meritocracy, I disagree with her stance that “utilizing comedy to explore complex issues allows for the topics to be taken less seriously” (527).
Although not directly about affirmative action, HBO’s Insecure succeeds in illustrating the obstacles women of color face in white work spaces while successfully employing humor. In the episode “Racist As Fuck,” the character Molly encounters her law film’s newest intern Rashida, a fellow Black woman whose personality and vernacular clashes with the demeanor of her nearly all white law firm. In other words, Rashida made the mistake of not acting appropriately white and therefore is not seen as neutral or professional. At first, Molly puts it upon herself to tell Rashida to tone down who she is, thus implying that she needs to assimilate in order to succeed. When Rashida uses her qualifications to defend herself, suggesting that her hard work is enough, Molly is left with the realization that maybe society has become more “post-racial” since she started her career. 

Of course, this proves not to be the case when Molly’s White employer gives her the task to un-otherize Rashida while carefully making the request “not” racial. Molly struggles with this but finally uses her boss’s discomfort with race to get her to talk to Rashida herself. It’s unfortunate that Rashida is still going to have assimilate, but the resolution is a realistic reflection of modern society. Throughout the episode, comedy is peppered throughout so that it really hits home how ridiculous the concept of colorblindness while illustrating the truth of racism in the work place. I would have to attribute this episode’s success to the fact that it, unlike Ugly Betty, was actually written by women of color rather than a perspective that never deeply evaluated Whiteness.

Core Response 5: Week 8: TV + Reality

Week 8: TV + Reality

Raphael’s, The Political Ecomomic origins of Reality TV gave a bit of insight as to how reality TV became the current face of TV

Reality TV emerged in the late 1980’s because of economic restructuring of U.S. TV. Another great move by Network Execs.

But I have a question, why is reality TV still around? Is anyone still buying this?! Is the buy-in that great?

Well, in Raphael’s article he did say that America’s Most Wanted basically created the largest neighborhood watch group. However, reality TV has changed so much since the creation of A.M.W. (133) I’m beginning to think that people are buying in too much. I kept this in mind while reading McCarthy’s Reality TV: A Neoliberal Theater of Suffering. In her explanation, McCarthy referenced The Smoking Gun which is a website Created by the Court TV Network that addressed the ways that networks are reaching out to sad civilians in the hopes of boosting ratings
One example that I can think of are talent shows. Shows such as American Idol and America’s Got Talent.
Wedged between every cringe-worthy performance, there is a sob story of a person that has fought the odds to do the one thing that they love, sing. There will be footage of the contestant’s hometown accompanied by a pitiful background song. If the contestant is really trying to sell the story, they may cry. All of this will lead us into their performance, which is normally good. Occasionally the performance is just as upsetting as the story behind but I digress. wrote about one of the sad idol stories. It was about Chris Medina and his fiancée Julianna, who was involved in a near fatal accident that left her disabled. As I mentioned earlier, Chris’s singing was good enough not to negate his story. But what really kept him around was his story. At the end of his audition, his Fiancée was wheeled in front of the judges and Medina was presented with the proverbial golden ticket.

This connects back to this idea of a neoliberal theater of suffering. Society wants to support the underdog. The audience will vote for him and spend money on merchandise. In addition to the standard texting fees for voting, that are written in the ever-so fine print at the bottom of the screen. Networks will continue to make money at the expense of the others and this is why reality TV is doing so well.