Monday, March 28, 2011

Telephone, Mind Control and Disney?

I was reading this article and decided I may as well throw the link up here.

What do you all think of this?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Examples of Postmodernism

What is Postmodernism?

Lyotard - Death to the Metanarratives

Moving away from Absolutes

Mixing High and Low Culture

Jameson - Pastiche

Powell describes pastiche as "a smorgasbord of quotations" (39). Here are some movies that embody that quote.

Jenkins uses the term ‘textual poaching' for fans that borrow ‘original’ content in order to create new fan content.

Skin Horse to Velveteen Rabbit – “Real isn’t how you are made. It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become real.”

Hence, the creation of Fan Content!

Baudrillard - Hyperrealism

Simulations can threaten what is real or imaginary

We know that the Blair Witch Project isn"t real but was manufactured to give off the image of being real. What about Catfish? Is it the same as the Blair Witch Project?

The embodiment of the Postmodernism: Pleasantville

Performing Postmodern Identity

This is the most self-indulging post.  This band Gogol Bordello is coming to Minglewood Hall on April 8th. These are my country-men - Ukrainian Jews - and a self-described gypsy punk band.  I really dig them and think you should check them out.  However, I also believe that they are experts at performing the Eastern European identity, which goes along with the whole gypsy motif.  Anyways, check it out and let me know what you think on Monday:

Modern/Postmodern architecture

Here are some examples of modern and postmodern architecture

Postmodern Music Videos

Friday, March 25, 2011


This week's readings deal with postmodernism. However, in order to understand postmodernism, we must first understand modernism. So I will start by discussing modernism and then discuss our readings.


What is modernism?

Modernism is a movement that is defined by the belief that the values of the Age of Enlightenment (18th Century) had fallen appart (science, reason and logic), thus creating a center that could be characterized as a void. While some societies are comfortable with void as their center, Western societies were not and thus they began to fill their centers with myth, heores, and machines. These new centers were part of the movement's view of themselves as creators of new rather than preservers of old (Powell, 1998).

Some notable modernists includ Nietzsche, Hemingway, D. H. Lawrence, T.S. Eliot, James Joyce, and William Butler.

One of the major problems of the modernist movement is that it found that along with progress also came destruction. Another main problem was that the art of the modernist movement fell into two categories, high brow and low brow, which left out those who fell in the middle (Powell, 1998).


What is postmodernism?

While some theorists disagree over the specific definition of postmodernism, it essentially is an attempt to make sense of what is going on currently. Storey (2009) defines postmodernism as "a a current term inside and outside the academic study of populare culture" that has "entered into discourses as different as pop music journalism and Marxist debates on the cultural conditions of late or multinational capitalism" (181).

Postmodernism in the 1960s

The new sensibility movement (Sontag & Fiedler) in the late 1950s and 1960s was a "revolt against the canonization of modernism's avant-garde revolution", specifically "modernism's official status" as " the high culture of the modern capitalist world" (Storey, 2009, 182). the subversive, shocking modernist culture had lost its power to undermine the bourgeois culture because it had become the bourgeois culture. In addition, this new sensibility had turned against cultural elitism and felt that the levels of culture (high and low) had become meaningless. Instead of Matthew Arnold's notion of culture, postmodernism preferred "Williams's social definition of culture as 'a way of life'", specifically the pop art of the 1950s and 1960s (Storey, 2009, 183).

Andy Warhol, along with Lawrence Alloway, key figures in the theorizing of pop art, felt that there should not be a distinction between commercial and non-commercial art. Warhol saw ''commercial art as real art and real art as commercial art'" (Storey, 2009, 183). While Warhol's art ended up in galleries and thus became high culture, John Rockwell argues that this was not the intention. In addition, he argues that "art . . . is what you perceive as art' (Storey, 2009, 184). This movement in art began to take cultural power away from the wealthy ruling class and gave it to those with other perspectives.

Huyssen (1986) argues that the context of the American counterculture and the British underground scene was important to the understanding of the relationship between pop art and pop culture. It was "generational refusal" for "high modernism" that lead to pop and postmodernism (Storey, 2009, 184). It was the American counterculture of the 1960s that Huyssen saw "as the closing chapter in the tradition of avantgardism" (Storey, 2009, 184).


The Postmodern Condition: a report on knowledge

The Postmodern Condition, published in france in 1974 and translated into English in 1984, was originally "an account commissioned by the Council of Universities of Quebec" that details the status of science and technology (Powell, 1998, 22). The report found that 'science has increasingly investigated language, linguistic theories, communication, cybernetics, informatics, computers and computer languages, information storage, data banks, and problems of translation from one computer language to another (Powell, 1998, 22). Lyotard states that these technological changes will impact knowledge, arguing that knowledge that cannot be translated into computer language and stored on computers will not survive. in addition, he argues that information will be the new territory that nations will fight over (Powell, 1998).

As correct as he is on the status of knowledge in our world, The Postmodern Condition is best known for Lyotard's understanding of knowledge in realtion of metanarratives. Modernism created a move away from centers or metanarratives, such as Marxism and Christianinty, which were filled by myth and machine. However, in postmodernism there isn't a need to fill the void but creation through chance and randomness (Powell, 1998). This allows for the "increasing sound of a plurity of voices from the margins, with their insistence on difference, on cultural diversity, and the claims of heterogeneity over homogeneity" (Storey, 2009, 185). For Lyotard this created an issue for the status of knowledge.

Lyotard discusses scientific knowledge and its ability or inability to legitimate itself. Ultimatley, Lyotard argues that the nature of scientific knowledge and scientific discourse does not allow for it to legitimate itself. It need a narrative dicourse in order to be legitimated. Lyotard argues that in the Enlightenment, the narrative discourse of scientific knowledge is the way to gradually emancipate hunmankind. In this way science assumes a metanarrative. But since WWII, this metanarrative has lost its power, because of "blossoming of techniques and technologies" that have shifted emphasis from the ends of action to its means" (ST, 465-6). Lyotard uses the academy as a comparison for this move in knowledge, arguing that when "stripped of the responsibility of research . . . .they limit themselves to the transmission of what is judged to be established knowledge, and through didactics they guarantee the replication of teachers rather than the production of researchers" (ST, 467). This it is through performativity that scientific knowledge is legitimated.


Baudrillard discusses postmodernism as "not simply a culture of the sign: rather it is a culture of the 'simulacrum'" ("an identical copy without an original") (Storey, 2009, 187). Examples of a simulacrum are items such as music cds, digital songs, movie dvds, and digital images. All of these are copies of copies and an identical copy can be made from the copy. Baudrillard argues that the simulation process is the destruction of the distinction between the copy and the original and "threatens the difference between 'true' and 'false'" (ST, 481). This simulation is in fact a "generation by models of real without origins or reality: a hyperreal" (Storey, 2009, 187). Baudrillard argues that "Disneyland is a perfect model of all the entangled orders of simulation" that includes "a play of illusions and phantasms" and the social microcosm, the miniturized and religious revelling in real America" (ST, 483). It functions in the "trhir-order similation: Disneyland is ther to conceal the fact that it is the 'real' country, all of 'real' America, which is Disneyland (ST, 483).

Hyperrealism doesn't just exist in theme parks, but exist everywhere in culture and out lives. Evidence of its existence can be found in blogs, advertising, tourist adventures, and television shows. For example some shows make fun of the existence of hyperrealism such as Friend and Beavis & Butthead. Be sure to watch the end of the Beavis & Butthead episode for Copper scene.

Brooke Shields in Friends...Very Funny !!. Watch more top selected videos about: Friends, Brooke Shields


Jameson differs from other postmodern theorists in that his theorization comes "from within a Marxist or neo-Marxist framework" (Storey, 2009, 191). For Jameson, postmodernism is a "'periodizing concept'" that "postmodernism is 'the cultural dominant' of late multinational capitalism'" (Storey, 2009, 191). Using Mandel's model of the three stages of capitalism's development, Jameson developed a model for cultural development with three stages: realism, modernism, and postmodernism (Storey, 2009).

Jameson argues that the "postmodern is . . . the force field in which very different kinds of cultural impulses . . . must make their way" (6). He argues that the postmodern is "the end of the bourgeois ego", "the end of the psychopathologies of that ego" and the end of individual feeling (15). Jameson refers to this as the 'wanning of affect' and describes this as our life being "dominated by categorires of space rather than by categories of time" (16). Secondly, Jameson characterizes postmodernism as a culture of pastiche or a culture in which "the disappearance of the individual subject, along with its formal consequence, the increasing availability of personal style, engender the well-high universal practice today" (16). Pastiche is the imitation of a peculiar or unique, idiosyncratic style, the wearing of a linguistic mask, speech in a dead language" (17). This has created a culture in which "cultural production" is "born out of cultural production" (192) because the culture is "suffering from 'historical amnesia'" (Storey, 2009, 193). Finally, Jameson argues that the postmodern culture is "a hopelessly commercial culture" that is "marked by an 'essential triviality'"(Storey, 2009, 194).


Jameson defines modernist pop music as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, while postmodernist pop music is punk rock and new wave. Goodwin, however, argues that there are too many differences in individual bands to make comparisons, but instead suggests that the technological development of 'sampling' is a better test. But sampling isn't enough because "we need categories to add to pastiche" (Storey, 2009, 197). It becomes more about the understanding of the "'historicizing function of sampling technologies in contemporary pop'" (Storey, 2009, 197).


Unlike music, "television does not have a period of modernism to which it can be post" (Storey, 2009, 198). Collins (1992) argues that television is the epitome of postmodern culture. Collins uses the television show Twin Peaks as an example of a postmodern show that "constitutes an audience as bricoleurs and is watched in turn by an audience who celebrate the programme's bricolage" (Storey, 2009, 198). Collins argues that Twin Peaks at the ecomonic level it targeted a new audience and the multi-eclectic style of the show marketed itself,along with the ability to market related products. Twin Peaks was really the beginning of the television culture that we continue to see today. Now almost every major televsion show has a presence outside of the show airtime. Some of this might include a website, blogs by the characters, fan sites, a store for the show (buy a Michael Scott T-shirt), a wikipedia page, and an online collective intellegence site that allows views to globally participate in the bricolage. Understanding the extent and reach of a television show makes it easier to understand the existence of hyperrealism. Probably one of the most recent shows most similar to Twin Peaks was Lost.


Lyotard tells us that we are moving away from the metanarratives that have dictated 'truth" this changing the face of knowledge. Basically, we have moved away from absolutes and into perspectives. Baudrillard' theory of simulation also confirms this move away from absolutes into a 'hyperreal' world. While Lyotard and Baudrillard seem to have a possitive outlook on postmodernism, Jameson shows us that the lack of center can be a confusing and unstable world calling it a culture that cannot remember its history. The binding themes in all of the theories are a lack of center to our culture, the combining of high and low culture, and the ability of those in the margin to be heard.

With all that is going on this weekend, I would like to pose a couple of personal analytical questions that might make responding easier. Using Baudrillard's theory of hyperrealism, how do you experience hyperrealism in your life? What evidence of this do you leave behind?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Jeff Dunham - Achmed the Dead Terrorist: An example of Orientalism?

Race Theory

Welcome to Race Theory Week by Reggie Bell and Carolyn Block. We hope you enjoy our post! Below you will find a summary of each of the readings with some contemporary (and not so contemporary) examples of how these readings manifest themselves in society. Because discussions of 'race' are often personal and at times, heated, we ask that you approach these readings with an open mind. Try to put yourself in the role of the 'other.' Even if you already classify yourself as such, remember that all of us in the class are not fully an other.

Storey, Chapter 8: 'Race', racism and representation

'Race' and racism
The concept of race is not based in biology but in cultural and historical categories designed to highlight differences between people for the purposes of establishing political and social hierarchy. How difference “is made to signify is always a result of politics and power, rather than a question of biology” (Storey, 167). Stuart Hall recognizes three moments in history of ‘race’ and racism in the West: slavery and the slave trade, colonialism and imperialism, and 1950s immigration following decolonization. The concept of and belief in ‘race’ is a result of continued racism. Without racism, there would be no ‘race.’

The Ideology of Racism: Its Historical Emergence
Racism first developed in England to defend the economic profits that resulted from slavery and the slave trade. Black and white people were seen as different species in which the whites were naturally superior. Fear of mixed race children “as mischievous as monkeys and infinitely more dangerous” (170) helped to keep the institution of slavery alive. The ideology of racism spread to those who did not directly benefit from slavery or the slave trade. Indeed by the nineteenth century, it was widely accepted that the human race was divided into two categories: superior whites and inferior others with only whites being capable of “thinking and governing” (171). These beliefs were based in scientific evidence and conquest was directed by God.

Edward Said (1985) describes the “Orient” as a creation of Europe to help define the West as its “contrasting image, idea, personality, experience” (171). Orientalism was created as a fictional ideology designed to highlight differences and maintain Western power over the Orient. These fictional stories have two basic plot structures: white colonizers succumbing to the powers of the jungle and “going native” (Kurtz in Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now) or whites who impose themselves on the jungle and its inhabitants (Tarzan). This imperialistic approach shifts the attention away from who, what, or where the story is about to those who tell and consume the story. How Hollywood tells the story of the Vietnam War is a particular example of Orientalism. The way in which discourses about the war are constructed tells America and the rest of the world that what happened in Vietnam, “happened because Vietnam is like that” (172). The stories allow people to experience Vietnam and may become the war itself. The historical accuracy of Hollywood depictions of Vietnam does not matter. What matters is that they produce a specific reality for audiences. Three ‘regimes of truth’ are featured in Hollywood films about Vietnam in the 1980s.
• The war as betrayal- America’s defeat in Vietnam was a result of 1) bad politicians 2) incompetent military command or 3) civilian betrayal. All films in this category are centered around loss- prisoners, pride, innocence
• The inverted firepower syndrome- America’s techno-military advantage is inverted. In these narratives, individual Americans are seen fighting against the innumerable odds of countless North Vietnamese military soldiers and Viet Cong.
• Americanization of the war (“imperial narcissism”) - The United States is center in the narrative and Vietnam and the Vietnamese exist only as context for the brutally loss of American innocence that was doomed from the very beginning. America and Americans are the only victims.
For cultural texts to be effective they must be integrated into the lived experiences of the audience. Simply because a Hollywood narrative was designed as a narrative about American tragedy and bravery does not necessarily mean that the audience received or consumed it in the same manner. Examples ranging from Presidents to soldiers illustrate that this seems to be the case for Hollywood and its creation of American memories.

Hollywood is great at perpetuating this idea of orientalism. From the conquering of the American Frontier to 300 to The Kingdom to the Hurt Locker to Borat offer us a multitude of examples of how 'regimes of truth' can be passed down through media. It is important to remeber that the term does not only apply to the Orient or Asian cultures. It refers to anytime we exoticize people and view them merely as objects to serve us rather than as humans.

Anti-racism and cultural studies
The work of cultural studies is “to intellectually, and by example to help defeat racism, and by so doing, help to bring into being a world in which the term ‘race’ is little more than a long discussed historical category” (179).

Fannon: Decolonizing, National Culture, and the Negro Intellectual (Social Theory 364-369)
Decolonization is always a violent event that does not occur overnight. It can only be understood as a historical process where two antagonistic forces with a long history of violence and control must negotiate the new identity created through liberation. In decolonization, “the last shall be first and the first last.” However, this change-over will only occur after violence ensues.

West: The New Cultural Politics of Difference (Social Theory 511-521)

The new cultural politics of difference are not designed to simply contest the mainstream for inclusion or to blatantly shock the conventions of the upper class. Rather, they are articulations by cultural contributors who choose to align themselves with the under privileged in hopes of enabling social action and expanding freedom and democracy. Cultural critics are faced with a double-bind where they are simultaneously condemning the very institutions that are financially reliant upon. The new cultural politics of difference face three obstacles—intellectual, existential, and political. The intellectual challenge is how to understand representations in terms of history, culture, and society. The new cultural politics of difference are built upon and go beyond flawed Eurocentric traditions: the Age of Europe, the emergence of the United States as the world power, decolonization of the Third World. The legacy of these events present a precarious situation in which the postmodern movement must come to terms with “crimes against and contributions to humanity.” The plight of Africans in the New World is indicative of this ambiguity.

European control included brutal enslavement, institutional terrorism, and cultural degradation of Black people. Efforts for identity, dignity, and material resources through selective appropriation, incorporation, and rearticulation of European ideologies and institutions created an uncritical acceptance of non-Black conventions and standards in two ways. First, asserting that Black people were like White people (assimilation) disregarded differences in history and culture. Second, all Black people were assumed to be alike (homogenizing impulse), thus eliminating differences in class, gender, region, sexual orientation between Black people. It is the Black women’s movement that has voiced the most opposition to how bureaucratic elites use language about “homogenous national communities and positive images in order to repress and regiment their diverse and heterogeneous populations” (519). Black cultural workers must work to “deconstruct the earlier strategies of identity-formation, demystify power relations that incorporate class, patriarchal and homophobic biases” (519) and construct new ideals of Black complexity and diversity.

"Race" as the Trope of the World

Gates addresses the issue of race with a discussion of the arbitrary ways researches and theorists have attempted to signify “differences” in race. Race, which he calls trope, is a futile method to underscore difference because “The biological criteria used to determine difference in sex simply do not hold when applied to race” (522). Nevertheless, many whites considered blacks to be inferior simply because of their skin color.

One popular justification for the denigration of blacks during the Enlightenment period was the belief that blacks lacked the capacity to reason. The ability to reason well was determined by one’s ability to write well, which required a person to master “the arts and sciences” (523). Moreover, the ability to write well also signified the difference between animal and human (526). Since blacks had proven they could write, they were not considered human and, as such, should be enslaved and sold. However, because of the writings of such persons as Phillis Wheatley, James Gronniosaw, John Marrant, and Ottabah Cugoano, blacks were able to prove they are more intelligent than animals and that one’s race is not an indication of their intelligence level.

Interestingly, though such studies and beliefs would be considered ludicrous by many today—I actually laughed while reading it, such studies and beliefs are still prevalent today. Race and Intelligence: Science’s Last Taboo, a 2010 documentary, addresses how several academicians still believe that race is more than skin deep and that white people are much cleverer than black people. Though blacks were able to “write ourselves out of slavery” during the Enlightenment period (526), it is clear not everyone is convinced of their capacity to reason as well as their white counterparts.

Spivak: Can the Subaltern Speak?

Spivak’s contribution to this week’s reading is designed to caution researchers and theorists to guard against allowing their hermeneutic of what is right and wrong to shape their research. The case study for her discussion involves a Hindu widow who willingly immolates herself shortly after her husband’s death. Because such practices were foreign to the researchers who devoted themselves to studying and “improving” the life of Hindu women, they set out to abolish this sacred act. From their perspective abolishing this practice was a noble deed because it enabled them to, in essence, “save brown women from brown men” (539). However, by not immersing themselves into the Hindu culture and by interpreting the act through their worldview, they missed the fact that “the woman actually wanted to die” and that the unorthodox act was her way of expressing herself (539). This leads Spivak to conclude that the subaltern cannot speak.

Oppressed groups are better served when researchers approach and assess the condition and context from the subject’s perspective, not their own. This will require the researcher to “question their position as investigator” and “unlearn” their way of life so that he or she can comprehend the true essence of the subject (538). Such a process minimizes the possibility of misinterpreting foreign acts and assigning uninformed solutions. Moreover, research from this vantage point will position researchers to identify ways to carve out spaces for subaltern members to speak for themselves instead of everyone else speaking for them.

Anzaldua: The New Mestiza

The underlying question in Anzaldua’s piece is “What should a person do when he or she is constantly displaced?” Anzaldua is forced to wrestle with this question due to her displacement geographically, sexually, and culturally. She cannot refer to a particular geographical location as her ethnicity’s homeland because they either migrated or were forced to move numerous times. Her sexual orientation prohibits her ability to neatly situation herself within the heterosexual confines of her Catholic and Mexican rearing; neither group is ready to accept her rebellious lifestyle. Finally, her impacting experiences with white culture, Mexican culture, and Indian culture causes her internal conflict because each culture constitutes a relevant part of her identity. As a result, her answer to the question of displacement is the stop trying to fit into the predetermined spaces and make a new space based on her unique experiences.

Collins: Black Feminist Thought in Matrix of Domination

The key word in Collin’s article is intersectionality. Intersectionality argues that we should focus on how different systems of oppression interlock. To identify these systems and, ultimately, empower the oppressed, Collins emphasizes the importance of gaining new knowledge for the purposes of overturning oppressive practices. Her solution is black feminist thought.

Black feminist thought is important for two reasons. First, it “fosters a fundamental paradigmatic shift in how we think of oppression…by embracing a paradigm of race, class, and gender as interlocking systems of oppression” (541). This means that it does not start with gender and then add other variables such as race, class, sexual orientation, disability, etc. It sees these distinctive systems of oppression as being part of one overarching structure of domination in which all these systems are dependent on one another. Instead of arguing about who experiences the worst oppression, intersectionality focuses attention on how these systems of oppression interconnect in different peoples’ lives. Second, “black feminist thought addresses ongoing epistemological debates in feminist theory and in the sociology of knowledge concerning ways of assessing truth” (541). This approach acknowledges that “truth” is always relative to a particular person in a particular context and should be dealt with as such. For example, Sojourner Truth’s 1851 speech Aint I a Woman in 1851 demonstrates the reality that what she considered “right” what vastly different than the “right” her white counterparts envisioned. As such, we must all view our experiences not a universal truths, but as truth revealed in our limited contexts.

Questions to ponder

All of us can see racial differences and issues of denomination when it comes to black/white issues. Fox 13 news does a segment "Memphis in Black and White" every time they need their ratings boosted. But, how do other cities deal with issues of difference? For an example, we turn to Arizona and their battle of immigration reform

How can intersectionality be applied to explaining Memphis's recent consolidation?

Spivak is concerned about research that minsinteprets the subject and attempts to "save the brown woman from the brown man." What are some steps you can take to ensure your methodology is not dominated by your worldview? Is it really possible to "unlearn" your way of life so that you can fully immerse in another's culture?

In light of Anzaldua's article, how can we identify and support the validity of new "cultures" developing in our field of study?

Friday, March 11, 2011

dreamworlds 3 intro and part 1 Techniques of storytelling (It’s all about the girls).

Dreamworlds 3 part 2 Constructing Femininity

Dreamwolds 3 part 3 The Pornographic Imagination

Dreamworlds 3 part 4 Ways of Looking

Dreamworlds 3 part 5 Female Artists: Trapped in the Pornographic Gaze

Dreamworlds 3 part 6- Masculinity and Control -part 1 of 2

dreamworlds 3 part 7 and conclusion- Masculinity and Control and its real-life effects

I'm On A Boat (ft. T-Pain) - Album Version

Notice the differences between this "I'm on a boat" parody of rap videos and the constructs of femininity and masculinity and the male gaze as portrayed in the other two hip-hop music videos below.

JAY Z BIG PIMPIN Video- first half of video

Aaliyah - Rock The Boat


While a master’s student at the University of Akron, I had the opportunity to both attend and present at the universities 2nd Biannual Interdisciplinary Gender Symposium in 2008. A feminist sociologist, Judith Lorber (not to be confused with Judith Butler), was the keynote speaker at this event and posed the question of whether it is possible to live in a world without gender.

Gender constructions and the need to adhere to certain forms of gender identities is so ingrained in almost all cultures that often humans may forget that such gender inequalities do or quite simply the concept of gender does, in fact, exist. Most cultures tell us that gender is a vital and necessary concept in which life cannot exist without- as if culture and gender are in an ever binding marriage. Conceptions of gender are so pervasive in society that it seems that the majority of cultures not only do not want to imagine a world without gender but could not imagine one – as if the existence of gender constitutes the “being” in the world. But is this not the case? If the concept of gender was to entirely disappear from the world how would beings in the world communicate, form relationships, or for that matter simply exist? While imagining the existence of a world without gender is, at least thus far in culture, rather inexplicable, many theorists have raised awareness about constructions of gender in all walks of society. While each theory differs analytically, taken as a whole disciplinary area of study, feminist/queer studies focus on raising awareness about and/or exposing ideologies, along with hegemonic systems, that permeate as the dominant in societies. And while our readings do not stress the current issues within gender studies per se, I would argue that feminist studies today represents an arena for theorizing and analyzing all ideological constructs in society, including issues surrounding sexism, heterosexism, racism, classism, ageism, and ableism. Wherever the “isms” of society are present, feminist studies, as a form of opposition, looks to theorize and critique such ideologies. This essay will generally adhere to a chronological order of feminist/queer theories since the start of the second wave feminist movement, except for Beauvoir who wrote before this time period. I will first begin with the binary gender theories of white, privileged women in the second wave era.

Hierarchical Feminism: White, Privileged Politics

Friedan leading women in support of the ERA, 1971

In 1963, Betty Friedan published the Feminine Mystique and became known as one of the central leaders of the second wave feminist movement. In the section, The Problem that Has No Name, Friedan emphasizes the problem of women bound to the domestic roles of housewives and mothers. In this essay, Friedan emphasizes that culture places women under strict codes for perpetuating femininity, even for young girls. However, as she discusses these problems surrounding women’s focus as mothers and the pressure to perfect “femininity” instead of focusing on their education and careers, Friedan excludes mentioning many relevant ideological problems in relation to gender- race and class- which have caused many criticisms of the second wave feminist movement in particular. Friedan is generally speaking on behalf of middle-class, suburban housewives who have financial means, the luxury of being stay-at-home mothers, and the opportunity to become better educated if they so desire. Unfortunately, Friedan does not seem to present an argument for non-white women or women who are single, single mothers, poor, and/or uneducated. Third-wave feminism, which is sometimes also referred to as post-feminism or postmodern feminism, was formed, in part, in response to the inequalities of such privileged, white women’s viewpoints. Its central purpose is to bring awareness to non-white, women issues and to also focus on problematics of gender and economics/class. 1 A more current example of this white feminist exclusion is the 2004 March for Women’s Lives, in which women of color were originally excluded from the planning process of this event until they voiced their criticisms of this discrimination. 2

De Beauvoir

Similarly, Simone De Beauvoir (1949) discusses the problem of women being objectified by men and ultimately viewed as the Other in society. Man “is the subject, he is the absolute – she is the Other” (Social Theory, p. 346). Here, De Beauvoir argues that a binary system of gender exists and the dominant (man) “sets himself up as the essential, as opposed to the other (woman), the inessential, the object” (Social Theory, p. 346). De Beauvoir argues that women, as a categorized other, are not viewed as a minority (race) nor have been treated as such through a historical event or a social change; rather, women have been categorized, through men’s existence, as dependent of men- the receivers of what men have granted them. De Beauvoir asserts that it is the women’s problem if she remains submissive and does not rally for social change. Providing a binary system of femininity and masculinity, Be Beauvoir believes that sex is biological and gender is culturalized; Storey adds that this suggests “that while biological sex is stable, there will always be different and competing (historically and socially variable) ‘versions’ of femininity and masculinity” (p. 160).

Women in Film: The Male Gaze

Laura Mulvey

Extending the theory of women’s objectification as Beauvoir discusses, Laura Mulvey (1975) theorizes about the female spectator in film, a concept she deems the male gaze. As we learned from prior psychoanalysis readings, this “gendered” gaze privileges the male viewpoint and presents women as objectified for men’s desire and as signifiers of the threat of castration. Feminist scholars, including Gamman and Marshment (1998) and Gledhill (2009), have disagreed with the “universal validity” of Mulvey’s conceptualizing the male gaze as “always male, or whether it is merely dominant among a range of different ways of seeing, including the female gaze” (Storey, p. 137). Instead, these scholars argue that popular culture serves as a ground in which ideological concepts are not as stabilized as some may argue; rather, such ideologies can also be both contested and disturbed. 3 Mulvey developed the theory of the male gaze in the mid 1970s right before the period of music videos slowly began emerging as a new genre in popular culture. Sut Jhally, a media/cultural critic, has conducted significant research on the male gaze in modern day music videos, specifically constructions of storytelling, femininity, and masculinity as portrayed in music videos. Agreeing with Mulvey’s view of the male gaze, Jully goes a step further to theorize of a pornographic gaze in music videos in his video, Dreamworlds 3. A previous post contains the links for each section of this video. If you do not have the time to watch all the sections (as it is over an hour long), then I encourage you to take the time to watch parts three and four, and if time allows you to, also the introduction and conclusion. I find Jully’s work to be a profound example of the male gaze at work in contemporary society. If you do not have access to listen/watch these videos, then you can read the transcript at this link:

Femininity and Pleasurable Escapism

In opposition to Mulvey’s conception of the male gaze, Stacey (1994) focuses on analyzing the actual audience viewing a film and not the audience which the text means to construct. Three discourses appeared from Stacey’s analysis of women’s responses: escapism- women were pleasured by escaping into this ritualized and shared experience away from the troubled times of society and their feminine roles; identification, with the fantasy being depicted; and consumption- where the focus is on audiences actually make meanings from their consumption practices and not how the film industry produces the film goers (Storey, p. 139).

Elaborating on the methodology of audience analysis, Coward found that romantic fictions’ fantasies are depicted as “pre-adolescent, very nearly pre-conscious,” and ultimately presents the girl – as in the Oedipal drama- as finding security by marrying a man like her father, which will protect her from fear and keep her secure; and also, by marrying a man the girl will feel that she has power by acting obedient to her superior- her husband (Storey, p. 141). Using Chodorow’s (1978) work, Radaway (1987), who also analyzes romance novels, claims that romantic fictions depict fantasies of reciprocation in which the women are nurtured for and protected, fulfilling a maternal need for women readers. Storey notes that this notion differs from Coward’s because in this perspective regression is focused on the mother and not the father, as in Coward. Radaway also asserts that romantic fictions that depict narratives of women being nurtured present the female self as the other or in relation to others, while the male self is depicted as self-directed and independent. In these romantic reading encounters, women will identify with the heroine’ journey and this identification will determine if the romance is good or bad. During this romantic “journey,” women will escape and become other for a short period of time. According to Radaway, before returning from their “escape,” women readers must reassure themselves that both men and marriage are good aspects for women. While patriarchy is very much alive in these fictions, women must find ways of reading such patriarchal texts so that patriarchy, including male dominance/violence, no longer appears to be problematic. One key component which Stacey, Coward, and Radaway emphasize is that the ideological cultural representations of women are not static, and there is room for feminist and others alike to work in oppositional practices to contest existing representations, because “where there is power there is resistance” (Storey. p. 145-146).

Ang (1985) proposes that the television program, Dallas, is an exemplar of emotional realism, in which viewers selectively read “across the text from denotation to connotation, weaving our sense of self in and out of the narrative” (Storey, p. 148). In this sense, viewers who are escaping by watching these texts and moving the narrative to connotative meanings are playing with reality, in an imaginary participation in which this fictional reality is considered as pleasurable. Similar to Radaway’s analysis, Ang also finds that many women viewers experience Dallas as pleasure through the melodramatic imagination, which “offers a means of organizing reality into meaningful contrast and conflicts” (Storey, p. 149). Here, this “melodramatic imagination activates Dallas’s tragic feeling, which in turn produces the pleasure of emotional realism” (Storey, p. 149). Lastly, through the analysis of women’s magazines, Winship (1987) found that what is ultimately being sold through fictions of women’s magazines is the idea of pleasurable femininity. Winship finds this to be problematic because through these editorials and advertisements, which promote certain behaviors and products to become a “better” woman, the focus centers on the individual woman and therefore proposes an individual solution to overcome all patriarchal societal problems.

Beyond Binary Systems of Sexuality: Queer Theories

Stemming from feminist studies, queer theories looks to “attack the very ‘naturalness’ of gender and by extension, the fictions supporting compulsory heterosexuality” (Storey, p. 160). Week’s (1991) discusses Adrienne Rich’s notions of compulsory heterosexuality and political lesbianism. For Rich, lesbianism serves as a way for women to become “sexually and emotionally independent of men,” and beyond this, to support female existence and “bonding against male tyranny” (Social Theory, p. 560). Rich finds compulsory heterosexuality to be “the key mechanism of control of women,” and further denies women the chance of enacting a lesbian continuum (Social Theory, p. 560). Critics of Rich’s lesbian continuum find it to be problematic to claim that lesbian sexuality is natural and that female heterosexuality is socially constructed, and critics also argue that lesbian eroticism has been historically denied.

Judith Butler (1991) argues that that there are no necessarily commonalities among lesbians and there is no way of specifying or distinguishing gender identity(ies) in general. Butler extends the notion of compulsory heterosexuality and argues against the binary gender system of sex as biological and gender as culturalized; rather, Butler theorizes that “the category of ‘sex’ itself a gendered category, fully politically invested, naturalized but not natural” (Storey, p. 161). Butler notes that, “although compulsory heterosexuality often presumes that there is first a sex that is expressed through a gender and then through a sexuality, it may now be necessary fully to invert and displace that operation of thought” (Social Theory, p. 573). Butler’s theory extends Beauvoir’s notion that one is not born a woman, but becomes a woman, and further radicalizes this notion by theorizing that “one can if one chooses, become neither female nor male, women nor man” (Storey, p. 161).

To make her point about gender identity, Butler uses the example of drag; “to be in drag is not to copy an original and natural gender identity, it is to ‘imitate the myth of originality itself’” (Storey, p. 162). Butler uses the example of Aretha Franklin’s “A Natural Women” as example of the performance of drag – the man makes the woman feel like she is natural- as if she is imitating the origin of her gender identity. Another example of this drag concept is one which I heard driving today to work: Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature:” 4

Looking Out
Across The Night-Time
The City Winks A Sleepless Eye
Hear Her Voice
Shake My Window
Sweet Seducing Sighs

Get Me Out
Into The Night-Time
Four Walls Won’t Hold Me Tonight
If This Town
Is Just An Apple
Then Let Me Take A Bite

If They Say -
Why, Why, Tell ‘Em That Is Human Nature
Why, Why, Does He Do Me That Way
If They Say -
Why, Why, Tell ‘Em That Is Human Nature
Why, Why, Does He Do Me That Way

Reaching Out
To Touch A Stranger
Electric Eyes Are Ev’rywhere
See That Girl
She Knows I’m Watching
She Likes The Way I Stare

If They Say -
Why, Why, Tell ‘Em That Is Human Nature
Why, Why, Does He Do Me That Way
If They Say -
Why, Why, Tell ‘Em That Is Human Nature
Why, Why, Does He Do Me That Way
I Like Livin’ This Way
I Like Lovin’ This Way

Looking Out
Across The Morning
The City’s Heart Begins To Beat
Reaching Out
I Touch Her Shoulder
I’m Dreaming Of The Street

If They Say -
Why, Why, Tell ‘Em That Is Human Nature
Why, Why, Does He Do Me That Way
If They Say -
Why, Why, Tell ‘Em That Is Human Nature
Why, Why, Does He Do Me That Way
I Like Livin’ This Way

In these lyrics, a man is portrayed as symbolizing women as the city - as part of nature, ultimately as a part of the man’s “dreamworld” of consumption. In these lyrics, heterosexual masculinity is constructing women’s sexuality/gender (femininity) and men’s gender is being performed and imitated to reflect compulsory heterosexuality. Here, man’s heterosexuality wants to consume (bit) nature (her), wants to stalk a woman, make her speak seductively, and touch her. In this portrayal, the man “imitates” his sexuality and his definition of women’s sexuality, by proclaiming that it is natural to act (“perform”) in such a way. He is performing and imitating the heterosexual masculinity that is seen as the “original” in culture. In addition, Sedgwick (1990) paraphrasing Foucault notes “that the modern Western culture has placed what it calls sexuality in a more and more distinctively privileged relation to our most prized constructs of individual identity, truth, and knowledge, it becomes truer and truer that the language of sexuality not only intersects with but transforms the other languages and relations by which we know…” (Social Theory, p. 663).

Overall, these feminist/queer theories tell us that there are many gender inequalities that exist in all walks of society. While these theories offer ways of viewing such gender ideologies, few have tried to come up with a “solution” to actually radically alter or stop the ACT OF GENDER in culture. As I posed at the beginning of this post, can a world really function without gender? And if so, how would this effect the existence of other ideologies such as race and class in culture?

Secondly, do you find anything to be natural about biological sex and/or gender? Is there such a concept of human nature that is “natural”?

Lastly, our readings barely touch on male/masculinity studies. What do you think would be some feminist/queer approaches to critiquing masculinity in culture that have not already been touched upon?

*Buried beneath the dreamworld videos are postings for three different types of hip-hop videos. I encourage you to watch them and note film viewpoint differences between them.

Happy Belated Women’s International Day Everyone!!


[1] Storey only lists a few different forms of feminism in his gender chapter, citing Tong’s older edition on feminist theories. For more discussion of post-feminism/postmodern feminism and a more current and extended version concerning the different types/branches of feminism, see: Tong, R. (2009). Feminist Thought: A more comprehensive introduction (3Ed). Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

[2] For more about women of color and feminist exclusion see:

Silliman, J et al. (2004). Undivided Rights: Women of Color Organize for Reproductive Rights. Cambridge, MA: South End Press.

[3] For a more-in depth look at the directions of feminist media criticism, feminist views of the male gaze, and feminist media reception studies, see: Watkins, C. S, & Emerson, R. A. (2000).

Feminist media criticism and feminist media practices. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 571, 151-166.

Unfortunately, there is not a music video for this song to accompany the lyrics and to use for relative analysis.