Laura Mulvey

Marita Sturken in Practises of Looking, argues over the past two centuries our dominant influence is visual culture as opposed to aural or textual.  I would further expand that argument that our ability to understand our environment, beyond our immediate experience has developed from initially from an aural tradition of story telling or relating of news through direct communication.  This has been transcended to place the authority of information with a third removed party, that we may have no direct contact with or ability to question.

Sturken also examines the notion culture, as being defined as high, that which is the best that has been thought or expressed in our society and low, that which satisfies a mass audience.

Laura Mulvey makes the argument in her essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, that cinema adopts the primordial urge to look, based on Freud’s analysis of Sopophilia, the desire to look, one of the component instincts of sexuality and driven independently of the erogenous zones.  Mulvey asserts that cinema goes further it develops the narcistic aspect of Sopophilia.   Women’s desire is subjugated to her image as bearer of the bleeding wound, she can only exists in relation to castration cannot transcend it.  Similarly John Berger in ‘Ways of Seeing’ states women are seen as bearers not creators.

Sturken in Practises of Looking, states that we now have a culture that manufactures desire, other authors have expanded that to ‘Manufacturing Consent’, Noam Chomsky. Mulvey’s essay examines the point of the male protagonist as being free to command the stage, he is subject to the projection of men looking at them selves, the spectators.  Typically the structure of the film centres around a main controlling character who can make things happen.  ‘He’ is the creator, not the object or bearer.   Mulvey summarizes that the actual image of women is passive, raw material for the male gaze.   One demanded in a male patriarchal society, returning to the argument that women in representation can signify castration.  In her afterthoughts comments on the essay, Mulvey considers that women as spectators as are either ‘taken along by the scruff of the text’ or she is so out of key with the pleasure on offer, with its masculinisation, that the spell of fascination is broken, or she may find herself secretly or unconsciously identifying with and enjoying the freedom of action and control over the diegetic world, that identification with hero provides.

Interesting plays on this concept includes Tarrantino’s film Dusk Till Dawn, where the male audience, are challenged for their supremacy by the female performers in a bar, where they turn from sexual objects to blood sucking vampires, who very nearly kill their audience. but not quite.

In my view the Hollywood narrative also typically demands a ‘happy life ending’  which may due to the ‘test’ screening process that attempts to shape films to satisfy the mass or low culture.   Interestingly Hollywood films such as ‘Thelma and Louise’ and ‘Brokeback Mountain’ both examining and questioning the heterosexual lifestyle typical of America’s mid west, do not have ‘happy life’ endings.


About Julia Guest

Documentary filmaker
This entry was posted in spectatorship-gaze, tp1011 and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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