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I know I’ve been neglecting this blog.

Unless you have been living under rock in the Arctic Circle,
you will have, if not followed, then at least heard the story of the recent
London Riots, which spread quickly across the city and even strayed over into
areas of Manchester and Medway.

Not so long ago, David Cameron launched his ‘hug a hoodie’
campaign, the idea being to target underprivileged kids, or ‘youths’ as MPs and
media like to term them, and show them that government policies had their ‘best
interests’ at heart, and were committed to providing them with a brighter
future post-recession.

Today, Mr Cameron along with many others in government and
let’s be honest, across the media too, have begun to wonder whether the ‘hoodie’
itself has a large part to play in taking the blame for facilitating the recent
unrest. It should be noted that not all of the violence, looting and general
thuggery committed during the Riots should be cast solely at the door of ‘youths,’
and children, as there were many adult offenders, from disenchanted
school-teachers to kids of bankers. However, the majority of offenders were
wearing the ubiquitous garment in question.

I’ve just been watching tonight’s One Show (watch it now on
BBC i-player if you fancy seeing what I’m referring to), where they asked
whether the hoodie (the garment that is) should be banned. A surprising number
of the random members of the public they questioned seemed to think it might be
a good idea – though I am wary of editing here – and a quick role playing test
where one of their middle-aged crew members tried to see whether passers-by
would talk to him with or without one on. No one wanted to talk to him hooded
up.

The hooded sweatshirt has to be seen as separate from the Hoodie.
The Hoodie is what has become a personification of a thug who commits so-called
‘mindless’ violence, possibly in a gang, and has no time for authority, maybe
because they think that the system they are being told to support has let them
down. And they wear a hooded sweatshirt to help obscure their identity while
carrying out these acts. The hooded sweatshirt itself can’t do all these
things. It’s just a garment, albeit one that has picked up as a symbol for
societal threat.

However, that’s not to say that we don’t understand the power
that the wearing of a hooded sweatshirt affords us in certain situations. If
you see someone walking down the street in sunshine with their hood up, let’s
be honest it looks a bit odd. But after dark, the impact of wearing a
face-obscuring garment like this brings on a whole other issue. Body studies
have continually stressed the importance of human interactions, if not through
the whole face then certainly the eyes and mouth. In the UK where we are
predominantly not wearing veils and other covering clothes for the majority of
areas in the country, being confronted with a person whose identity is obscured
is an unsettling experience.

I own a hooded sweatshirt, and I don’t know anyone who doesn’t.
Even my mother who is 54 has one.
Usually I don’t wear the hood up, but I am well aware of its power. I
used to walk to my university in the middle of the night to do my printing
(excellent when you’ve just finished and want to skip the morning queues). I
had a massive, baggy hooded sweater I would wear walking down there alone at
night. It was big enough to comfortably mask my laptop, often concealed
underneath, and my face. Taking a glance at me as I walked past, you would be
hard-pressed to identify whether I was male or female, whether I was a threat –
actually, anything at all. There was a conscious aim to be anonymous, yet with
a lingering threat of potential violence. Of course, I did not intend to attack
anyone, but I sought to deter anyone who might have attacked me if I had
sauntered down there as an obvious young girl on my own.

I think the conclusion we might draw from that experience is
that unfortunate as it is, we still expect violent behaviour to stem from men
rather than women, particularly if acting alone and not protected by a gang.

I am at a loss really as to how to end this post of
Hoodie-musings, but I think it’s fair to say that it is prohibitive to give
this item of popular clothing undue ‘power’ to make us uncomfortable.

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I realise, of course, that this blog has been severely neglected of late, and this is down to two primary reasons:

1. I spilled sugary tea all over my laptop and haven’t been able to do so much as turn it on for nearly 3 months now. Finally, at the end of this week I should be the proud owner of a new HP – thanks to the parents for help!

2. Basic lack of material.

…. Actually no, that 2nd is probably the worst excuse ever from an anthropology student, so let’s backtrack: There are some critiques of recent fashion/fragrance advertising at my sister blog ‘Catherine Lucas Design’ (filed under Art Reviews), which may be of interest not only for those engaged in fashion theory and/or advertising techniques, but also sociology.

Once I am securely back online and not borrowing IT access from parents/friends/uni/work, I also hope to revive this blog and get the debates going again. I also plan to change the site header as soon as I have access to Photoshop again; withdrawal from my beloved Adobe Creative Suite brings its own special forms of pain.

Over but not out.

The Anthromodeologist.

 

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Recently I was asked to reccommend some academic texts for the study of fashion alongside a cultural studies/anthropological theme. You can find the answer on the ‘about’ comments page, however I thought it might also be useful to paste it in here as a post too.

The following books are listed alphabetically by author, because that’s not only fair, but also it would be impossible for me to advise anyone on what books could be of most use to them. It depends entirely on the information you’re looking for, and the aims of your theoretical research. However, I do have a large personal library of academic texts surrounding anthropology and gender in particular, as well as fashion theory, and these have inevitably become interlinked with feminist texts, media and PR critical analysis, and various other intermingling topics, particularly psychoanalytical of late.

If you’re thinking about looking at the subject of fashion and culture, however, these texts might be a good starting point – I know they were for me:

Barthes, Roland (2004), The Language of Fashion. Berg Publications
Barthes is concerned with semiotics – i.e. the idea that everything can be taken as a sign or symbol for something else. I personally used this book to help me research Dandyism, of which this book has a short chapter, examining not only the techniques of this dressing style, but also its social ethos and political symbolism. The book is not very long, so I see it (perhaps mistakenly) as an additional add-on to Barthes earlier work, ‘The Fashion System,’ which is also excellent.

Crane, Diana (2000), Fashion and it’s Social Agendas: Class, Gender, and Identity in Clothing. University of Chicago Press.
This book examines clothing not only as a mode of self expression, but as a mode of non-verbal reaction against social norms. It examines views on class and gender in particular, with a keen focus on outward expression of sexual orientation. I found the chapter “Fashion Images and the Struggle for Women’s Identity’ particularly impressive whilst researching for an essay on advertising in women’s fashion, and the notion of ‘building’ and embodying identities. However, the book also touches on political elements such as global markets, class and control, and also, unlike many books about fashion, devotes an entire section to a very interesting exploration of masculine identities as impressed through dress.

De Beauvoir, Simone (1949, republished 1997) The Second Sex. Vintage Classics.
Good lord, where to start on this book? It’s vast, for one thing. My own tattered but faithful copy looks like a hedgehog on acid, it has so many coloured tab markers in it! Helpfully segregated into two ‘books’, and these into various parts with their own chapters, De Beauvoir’s book is one of the most important books (in my very humble opinion) to study when looking at not only Gender studies, but also the social construction of ‘woman’ from infancy, through childhood, to adulthood, with the section on motherhood particularly interesting as it examines the idea that a mother is not a natural transitional identity, but must be in some ways socially formed. Anyway, I can’t go on about this because we would be here for many days!

Moore, Henrietta L (1988), Feminism and Anthropology. Polity Press.
It is very difficult to discuss Fashion, in an Anthropological sense, without looking at Feminism. I have a love/hate relationship with the subject, however it is important to understand certain movements of feminism (the so-called ‘waves’ are very different from each other and should influence the way we view movements in fashion and embodied identity differently). Moore’s book looks to the main social issues surrounding and impacting feminism, such as changing family structures, the viewing of and status of women in the workplace, and what ‘women’s work’ is or has evolved as, and perhaps most importantly, examines feminist critques in anthropology itself. The book has come under a lot of criticism, not all of it complimentary, but this by no means makes it less useful reading.

…Those are my ‘big four,’ if you will, for the specific area of focus on fashion and anthropology, however the following are equally important and very often influence my reading:

Butler, Judith, (1999) Gender Trouble. (Routledge)
Cole, Shaun (2000) Don We Now Our Gay Apparel: Gay men’s dress in the twentieth century. (Berg)
Vinken, Barbara (2005) Fashion Zeitgeist: Trends and Cycles in the Fashion System. (Berg)
Wolf, Naomi (1991) The Beauty Myth: How images of beauty are used against women. (Vintage)

Various other theorists of interest:
Sophie Woodward (women and everyday dressing)*; Emma Tarlo (muslim and faith dressing and it social and political signifiers)*; Hannah Arendt (theories of loneliness); Valerie Steele (fashion theorist and historian); Joanne Entwistle (the dressed body); Donna Haraway (theories of cyborg and techonology in the social sphere); Ariel Levy (feminism); Germaine Greer (feminism); Frances Pine (women’s work and family roles in rural Poland)*, etc etc etc!

Also, if you have access to JStor or AnthroSource, these are invaluable search engines for academic articles and readings, as well as academic book reviews. Most universites have access to these and they are brilliant. I like to download and save interesting readings, even if I just think they might be of use at some point though not necessarily for what I’m researching at the time.

I hope all of this is useful to anyone looking into this subject area! If you have your own reccommendations, please leave comments for other people to be informed – and to inform me too!

(*okay, I’m biased, these three have been tutors of mine…)

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After rediscovering and posting my 2006 piece on fashion photography and advertising – which focuses essentially on what is now known as the ‘size zero debate,’ I thought I’d do a search of ‘thinspiration’ on wordpress to see what others have come up with. The myriad results were interesting.

The following links I am not going to fully critique; they each approach the idea of thinspiration in a different manner, and are therefore equally academically interesting to me, particularly from a psychoanalytical view…

The first link is from ‘Portraitdunefemme”s blog:

http://portraitdunefemme.wordpress.com/2010/01/19/thinspiration/ the piece is simply entitled ‘thinspiration’ and is mainly pictures of models and celebrities – there’s some pretty extreme thinness towards the middle photos. Selected quote: “No, no. I am not anorexic. I just find their form of… inspiration to be… inspiring. Looking at photos of thin, beautiful women makes me want to exercise and watch what I eat.”

‘Coup de Gras’ seems to be a blog that has a focus on weightloss, as there is a ‘weight loss barometer’ at the side of the page.

Again, the post is simply entitled ‘thinspiration,’ however this one examines the word and attempts to give it some different meanings. Selected quote: “I like to use “thinspiration” as any quote that reminds me why I want to lose weight, live a better life, etc.” However, as the piece is about weight loss, I’m not sure the meaning of the word is altered. The link is here: http://coupdegras.wordpress.com/2010/05/19/thinspiration/

The third link is to “23 and somewhat nornal.”

This very short post links to an interesting youtube video about ‘Sacrifice’ – ie. sacrificing eating, to anorexia. http://drema101.wordpress.com/2008/08/03/thinspiration/ I found her revalation that although she ‘knows it’s wrong,’ just looking at thinner women makes her wonder whether she is overweight.

‘Anti-Thinspiration‘ is an educative blog that teaches women what thinspiration sites are, and their dangers. For anyone looking to research this academically, I believe there would be an interesting source of amateur work here – the message boards of this blog are thoughtful and informative too.

The post I am referencing is entitled ‘What is Thinspiration?’ and can be found here: http://antithinspo.wordpress.com/2009/09/25/what-is-thinspiration/ They also give information on ‘reverse thinspiration’ images, which show overweight people in a bid to show women and men the perils of overeating. This site does contain some rather gruesome (in my opinion) ‘thinspo’ images, however I am impressed by the large warning on their site: ” WARNING: The following post contains images which may be triggering to those suffering from or recovering from an eating disorder.”

Finally, please, if you don’t want to have to look at thinspiration skeletal images but do want to read a very impressive critique of fashion advertising and thinspirational sites, please visit the blog ‘This is Not a Diet,’ which is witty and intelligent.

The post I accessed is called ‘Grown Women have Curves’. Selected quote: “In the midst of the obesity epidemic we are facing, it is no wonder that we are obsessed with the opposite of obesity: emaciation.  We’ve lost sight of the line between a healthy, natural female shape and an obesity problem.  The more we obsess over Skinny, the fatter we become.” Find the full article, complete with some beautiful images, here: http://notsobigk.wordpress.com/2010/05/24/grown-women-have-curves/

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(Catherine Lucas, May 2006)

The Impact of Fashion Photography on Consumer Choices and Embodiment of Identity.

The manner in which we, as consumers, choose to dress, depends heavily on the psychological effects imposed upon us by images projected daily on us. These images may come in advertising, or photographic media, and even in film and music videos but generally none influence us so potently as images of fashion photography, which generate so many conflicting ideas of what it is socially acceptable to look like in terms of physical attributes, and which garments we should be wearing.

“Lakoff and Scherr… claim that fashion photographs generate enormous dissatisfaction among women because they create unrealistic expectations that most women are unable to meet.”[1]

The gangly, unblemished, fresh yet slightly androgynous form of Kate Moss[2] posing awkwardly in the Calvin Klein Obsession adverts is not an image easily forgotten by those who have seen it. The photographs are iconic, an emblem of the brand, incorporated into its heritage, and stands out as one to inspire a generation of waif-wannabes. Websites not only guarding against the dangers of anorexia nervosa, the condition in which people feel that they must starve themselves to lose weight, no matter how thin they become, but also websites promoting so-called ‘thinspiration’[3], in which those promoting anorexia and associated images as an ideal of beauty, use the image of Kate Moss in these adverts as either a deterrent or an incitement to desirable appearance. This is an extreme reaction to a fashion photograph and proves the incredible lasting impact (for good or bad) of some prominent or ‘iconic’ images.

 

According to Diana Crane (professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania) the goal of fashion “is to project images that are intended to attribute meanings to items of clothing.” Fashion photography serves to create an idealised ‘character’, a connection between the model and the clothing, which influences self-perception and social standing. For example, in the magazine advertisements for the ‘Dior Addict’[4] fragrance, the model’s image is distorted, and her pose purposely wanton and sweaty, glamorising the idea of a drug-induced ‘trip’. However, as Crane puts it, “fashion photographers have synchronised their themes and images with those that circulate in youth cultures and…the media…”[5] Fashion photographers have observed an already present, underlying glamorisation of drug culture in youth society and the general media, and have used it to their own advantage. By generating a high-impact advertisement that will be seen in all the key fashion and lifestyle magazines, the photograph is promoting not only the product, but also an elusive and (allegedly) exciting area of society. Those influenced by the advert might not only buy the fragrance, but also adopt elements of the clothing and lifestyle into their own identity.

Dior 'Addict' Magazine Advertising

It is not only advertising which may use fashion photography in influencing not only what we wear, but also out ideals of celebrity culture and social standing. Elizabeth Hurley became the centre of great media attention in 1994, when she accompanied Hugh Grant to the premiere of ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ wearing a stunning Versace evening gown secured at the sides with gold safety pins.[6] The image of this then largely unknown actress, and the stunning dress she was wearing, instantly dominated the media headlines. The images of this dress have achieved iconic status, a place in fashion history in their own right. Women craved the elegant yet sexually provocative styling affected by these photographs.

Elizabeth Hurley

Through the huge attention to the paparazzi shots of this ensemble, Hurley’s figure, trim yet curvaceous in the right areas, became the ‘perfect’ body, and one that women believed might actually be attainable, rather than that of Kate Moss. However, one commentator, the author of ‘Is being Thin really that Great?” says of Hurley:

“The patron saint of thin, Elizabeth Hurley, never seems to tire of offering titbits of advice on maintaining her Twiglet proportions. Last week, she ‘revealed’ she is always hungry, hardly eats a thing and will occasionally allow herself to pig right out on six raisins. It’s the ‘six’ that gives her away as a total obsessive.”[7]

According to a report in the Times,

The crazed system across the media that prizes celebrity thinness and leads “style icons” such as Liz Hurley to announce that if she looked as “fat” as Marilyn Monroe she would kill herself, needs to be thoroughly upended. Because Kate Moss is thin she is prized and paid millions to lead “campaigns” across the media, rather than identified as an ill- educated drug addict who managed to miss her only child’s third birthday because she was in a drying-out clinic.”[8]

Clearly, behind the woman [Hurley] idolised by many is just another woman driven by images of ‘perfection’ and fearing degradation in society –one of the severe and prominent dangers of the ‘celebrity culture’. Hurley’s ‘obsessive’ nature may be compared to those of other celebrities who are suffering from or have in the past suffered from publicly scrutinised eating disorders. Anorexic or bulimic celebrities such as Mary-Kate Olsen and Calista Flockheart have obviously had their diet inspiration influenced by fashion photography of models such as Kate Moss and Jodie Kidd[9] on the catwalk –they’re ‘all bones,’ and this is promoted! It is little wonder that these images show up on ‘thinspiration’ sites.

'Thinspiration' Sample Image

Jodie Kidd on the Catwalk

However, it is not only the state of our bodies that are influenced by fashion photography. More affluent consumers, and celebrities in particular, often try to remake the catwalk ensembles, as is particularly commented on in the pages of ‘Vogue’, announcing ‘it’s a look’[10] as stars and women of social standing hanker after the same ‘it’ bag, dress, shoes, etc. The success of the Birkin bag, Chloe Paddington bag and the Fendi Spy bag are prime examples of a ‘trend’ in action. After the bags were shown and photographed on the catwalk, they became the key ‘hot item’ for any serious follower of fashion, with huge waiting lists and even more extravagant price tags.

However, it is not solely the fashion photographer (although notable fashion photographers such as Mario Testino are revered for their talents, the pioneers of a whole fame status of their own) who is responsible for the fashion photography that influences us. Behind the fashion photograph may be photography sitting and art directors, stylists, make up artists, fashion designers, and of course the choice of model is also pivotal to the success of a fashion photograph. The choice of model lends a different effect to the whole photograph, as he or she must be completely compatible with the clothing and set choices. For example, though Kate Moss has achieved global recognition and superior model status, in some cases she would not be as suited to a shot as Lily Cole.[11] For this reason, it is fruitless for a ‘normal’ woman to attempt to completely emulate a look she has seen on the catwalk or in fashion photography: the look will never be quite right, never exactly the same, and if she does not accept this, her paranoia could lead of obsession, examples of which we have already discussed.

Lily Cole in a magazine spread

Kate Moss is a clear example of a model and style icon whose fashion choices clearly influence those who see her photos in terms of how to dress and in some sense, to behave. In a survey carried out by a social experiments researcher, journalist Kate Finnigan said, “You can’t deny that Kate Moss never gets it wrong and Sienna Miller is working it. They have that cheeky, just-picked-this-up-off-the-floor style that so many ordinary British girls have – except they’ve got more money.”[12] Photographed constantly wearing a lot of clothing from high street giant TopShop, Moss’ photographs, whether paparazzi shots or choreographed, have influenced thousands of British women and also tourists into shopping there, also paving the way for the high street phenomenon –suddenly it has become the height of ‘cool’ to mix extremely cheap, throwaway fashions with occasional designer pieces. In the afore-mentioned survey, Finnigan listed TopShop as one of her most frequent stores to buy in, showing a direct correlation between her admiration for Moss’ style and her own buying habits.

 (Note: this piece was originally written before Kate Moss’  Topshop line was launched.)

Throwaway fashion directly influenced by the fast-moving catwalk trends and fashion photography seen in magazines such as Vogue, Tatler, Glamour, etc, has had a huge cultural impact –A vest from Primark, at £2, can now be teamed with the coveted Fendi Spy bay, and the bargain will be flaunted just as much as the luxury purchase, according to ‘steal her style’ articles and the influence of photographs showing supermodels and celebrities doing the same thing. 

Shoppers have become much more savvy, claims Top Shop brand director Jane Shepherdson: “They want to be able to buy the things celebrities are wearing or they want to be able to buy into the trends that they’ve seen from the catwalk as quickly as possible.”

Top Shop’s move towards fast fashion increased sales by 20% last year.”[13]

Looking back on the history of fashion, and its promotion through photographs of ‘the right’ model, Twiggy[14] (born Leslie Hornsby) may be seen as a notable, earlier example.

 

She was named “The Face of ’66” by the Daily Express. In the mid 60’s at 16 years of age, Twiggy became internationally known as the world’s first supermodel, her photographic modelling success epitomising the age.”[15]

The first official ‘superwaif’ supermodel, she not only influenced a whole new wave of ‘skinny’ fashion, but the iconic fashion photography images of her, also promoted the miniskirt, babydoll dress[16], and 60s mod look, now all firm staples of the ever re-emerging Sixties’ fashion trends. 

“Twiggy was the personification of “Swinging” London (or Mod London, if you prefer); she adorned the cover of virtually every magazine except Field and Stream, and was on hand for all the “in” parties and public events always decked out in the trendiest frocks. A 1967 TV special revealed this supermodel to be a giggly, somewhat airheaded cockney kid, but this “everygirl” quality only enhanced her charm.”[17]

There is no doubt that Twiggy ‘changed the face of fashion’ –even almost fifty years on, she remains an icon of British fashion and the Sixties’ image- one whose photographs still serve as an inspiration of style for women today.

'Twiggy' in the 1960s

The Sixties mod look became a collective identity between the consumers who pursued this trend. Hundreds of women began shopping at Mary Quant[18] and the Biba Emporium[19] based on the looks promoted by Twiggy and the related fashion photography. The success of the miniskirt in particular stands testament to the longevity of these trends and the fashion photographs that inspired them. In 1993, Lutz and Collins acknowledged, “…a magazine photograph is ‘a dynamic site at which many gazes or viewpoints intersect’…”[20] Therefore, consumers many draw on parts of a fashion photograph as inspiration towards what they see as their own individual look and identity. The women who followed the Sixties’ mod look may have done so after looking at photographs of Twiggy in a miniskirt, but at the same time have felt that they were inventing their own personal look, in keeping vaguely with the current trend but not duplicating it directly.

In answering a questionnaire on the subject of the influence of fashion photography on our collective and individual styles,

“Some women suggested that fashion photographs should be viewed as a form of art and fantasy rather than as representations of fashion: “It’s like a dream, because you know that 90 percent, probably 98 percent of the clothes are unattainable.”

However, one woman admitted she was susceptible to trends: “I think if you’re flipping through a magazine and you continually see the same type of outfit on different pages, you might, I might try to alter what I’m wearing. Because you see it’s like a new trend.””[21]

This research shows that although many women realise they may never duplicate the looks they admire in fashion photography, they may still aspire to do so. In other cases, they may be influenced ‘unconsciously’, and might “be inclined to wear a particular combination of clothing, without remembering the source of the idea.”

We may conclude from all this, that fashion photography holds an enormous influence over what ‘we’ (as consumers) wear on a day-to-day basis, whether we make a conscious effort to do so or not. The majority of us probably perceive ourselves as individual dressers, even as pioneers of style in our own social groups, rather than admitting to following a collective identity. The psychological impact of constant media throwing fashion, celebrities, trends and the ever obscure pursuit of ‘cool’ as us every day, may affect our choices far more than we are willing to admit. Yes, perhaps it is ‘obsessive’ that Elizabeth Hurley sees six raisins as a gross battering to her ideal diet, but can any of us honestly say that we have never looked at a picture of her and wished we could take the clothing or even a body part and swap it with our own?

Ultimately, what is truthfully going through out minds is probably this, a quote from a white undergraduate interviewed over the impact of fashion photography, spoken in a sudden burst of honesty:

“I know I’ll never, never be able to look like her, and it really pisses me off.” [22]


[1] “Fashion and it’s Social Agendas” –Diana Crane, 2000. p 205.

[5] “Fashion and it’s Social Agendas” –Diana Crane, 2000. pp 202-203.

[7] http://www.diet-blog.com/archives/2005/01/30/is_being_thin_really_that_great.php

[8] http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2092-2124939,00.html

[12] http://www.antiapathy.org/socialexperiments/index.php?i=32

[13] http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/3086669.stm

[15] http://www.twiggylawson.co.uk/biography.html

[17] http://movies2.nytimes.com/gst/movies/filmography.html?p_id=72246&mod=bio

[18] See picture reference: http://www.maryquant.co.uk/imgs/page/shops/par_shop.jpg

[20] “Fashion and its Social Agendas’, Diana Crane 2000. pp 209-210.

[21] “Fashion and its Social Agendas.” Diana Crane, 2000. p 214

[22] “Fashion and its Social Agendas.” Diana Crane, 2000. p 215

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(Catherine Lucas, 2006)

Using the Psychoanalytical Notion of the ‘Male Gaze’ to Analyse Visual Examples from Film, Photography and Advertising:

Challenging whether this concept is still relevant to an understanding of our cultural production.

The feminist film theorist Laura Mulvey coined the concept of the ‘male gaze’ in 1975.

“ Mulvey distinguishes between two modes of looking for the film spectator: voyeuristic and fetishistic, which she presents in Freudian terms as responses to male ‘castration anxiety’. Voyeuristic looking involves a controlling gaze and Mulvey argues that this has has associations with sadism: ‘pleasure lies in ascertaining guilt – asserting control and subjecting the guilty person through punishment or forgiveness’ (Mulvey 1992, 29).”[1]

In considering concepts of pleasure, Mulvey ascertained two types of scopophilia, which is defined as a joy of ‘looking’. The first of which is ‘voyeuristic scopophilia’ –the pleasure one gets from looking at others, which is highlighted in modern culture by the cinema, as we “in the darkness of the cinema auditorium … may look without being seen either by those on screen by other members of the audience. Mulvey argues that various features of cinema viewing conditions facilitate for the viewer … the voyeuristic process.”[2]

One may also identify with the voyeuristic gaze of the camera, which may intrude on habitually ‘private’ moments –for example, Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 film “The Rear Window” contains intrusive shots into the windows of the protagonist’s neighbours so that the viewer may see what he is looking at out of his window –as he spies on the intimate moments of his fellow man, the audience may do the same by adopting the camera’s ‘gaze’ as their own, and so become secondary voyeurs. Mulvey argues that in most cases, the gaze one is adopting is intended as ‘male’ because it may portray women as objects. For example, “The Rear Window” focuses on woman as an image of desire, and the male protagonist as bearer of the gaze –the woman actively displays herself by exhibiting herself and her dress to the man.

This concept of voyeurism is still highly relevant when examining modern popular culture. Feminist writer Ariel Levy refers to the popular American ‘men’s’ TV show “Girls Gone Wild” as an example of a program specifically catering to the male gaze, yet also as an arguable example of what some women may view as an expression of female sexual liberation. Her in-depth investigation into the female exhibitionists who choose to partake in the show, which films ‘ordinary’ women in various states of undress and sometimes in scenes with other women, brought up this quote from “Girls Gone Wild” regular, Debbie Cope: “…yeah Girls Gone Wild is for guys to get off on, but…it’s fun!”[3] This quote clearly signifies an awareness of the male gaze, but also as an alternative to habitual feminist views against the use of the male gaze and suppression of a ‘female gaze’ in popular culture, a certain desire of some women to exhibit themselves for this very purpose –a trait explained by Mulvey’s theory of ‘narcissistic scopophila’[4] and exhibitionism, which will be explored in more depth as the essay progresses.

Many feminists argue, “…media images of women are always directed at men.”[5] However, this argument, once fuelled mainly by images from the pages of “Playboy” [Fig 1], seen by some as degrading to women, may now in our increasingly liberal culture even be traced into ‘prime time’ advertising, with the concept of voyeuristic scopophilia particularly apparent in the portrayal of some scenes, such as that which I shall now relate:

 

 Modern advertising is controlled in the United Kingdom by the Advertising Standards Agency, which ensure that what is shown on our television screens is politically correct and inoffensive. However, there is still strong evidence of the male gaze. Take, for example, the ‘Fashion versus Style’ advertising campaign[6] launched by French Connection UK. The basic plot of the advert was a fight between two girls [Fig 2a] clad in FCUK’s latest clothing line. However, as a twist towards the end of the advert, one of the girls pushes the other against a wall and kisses her [Fig 2b/2c]. This advert characterises a clear influence of the male gaze, from the point of view of women being exhibited and objectified as lesbians for a male fantasy ideal. On the other hand, feminists could argue that there is a pro-lesbian message behind the plot, and that this advert was shown on national television, approved by advertising standards, and signifies the furthering of public acceptance of exploration of female sexuality. That said, it was not an advert too widely enjoyed by heterosexual women, although the sensationalism of the advert certainly worked in the brand’s favour.

The FCUK advert is only one of many examples of the male gaze through voyeuristic scopophilia, though it may be seen as an extreme. The scene witnessed in the advertisement is shot in a ‘private’ setting, with no other characters; the audience’s gaze becomes a ‘fly-on-the-wall’ to their emotions, culminating in the kiss, which in itself is categorised as an intimate and therefore private act.  “As Jonathan Schroeder notes, ‘Film has been called an instrument of the male gaze, producing representations of women, the good life, and sexual fantasy from a male point of view’ (Schroeder 1998, 208).”[7] The FCUK advert could definitely be categorised as a portrayal of male sexual fantasy, although ultimately the advert is supposedly aimed at women who would buy the clothing collection.

However, the lesbian element of the advert cannot be ignored, and brings us into the idea of the ‘homosexual gaze.’

“A useful account of ‘queer viewing’ is given by Caroline Evans and Lorraine Gamman (1995). Neale argues that ‘in a heterosexual and patriarchal society the male body cannot be marked explictly as the erotic object of another male look: that look must be motivated, its erotic component repressed’ (Neale 1992, 281). Both Neale and Richard Dyer (1982) also challenged the idea that the male is never sexually objectified in mainstream cinema and argued that the male is not always the looker in control of the gaze. It is widely noted that since the 1980s there has been an increasing display and sexualisation of the male body in mainstream cinema and television and in advertising (Moore 1987, Evans & Gamman 1995, Mort 1996, Edwards 1997).”[8]

The homosexual gaze has been addressed more intensively as gay culture has made its way further into the mainstream. As can be ascertained from the FCUK advert, lesbianism, for example, is now an accepted idea which can be shown nationally and during peak viewing hours rather than ‘post-watershed’.

“The emergence on the gay scene of rockabillies coincided with a general interest in the 1950s. Interest in James Dean and Marlon Brando as icons grew, and advertising nodded a nostalgic head towards the fifties, with adverts such as the Launderette [Fig 3a] and Bath advertisements for Levi’s jeans.”[9] These adverts were part of campaigns in 1985, showing a clear admission of the homosexual gaze. However, the televised version of the ‘Laundrette’ advert showed women as the active viewers in the scene [Fig 3b], not exclusively homosexual men, suggesting less acceptability of such areas of human sexuality than is apparent in more straightforwardly subversive adverts of today, such as the previously explored FCUK advert.

 

However, “with the increasing visibility of gay men in British Society it was almost inevitable that gay images would appear in the press…new style magazines…were published in the 1980s… Aware of their gay readerships, I-D and Blitz along with Face featured articles, features and photographs that would appeal to this market…an explicitly homoerotic style developed, consciously or unconsciously aimed at and appealing to a gay audience…inviting heterosexual men to view gay-inspired images and to question the assumptions of the male gaze.”[10]

Mulvey’s original theory of The Gaze is centred on that of an active male and passive female; the heterosexual male is always the one who is looking at or objectifying the passive female, who exists to be looked at for pleasure, in a position of submissiveness. One may argue from a position of hindsight that Mulvey expresses some proof of naivety by neglecting to address the existence of the homosexual gaze, and even of the heterosexual female gaze. Similarly as one may argue that sexually provocative images of men, for example, are an appeal to the female gaze, they may also stimulate the homosexual male gaze, and equally as one may argue that the images of sexually precocious women in “Playboy” are aimed at the heterosexual male gaze, they may also be seen as examples of female sexual liberation, and also as attractive to the lesbian gaze.

Conversely, it would be irresponsible to the debate not to assert that images portrayed in media and popular culture do not have to appeal to any aspect of gaze on a solely sexual plane –images of women in clothing advertisements that grace the pages of Vogue, for example, are in fact targeted at a heterosexual majority of women. They are not encouraged to buy the clothing advertised on attraction to the model, but because of a desire to be the woman in the advertisement. This brings us into another area of scopophilia: ‘narcissistic scopophilia’. This is defined as seeing other people, people you feel an admiration for, as a surrogate for yourself. For example, one may identify with a character in a film, and seek to project their own self onto this character, or vice versa –they may wish to empathise with the character on screen. Freud identified an early idea of this in his exploration of the ego and the id –“when the ego assumes the features of the object, it is forcing itself, so to speak, upon the id as a love-object and is trying to make good the id’s loss by saying: ‘Look, you can love me too –I am so like the object.’”[11] Narcissism is no new idea as is the concept of ‘self gaze’, the action of looking at and actively objectifying oneself. It is an idea given greater credence through art and mythology to signify actual human ideas. Benvenuto Cellini’s Narcissus [Fig 5] “remains transfixed by his image in the pool, neither eating nor drinking, ‘perque oculos perit ipse suos,’ consumed by his own eyes.”[12]

 

There is a tension between ‘voyeuristic scopophilia’ and ‘narcissistic scopophilia’, between the pleasure from narcissistically imagining ourselves as the object of the gaze, and the sense of power wrought from being the director of that gaze.

“Popular culture for women has conventionally been concerned with representations of women (the female protagonist of romance fiction, the cover girl on women’s magazines). In this respect it is both like and unlike popular culture for men: men are invited to look at women (e.g. in ‘girlie’ mags), and so are women (e.g. in women’s mags); but obviously these invitations to look are different, and we may assume that the resulting experiences of looking are also different.”[13]

However, one has to wonder how the gaze should be dealt with when it comes to ideas of androgyny. How can one apply the theory of the gaze if they are uncertain of which sex they are looking at? The 1992 film “Orlando”, directed by Sally Potter, has a protagonist played by Tilda Swinton who evades death by living one life as a woman, then again as a man, and so on alternatively. It is a complicated idea because it displaces the gaze between gender and sexual preference, resulting in unease for the audience. As a man, the character is portrayed in a very feminine manner, which disrupts the stereotypical perceptions of Gender. Orlando also has the role of simultaneously being the protagonist, and the object of the gaze, which brings confusion not only to the viewing audience, but also for the minor characters.

Another example of androgyny misplacing the gaze may be witnessed in the 1999 film “Boys Don’t Cry,” with Hilary Swank portraying a girl who attempts to pass herself off as a boy in order to escape her own sexuality. [Fig 4] Swank makes a very convincing boy, in so much as one could be mistaken for thinking she actually was a boy if one had completely no inkling of that film before viewing. The character’s ambiguous gender and sexuality is psychologically unsettling because of the indecisive nature of the gaze –who should be attracted to this character?  The confusion of this in itself stands testament to the fact that the gaze is still an integral part of the way we relate to film.

 

“The question of whether a female gaze exists in contrast to the male one arises naturally in considering the male gaze. Mulvey, the originator of the phrase “male gaze”, argues that “the male figure cannot bear the burden of sexual objectification. Man is reluctant to gaze…”.” Mulvey’s reluctance to explore the idea of a female gaze could be construed as a fear of subversity and sensationalism. At the time of writing she could have been on the receiving end of some anti-feminist criticism if too much assertion was placed on women in the active position of looking, and men taking a passive role.

“In 1978 Margaret Walters argued that women were still estranged from their own visual pleasure: ‘But even today, a woman is expected to take a narcissistic pleasure in fullfilling male fantasies rather than in exploring and acting out her own. There is still a rigid distinction between the sex that looks and the sex that is looked at. The dichotomy is bound to breed perversion in both sexes, in the man voyeurism, hostility and envy, and in the woman masochism, exhibitionism and hypocrisy. Both men and women are deprived and impoverished.”[14]

This view was suggested only three years after Laura Mulvey first published her concept of the male gaze. However, some feminists argue that although the concept of the male gaze is still dominant in popular culture, such as the rise of ‘lads’ mags’ and the further accessibility of pornography through the internet, the women who choose to exhibit themselves to men in this manner are choosing to do so of their own free will, which is in itself a feminist expression of sexual liberation.

The concept of the male gaze is clearly still relevant to one’s understanding of our cultural production, yet it can be used as a tool for the exploration of other gazes and the psychological exploration of the strands of scopophilia, which dictate the way we view others and ourselves. In fact it could be argued that these concepts are all the more relevant as our society progresses in the acceptance of gender equality and the exploration of human sexuality.

(Please note this is the work of Catherine Lucas and may not be reproduced although citations are welcomed)


[1] http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Documents/gaze/gaze09.html

[2] http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Documents/gaze/gaze09.html

[3] “Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture”, Ariel Levy, p 10. Pocket Books Current Affairs 2005.

[4] Concepts of scopophilia formed in the essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” Laura Mulvey 1975.

[5] “Fashion and its Social Agendas: Class, Gender, and Identity in Clothing”, Diana Crane p205. The University of Chicago Press, 2000.

[6] The video of this advert can be found at http://www.fcuk.com/campaign_06ss_video_film.html

[7] “Notes on ‘The Gaze’”, Daniel Chandler. http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Documents/gaze/gaze09.html

[8] http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Documents/gaze/gaze09.html

[9] “Don We Now Our Gay Apparel: Gay Men’s Dress in the Twentieth Century”, Shaun Cole p171. Oxford New York, 2000.

[10] “Don We Now Our Gay Apparel” p177.

[11] “The Ego and the Id,” Sigmund Freud, p24. W. W. Norton, 1960.

[12] “The Boy,” Germaine Greer, p 29. Thames and Hudson, 2003.

[13] “The Female Gaze,” edited by Lorraine Gamman and Margaret Marshment, p 4. The Real Comet Press, 1989.

[14] “The Boy,” Germaine Greer, p 226. Thames and Hudson, 2003.

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Teddy Girls & Boys is another Rockabilly-themed post, this time based in London and with an excellent analytical look at some brilliant black and white photographs from the late 1950s. It also has it’s own recommended links to another related article.

Selected quote:

“Teddy girls carried closed umbrellas and flat clutches, wore velvet blazers, knotted scarves, rolled trousers, high-necked blouses, cameo brooches, mannish waistcoats, flat shoes and coolie hats. Their outfits were statements of identity and independence and rebellion against the proper, feminine attire of the 50’s homemaker.” – undisclosed locations, April 19, 2010

Find it here:

http://chereefranco.wordpress.com/2010/04/19/teddy-girls-boys/

It was a pleasure to discover!

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