Monday, December 13, 2010

Gender Representations- Exploited for Capital Gain

Cultural constructions are largely shaped by the social expectations that are deemed to be accepted by society. According to Althusser’s, ideology is a system of representations which is conceived as a practice that is lived and transforms the material world (Barker, 65). Our practices, believes, and values are the building blocks of the ideological structure that we shape our lives around; they consist of our interpersonal actions, community associations, gender roles, age appropriations, consumption habits, …the list goes on. In our consumer driven capitalistic society, it is essential to consider how the culture industry has influenced aspects of our cultural construction.
“In media studies the concept of hegemony is useful in showing how, through images and text, this consent to dominant ideological position is won. For example, the position of women in western society is generally subordinate. This subordination is, in part, created through the representation of gender, in which men are seen to be powerful and dynamic, and women are weak and passive… the predominance of such patriarchal representations are a powerful socializing agent” (Lacey, 313).
In particular, the media works to enhance gender representations as a way to increase consumption; this is achieved through the disciplinary functions of normalizing to what society deems as acceptable. In the politics of gender representations, the media notoriously subjects females to its rules by constructing a certain kind of ‘ideal’, for all women to aspire towards. For example, Winship regards advertising as a means to: “…sell us, as women, not just commodities but also our personal relationships in which we are feminine: how we are/ should be/ can be a certain feminine woman, whose attributes in relation to men and the family derive from the use of these commodities. … A woman is nothing more than the commodities she wears: the lipstick, the tights, the clothes and so on are ‘woman’” (Barker, 310). The Media’s representations of women work to enhance female insecurities as a way to encourage consumption. The focus of this discussion will be how Cosmopolitan, a popular woman’s magazines, exploits representations of beauty, physique, sexuality as a socializing agent to increase consumer demand as women strive to achieves such ideal standards.

Aesthetic beauty is undoubtedly a high propriety component in the representations of women. Our visual society has put more pressure on women to conform their appearance to fit into the ideal standards of beauty. Female appearance constitutes as a main focal point as a project for self ‘improvement’. In reference to Featherstone, “Identity projects and the aestheticization of daily life are linked together within consumer culture through the creation of lifestyles centred on the consumption of aesthetic objects and signs” (Barker, 203). The content of Cosmopolitan emphasizes the need for women to be aesthetically pleasing by offering an abundance of how to articles to be more beautiful. Women are given advice on related to hair, fashion, and make-up in order to be sexy and attractive. This advice is often attached essential commodities to achieve such standards. Cosmopolitan is overloaded with images of women that represent ideal standards of beauty, which serve to reemphasis the gap between them and the ideal model type figure of woman. These representations of beauty increase real women’s feels of dissatisfaction and desire for advertized commodities to make them feel better about their appearance. According to Currie, author of Girl Talk: Adolescent Magazines and Their Readers:
“Even readers who criticized the beauty standard perpetuated by commercial representations of women provided an extensive inventory of physical characteristics that are a source of personal dissatisfaction… conflict often surrounded a conscious acknowledgement that, while cultural representations are a source of anxiety for many girls, readers themselves accept these images as valid messages about femininity” (277-78).

The female physique is yet another area subject to scrutinizing standards. These standards dictate how a woman’s body should be in order to be considered ‘sexy’. The female body commonly degraded to the representation of a sex symbol, obliging the objectification of women. The media demonstrates an ideal figure of women as very slim and lean bodies with large breasts. “…We are surrounded by homogenizing and normalizing images – images whose content is far from arbitrary, but instead suffused with the dominance of gendered, racial, class, and other cultural iconography” (Bordo, 1101). Reaffirmed by magazine imagery, nearly every single image of women presented in Cosmopolitan posses an ideal slender physique. “Among the more powerful and influential representations of women within western culture is that of the ‘slender body’. This discourse has become a disciplinary cultural norm” (Bordo, 1993). Cosmo offers their women audience articles for weight loss, exercise tips to achieve a sexier figure, and fashion advice the makes you look slimmer or increase your cleavage. Feminizing commodities, such as push-up bras and high heels, sever to emphasis the ideal features of a woman to make her feel ‘sexy’. These attention headlines are put on the cover, like “Flatten your belly”, along with the alluring picture of a Victoria Secret model. Women are constantly consuming this information and junk articles in the attempts of obtaining satisfaction with their own body. Beyond the world of popular magazines, the obsession to conform to these standards is evident in the increase consumption of diet pills, weight loss plans, and occurrence of eating disorders among women. “Slenderness is contemporary ideal for female attractiveness so that girls and women are culturally more prone to eating disorders than are men” (Barker, 310).

In addition to the visual ideals bestowed to women, there behaviors that are considered to be ideal in terms of conduct. In popular culture mediums, women’s subordination to men is still a prevalent trait in gender representations. These patriarchal representations play into the ideology behind female gender roles in society. From the works of Simone de Beauvoir: “Thus humanity is male and man defines woman not in herself but as relative to him;… she appears essentially to the male as a sexual being. For him she is sex. She is defined and differentiated with reference to man and not he with reference to her…He is the Subject, he is the Absolute – she is the Other.” Even in our modern society, it is still evident how are women are relative to men. Through the media, women are represented as mere sexual symbols which serve as a demeaning and degrading stature from a being to an object. For instance, in the movie Ten, Bo Derek was degraded to a sexual object that served a purpose only to be desired. Her character as a human being carried very little significance, her value was neither in her personality nor her charisma, her value was in her sexual appeal and desirability. Many women internalize the objectification, and rather than opposing it they play into it as a form of empowerment. Yet, in reality this empowerment that comes from the attention is only feeding back into the same system of male dominance. Cosmopolitan’s selling forte lies in their sexuality content; it’s what distinguishes it from other popular women’s magazines. The magazine capitalizes on women’s aspirations to be desired by men by selling sex advice, insight to male preferences, and secrets to obtaining the ‘one’. The tone of these messages present women with ‘how to’ on how to achieve pleasing male desires. This medium encourages women to embrace their sexuality, yet at the same time identifies with subordinate tendencies by focusing explicitly on male satisfaction.

The politics of gender representations are used by the media to promote consumption, by offer the audience a means to their aspirations to cultural norms. The cultural industry reaffirms patriarchal gender representations by promoting ideal imagery that assists culturally normative ideals. Popular media, such as women’s magazines presents ideal representations of women that encourage their need for improvement by creating tendencies of dissatisfaction. Therefore, magazines exploit these icons of beauty, physique, and sexuality to promote and sell commodities that will supposedly aid females in achieving such goals.

Work Cited

Barker, Chris. Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice. London: Sage, 2008. Print '

de Beauvoir, Simone. The Second Sex, Woman as Other.1949. Print.
Bordo,Susan. "Material Girl: The Effacements of Postmodern Culture." Michigan Quarterly Review (Fall/Winter 1990).

Currie, Dawn. “Girl Talk: Adolescent Magazines and Their Readers”. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999.

Lacey, Nick. “Image and Representation: Key Concepts in Media Studies”. New York: Palgrave, 1998. Print.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Myspace Group Participation

I set up all the group meetings and sent out reminders for the meetings to all the group members. For the first group meeting, I sent out some general starter questions to encourage everyone to come up with ideas about what issues/ideas they wanted to bring to the presentation. During our first meeting, we had gravitated to the idea of doing a survey of some sort... but we were still indecisive. I thought of the idea to have a class game (family feud style) to get the class involved, instead of the usual open discussion. Then I figured we could incorporate the survey idea and the game as a way to get the class involved in our presentation. I asked the other members for their opinions; they liked the idea of doing a game. Then I outlined the format of our presentation to consist of four topics. Within each topic, we would have a main concept that related Myspace/social networks to the concepts we have been addressing in class, give reference to the text, then have a game question to wrap up each discussion topic. I came up with the relation to social networks, textual reference, and game question for the discussion topics of social interaction, postmodern culture, and consumption. I made the survey and emailed it to the other team members so they could have at least 20 of their peers complete it, and I had our class mates do the survey one class meeting prior to our presentation.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Seinfeld's use of Language

The main concept I drew from the Seinfeld text was the use of language. Seinfeld uses language as its primary tool, given its settings and visual appeal are rather dull. The entertainment aspect rest on the characters use of language, for the most part. In once clip that was show in the presentation, Elaine was talking about her sexual experience using an analogy of baseball. She uses the term “other team”… although it was never directly stated, it is clear from our contextual understanding of this it is referencing someone who is gay. Elaine’s analogy is an example of a language-game. The word meaning is relational to the context. Language is used in this manner for a purpose. In Seinfeld’s case, like many other movies and shows, language is carefully constructed around delicate subjects in mass media. Therefore, language can serve this purpose to either mock, criticize, and address, etc. topics that would not normally be discussed using plain language because of the sensitivity factor.

American Psycho

American Psycho is a perfect mockery of our material driven lives. Taken to the extreme, it exemplifies the tendencies of using commodities that carry socioeconomic status to be differentiated. Connecting these ideas to our theories, as a postmodern position Baudrillard has argued that commodities confer prestige and signify social values, status and power in the context of cultural meanings that derive from the wider ‘social order’… These signs are embedded in the growth of commodity culture, niche marketing and the creation of ‘lifestyles’ (Barker 152). In the movie showed how commodities are used as signs to establish status and even identity.
It also exemplifies how shallow our ideology is. Patrick Bateman has an obsession with appearance. He admits to being empty, there is no Patrick Bateman. Yet, he still has an aesthetic self consciousness and need desire for high social stature.

Knocked Up

Considering the Radical romance theme, I would say Knocked up is somewhat in between the lines of traditional and radical for a couple of reasons. As far as the plot of the movie, it follows the narrative pattern of the romantic comedy sequence: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy regains girl. Yet, the circumstances in which this plot took place provided some different aspects. For example, it was almost as though these two were not meant for each other, yet they were just stuck together… I suppose this was the comedy aspect. Typically, it seems like romantic comedies have characters that are in some way meant for each other (not a perfect relationship of course), more so than being stuck together because of a baby.

The movie did touch of a several different topics, some of which it could be argued that the film seems to take a position on by how they portrayed the topic… Examples:
Abortion – ambiguity in their language, failing to even say the word show awareness to the subject’s sensitivity. It was hardly a debated decision by Katherine Heigl’s character. The opinions which supported the idea of an abortion had a negative bias (from the characters who gave the suggestion).
Single parent pregnancy – By telling the children that they have to be in love in order to have a baby, by the sister saying we have to help her (as if she could not do it on her own), and by the mom suggesting there was a right way to have a baby, by the couple ending up together in the end… all signs of a position against single parent pregnancies
Economic status- showed different views and lifestyles of classes… particularly on where their values stood in regards to work ethics, societal concerns, and to some degree family planning.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Sexual Revolution

The discourse of sexuality has evolved with changing times, and therefore governed social relationships accordingly. This discourse of sexuality has changed dramatically from once being strictly confined to marriage and having various monitoring agents that acted to control the conduct of individuals. There have been numerous factors that lead to the change we now know as the normal discourse of sexuality. Socioeconomic changes, politics, explorations in knowledge/technology, and media/entertainment are some of the aspects that contributed to the sexual revolution. For example, women became more politically involved and increasingly active in the work force. Therefore, women were less reliant on men then in previous times. These were major stepping stones to women’s right to equality. In addition, other advancements of knowledge, such as the development of ‘the pill’ enabled women to have more control over their future by being able to prevent unplanned pregnancies. Other political aspects, such as the strong oppositions to governmental policies and foreign affairs contributed to the wide spread rebellion and aversion of authority, particularly by the generation’s youth. Traditional institutions of authority were challenged heavily during this time. Consequently, the revolution of sexuality was a product of many changes in American society in the nineteenth century. One proof of this change is shown in how media works endured a great relaxation of censorship. Even in the past 10 years, the discourse of sexuality shows evidence of continual evolution in this respect.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Media’s Influence on the Femininity Paradigm

It is evident that femininity paradigms are cultural products. Throughout history, western cultural has characterized feminine women as overly emotional, weak, submissive, inadequate, and inferior; essentially traits contrary to that of a man. Although contemporary cultural has made progress in shifting this paradigm, there are still flaws in the way our cultural views femininity. Butler, philosopher and feminist thinker, claims ‘sex’ is an ideal construct which is forcibly materialized by regulatory norms over time, such materialization is achieved through a powerful reiteration of those norms (Butler, 1993). While some characterizations of femininity have faded with progression, such as inadequacy, others seem to be protruding more and more in our modern age. Specifically, the sexual appeal of women has an overbearing influence on our conceptions of femininity in western culture. This idea is reflected in how media representations of women predominantly portray sexual appeal as a defining element of femininity. To say further, media influences the femininity paradigm through defining what is beautiful, instigating what is desirable, and constructs a discipline.

An illustrated example of this idea is shown is the film Miss Congeniality (2002). Gracie Hart, played by Sandra Bullock, is initially represented as rugged, tough, and severely uninterested in her appearance. The female FBI agent was considered to be one of the guys, which was reaffirmed through her participation in a wrestling match with her male FBI partner (and winning), the furthest thing from what we consider to be feminine. Gracie Hart then is forced to get all dolled up for her undercover assignment. After her make-over she is all of a sudden attractive and sexually appealing, and needless to say grabs the attention of her FBI partner Eric Matthews. Yet, this romance was merely due to her new sexual appeal that transformed her into a more feminine woman. The film took Gracie’s same body, the same face, the same hair, the same personality which were initially undesirable to Eric and altered her appearance to fit into what is deemed beautiful. Miss Congeniality strongly correlates physical beauty with the concept of femininity.

Desirability in women has been explicitly instigated by media representations. These attributes are governed by what heterosexual males find to be attractive, which provide visual differentiating from masculinity, in particular a sexual appeal. In order to be desired as a woman, there are certain standards set by ideological imagery. Beyond the possession of beauty, media femininity also puts reliance on attributes of desirability. An enhancement of feminine features often incorporates certain commodities that assist women in presenting themselves as more sexually desirable; such commodities include make-up to enhance facial features, push-up bras to enhance bust size, spanks to define a slimmer figure, high heels to enhance long legs. Again, drawing from Miss Congeniality, it was not until Eric Matthews saw Gracie in high heels, a tight red dress, push up bra, and make-up that he saw her for anything more than just one of the guys. Therefore, by partaking is such behavior a Gracie was looked at as feminine, yet the basis is mainly centered on this idea of sexual appeal.

Through media’s depiction of beauty and desirability, women are conditioned to view these ideal standards as normal. Going back to Butler's claims,‘sex’ is not a simple fact or static condition of a body, but a process whereby regulatory norms materialize it (Barker 298). Many women contribute extensive efforts into their appearance in order to achieved satisfaction towards this goal of normalization. Therefore, women are then disciplined by the standards of cultural media. Elaborated on this idea, Susan Bordo, author of Material Girl suggests that this disciplinary reality is effaced in the construction of all self-transformations as equally arbitrary, all variants of the same trivial game, without differing culture valence. The general tyranny of fashion – perpetual, elusive, and instructing the female body in a pedagogy of personal inadequacy and lack – is a powerful discipline for the normalization of all women in this culture. The femininity paradigm is largely influenced by this discipline.

There are apparent differences between how the media portrays femininity and realistic cultural views. Yet, it is quite apparent that media’s tendencies have created somewhat of a disciplinary function as to how women portray themselves has feminine. The element of sexual appeal has been predominantly been used in media works more so than traditional characteristics associated with femininity.

Work Cited

Barker, Chris. Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice. London: Sage, 2008. Print

Butler, Judith. Bodies that Matter. London and New York: Routledge, 1993. Print

Bordo,Susan. "Material Girl: The Effacements of Postmodern Culture." Michigan Quarterly Review (Fall/Winter 1990).

Miss Congeniality. Dir. Donald Petrie. 2000. Film