Critical Media Analysis Due Next Week
Leading Class Discussion
Alli is going to start us off on Butler, so let’s have her come up.
Some Definitions for Butler’s Reading
- Phenomenon: A thing which appears, or which is perceived or observed; a particular (kind of) fact, occurrence, or change as perceived through the senses or known intellectually; esp. a fact or occurrence, the cause or explanation of which is in question.
- Phenomenology: a. Philos. The metaphysical study or theory of phenomena in general (as distinct from that of being).
b. gen. The division of any science which is concerned with the description and classification of its phenomena, rather than causal or theoretical explanation.
- Illocution: An act such as ordering, warning, undertaking, performed in saying something.
- Epiphenomena: a. Something that appears in addition; a secondary symptom. Also transf.
b. spec. in Psychol. Applied to consciousness regarded as a by-product of the material activities of the brain and nerve-system.
- Episteme: Scientific knowledge, a system of understanding; spec. Foucault’s term for the body of ideas which shape the perception of knowledge at a particular period.
Quotations to Ponder from Butler
Remember, our conversations aren’t done to find the last word. Discussions of gender and media happened before this class and will happen long after this class. We’re really just trying to get a handle on our moment in time (think “episteme” from above). One could immediately come out swinging and claim Butler is misguided and obtuse, but the better approach is to try to understand why she concludes the way she does. This is a tough read, so let’s focus on some key places in the text:
- Thesis…perhaps…p. 521: “the acts by which gender is constituted bear similarities to performative acts within theatrical contexts”
- p. 519: “gender…is an identity constituted in time–an identity instituted through a stylized repetition of acts“
- “…bodily gestures, movements, and enactments of various kinds constitute the illusion of an abiding gendered self”
- p. 520: “the possibilities of gender transformation are to be found in the arbitrary relation between…a different sort of repeating, in the breaking or subversive repetition of that style”
- p. 520: “Feminist theory has often been critical of naturalistic explanations of sex and sexuality that assume that the meaning of women’s social existence can be derived from some fact of their physiology”
- p. 521: “the body is a historical situation,…a manner of doing dramatizing, and reproducing a historical situation”
- p. 522: “those who fail to do their gender right are regularly punished”
- How so? Think of examples where women or men appear to perform roles opposite of the gender. Can you think of a situation where one gender is not punished for performing the opposite gender’s prescribed role?
- pp. 522-523: “The personal is thus political inasmuch as it is conditioned by shared social structures, but the personal has also been immunized against political challenge to the extent that public/private distinctions endure”
- In the context of this class, consider our discussions on the INDIVIDUAL and how our culture promotes an ideology of individualism.
- Our culture wants to believe that there’s a private self, in a vacuum, that is simply personal preference.
- Break with capital-F Feminism…perhaps…p. 523: “one ought to consider the futility of a political program which seeks radically to transform the social situation of women without first determining whether the category of woman is socially constructed in such a way that to be a woman is, by definition, to be in an oppressed situation.”
- Uh-oh…what is she suggesting? Think about our discussions of feminism not being monolithic.
- What’s to gain from holding onto the distinction of the binary categories of men and women?
- p. 524: “one way in which this system of compulsory heterosexuality is reproduced and concealed is through the cultivation of bodies into discrete sexes with ‘natural’ appearances and ‘natural’ heterosexual dispositions”
Barthe’s “Novels and Children”
What does Barthes mean when he write about myth? The definition below might help us:
- Myth: Lillian Feder’s definition–“Myth is a narrative structure of two basic areas of unconscious experience which, of course, are related….In other words, myth is a form of racial [national, social, regional, etc.] history–a narrative distillation of the wishes and fears both of ourselves and the human race” (Dick, p. 188).
[myths] tap into our collective memory,” our unconscious.
“Myths are ultimate truths about life death, fate and nature, gods and humans” (Dick, p. 189).
Take a look at these images of Nancy Pelosi and the fact that she had been surrounded by children when she took over the position of Speaker of the house:
- Gavel Raised High (Getty Images)
- Another image (Cleveland blog)
- On House floor with grandchildren (Chronicle)
- Holding baby on House floor (Cook)
- Search results page (Getty Images)
What might Barthes say about the choice of children surrounding her?
From where does female power come?
*Yes, there is a picture of Boehner holding a baby when he takes over as Speaker.
Barthes on Rhetoric
I know you didn’t read all of Barthes’ Mythologies, but I have a quotation from another part of the book. What can Barthes teach us about rhetoric? He identifies what he means by “rhetoric“:
“a set of fixed, regulated, insistent figures, according to which the varied forms of the mythical signifier arrange themselves….It is through their rhetoric that bourgeois myths outline the general prospect of this pseudo-physis which defines the dream of the contemporary bourgeois world.” (p. 150)
- physis: nature
From Greek: the material we can sense in the cosmos
- anti-physis: what we can’t sense (but we think we do)
- pseudo-physis: ideologically real
- Morpheus from The Matrix: “[The matrix] is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.”
“I Kissed a Girl”
Jill Sobule (1995)–her funny, goofy video and cheerful song about two women kissing is a playful narrative about the secretive, exploratory aspect of young women falling in love or simply experimenting. Lots of 1990s cliches: women with Doc Marten-ish boots, a distortion-pedaled guitar moment, and Fabio.
Katy Perry (2008)–her tantalizing, video and powerfully upbeat song about having kissed a “girl” (after drinking) conforms to the male gaze. The camera focuses on Perry in revealing outfits and seductive/vulnerable poses similar to the poses Kilbourne mentions in her critique of women’s bodies used in advertising. The camera also glosses over other women’s bodies or, more accurately, their body parts, which are displayed through quick cuts, heightening the sensual overtone of the music video. There’s even a pillow fight with women in lingerie and feathers floating around.
Here’s a link to the video (starts after an ad).
Remember, just because there are images of women in amorous situations together in the media does not mean the images are directed at lesbians or representative of lesbian behavior. Those images are often for the male gaze, the viewer who possesses both women (psychoanalytically speaking). Even though we can find prevailing cultural patterns, we’d be shortsighted to assume any depiction is representative of an entire group–especially stereotyped portrayals.
Critical Media Analysis
Time permitting, let’s do a rhetorical analysis of a media segment as a class. Watch this Fox News segment and consider the following questions:
- What metaphors does Beck use for his view of government “addiction”?
- Why do you think Beck compares the answers to the poll to France?
- Why would an American audience be persuaded by this? Now, you might not, but that’s irrelevant for this analysis. The speaker is attempting to convey a message–what is it, and how does he convey it?
- What cultural beliefs do you think Beck is tapping into when he mentions “the soul of America”?
For the rest of class, exchange your essay with a neighbor and offer comments. Proofreading comments aren’t very helpful at this stage. Instead, look for logical reasoning, evidence to support claims, and relevant quotations. Many of you dropped in quotations on your previous essay, but they contributed nothing to your analysis. Integrate external sources properly.
Next week we have Naomi Wolf’s “The Beauty Myth” and Laura Mulvey’s “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Of course, your Critical Media Analysis is due next week. If you have questions, you can come by office hours.
Barthes, Roland. Mythologies. New York: Hill and Wang, 1972.
Butler, Judith. “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory.” Theatre Journal 40.4 (Dec. 1988): pp. 519-531.
Dick, Bernard F. Anatomy of Film. (5th ed.). Boston: Bedford, 2005.