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This essay offers both a introductory explanation of the male gaze & its value in analyzing film as a mass media as well as a critique on representations of women in Quentin Tarantino’s work.

Creativity is inherently linked to how our brains function. In order to participate in creative expression, one must exercise divergent thinking, or “the ability to produce multiple ideas, answers, or solutions to a problem for which there is no agreed-on solution,” and not just convergent thinking, or conventional intelligence problem solving in a logical way. Further, through analyzing art, one has the opportunity to examine and interpret an artistic thought process. Some psychologists applied theory to this analysis, such as Freud, who considered narrative incarnations (or unconscious phantasies) as an integral part of the unconscious. In theory, one “must believe that he or she has created the object that he or she discovers. Failure to have done so results in trauma” (Grotstein 193). This idea implies that manifestation of phantasies in art would reflect unconscious desires or perceptions at some level of analysis.

Psychoanalysis proposes that creativity is the result of unconscious drives. In acting out unconscious drives, one is expressing repressed desires stemming from an unsatisfactory reality. These feelings can be the result of perceived inadequacies, biological drives, or social pressures. Ultimately these phantasies exist to fulfill the ego. “Theorists in the Freudian school have built further on the premise that creativity is part of the mental functioning operative in the id; i.e., the individual uses it to seek pleasure and avoid pain” (Vantage). Freud paid specific attention to the influence of gender and sex to the influence of personality; he believed it to be intimately related with defense mechanisms in maintaining self-esteem. In his systems of personality Freud believed the id, ego, and superego—the three components of self-image and perception—to be the results of pleasure-seeking drives (the pleasure principal), conscious rationality (reality principal), and moral influence (ego ideal), respectively. In this way, our unconscious phantasies are influenced by both hidden sexual drives and social reinforcement of expectant or exceptional behavior.

In theory, self-expression often reflects these personality components and unconscious views. As a result, analysis of creative works often relies on interpreting an individual’s ego, as well as the collective unconscious. Works of art often reflect both an individual’s repressed desires, as well as social ideas of good behavior. When analyzing mass media—such as television, magazines, and film—a broader consideration to cultural inclinations is taken into account. Mediums such as film, especially when the product of big studios, place a greater importance on superego in order to have the broadest appeal (and make the most profit). Auteurs of the film industry—such as Hitchcock, Felini, and Tarantino—often embody the most primal and persistent social drives in their work while achieving a vision of great personal influence. Such individual influences have shaped the medium of film and how audiences perceive it. By observing visual media, one has the potential to acquire the creative identity of the minds behind it.

In her essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” Laura Mulvey approaches this psychological phenomenon through the concept of the “male gaze.” The male gaze is the theory that in observing film, audiences acquire a heterosexual male point of view wherein female characters are always passive while being actively observed. This is the result of both the reflection of an industry of male-dominated creators as well as cinematographic techniques that construct the camera lens as a masculine eye. Because of the acquiring of identity through observing a film, the position of the woman helps to form what Mulvey calls the “patriarchal unconscious” (28): “Her meaning in the process is at an end, it does not last into the world of law and language except as a memory … Woman then stands in patriarchal culture as a signifier for the male other, bound by a symbolic order in which man can live out his fantasies and obsessions through linguistic command by imposing them on the silent image of a woman still tied to her place as a bearer of meaning, not a maker of meaning.” In terms of film, a woman represents symbolically the fears and desires of the male creator—usually through visual or linguistic command rather than subtext—instead of her own unique meaning as a representation. She is the both product and representation of the male unconscious, mimicking the pressures women feel in the real world to uphold male standards.

Mulvey’s theory of the male gaze is one of the most interesting analyses of Freudian desire because rather than pure psychoanalysis of a subject, it analyzes specific visual examples in addition to context; in other words, film aesthetics become a manifestation of the unconscious in a way verbal self-insight cannot obtain. Further, because the behavioral glance is rooted in the id and superego, as well as the collective unconscious, the theory provides valuable insight to identity on a micro and macro scale. Common shots that are concrete examples of the male gaze include medium close-up shots of women from over a male’s shoulder (opposed to close-ups of a male’s face from straight on or extreme angles), shots that pan and linger on a woman’s form (opposed to shots of a male that do not pan and show his full body), as well as scenes that frequently occur which show a man actively observing a passive woman. This last type of aesthetic was common in Hitchcock’s work, which was at its peak of popularity in the 70’s at the time of Mulvey’s essay, and which openly incorporated Freud’s theories of personality. One film in particular, Vertigo, about a man who falls in love with a woman he’s been hired to spy on, offers perhaps the most explicit example of the male gaze. “[The protagonist] Scottie’s voyeurism is blatant: he falls in love with a woman he follows and spies on without speaking to. His sadistic side is equally blatant: he has [freely] chosen . . . to become a police man, with all the attendant possibilities of pursuit and investigation. As a result he follows, watches, and falls in love with a perfect image of female beauty and mystery” (37). Beneath the purely voyeuristic behavior portrayed lies a further critique on identity; as Scottie observes Judy—a woman from Kansas pretending to be his employer’s wife—she takes on the identity of Madeleine, who has become a ghost twofold. In this way, Scottie has fallen in love with someone completely unobtainable because of deception initiated by a man and carried out by a subservient woman. This exemplifies male feelings of victimization rooted in unconscious inadequacies, i.e., Scottie’s inability to save Madeleine from her false suicide and therefore losing his fabricated vision of love forever to his male employer; his drive to keep her alive by searching for Madeleine destroys his reality when he succeeds by finding Judy and discovering that he’s been set-up.

At the time of Mulvey’s essay, alternative cinema, which she recognized for its importance in opposing patriarchal views, was still at its on-set in comparison to its popularity today. Fearing the influence of the male gaze in Hollywood film, she directly called upon alternative filmmakers to use opposition as the pivotal meaning of their works. Although alternative cinema has come to influence mainstream film, the male gaze is still prevalent in visual aesthetics, if not as obvious as in Hitchcock’s openly Freudian works. One filmmaker today who represents both the subversive appeal of alt film and the superego of the patriarchal society is Quentin Tarantino. His films are perhaps the most fantastically violent to ever come out of mainstream Hollywood cinema, and he often portrays females as active characters participating in the normally exclusively male battles, such as in his short film with Lady Gaga, Telephone, which portrays all-female characters in a normally male archetype: as prison inmates escaping from the law. However, despite females being represented as active characters in this film and others, they are still presented under the scope of the heterosexual eye and are intended to be observed rather than relatable. Tarantino compensates for his masculine representations by creating hyper-sexualized female characters.

In Planet Terror, his own wife, Rose McGowen, portrays the epitome of this restitution; the opening credit sequence shows her go-go dancing provocatively from the prospective of the audience. Later, she loses one of her legs from the knee down and can no longer dance; she then completes her now-damaged body using a gun as a peg leg, her provocative dance moves now utilized to slay the enemy. Her representation is not to be mistaken with that of an empowered woman; she does not transcend notions of a desirable woman in the unconscious male mind and the superego of the patriarchy. As a professional exotic dancer, her strengths lie in her willingness to be observed for sexual pleasure. This is at the heart of how she is aesthetically represented as a manifestation of desire and obtainability.

Between the polarization of representations of women in Hitchcock and Tarantino’s films, which can essentially be reduced to the unobtainable versus the obtainable, a broad spectrum of the ideal woman from both the heterosexual male and broader patriarchal unconscious point of view is illuminated. In Mulvey’s application of Freudian theory to film, these images arise from inadequacies in a masculine unconscious, and an attempt to make reality more enjoyable by constructing a phantasy that sympathizes with these desires. “The image of woman as (passive) raw material for the (active) gaze of man takes the argument a step further into the structure of representation, adding a further layer demanded by the ideology of the patriarchal order as it is worked out in its favorite cinematic form—illusionistic narrative film” (38). While films may no longer be purely a manifestation of heterosexual male’s point of view, because they must have a broad moral appeal, they are subservient to distinctive social standards that persist in a patriarchal society; because they exist to make reality more enjoyable, they must appeal to unconscious desires on an individual level. In this way, passive—or aesthetically pleasing, observable women—are still highly prevalent in film and video, and reflect the position of women in a patriarchal society. Although alternative cinema has called these images into question, mainstream cinema reinforces it, even when redefining aesthetics to a socially progressive audience. In this way, the objectification of women persists on both an individual and mass level of unconsciousness.

Works Cited
1. Grotstein, James. “The Overarching Role of Unconscious Phantasy.” Psychoanalytic Inquiry 28.2 (2008): 190-205.
2. Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Issues in Feminist Film Criticism. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana UP, 1990. 28-40. Print.
3. Vantage. “Comparative Theories.” Vantage Quest for Creativity and Personal Transformation. Web. .
4. Wood, Samuel E., Ellen R. Green. Wood, and Denise Roberts. Boyd. The World of Psychology. Boston, MA: Pearson/Allyn and Bacon, 2007. Print.

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I’ve been successfully avoiding Lady Gaga for years now and it’s worked out pretty great. I tend not to pay attention to pop stars until they reach their trainwreck stage. However, tonight, a shocking twist in the Gaga epic took place when my facebook newsfeed informed me that several formerly proclaimed die-hard fans were recounting their fandom on account of her leaked video featuring Beyonce. So, I decided to take a peak at what the fuck exactly is this “pop-culture art” trend I’ve been hearing so many people condescendingly circle jerk has been about all this time.

The comparison of Gaga to Britney and Madonna has seemed obvious to me. What I don’t understand is how people can mistake Gaga for a great thinker in terms of art. Sure, she’s a legitimate artist–the same way Billy Ray Cyrus is a legitimate artist. Her music and image is a cultural commodity–she was signed to a sub-label of Universal not three years ago, and was launched into fame by Akon. Next thing you know, she’s playing a major stage at Lollapalooza, and the rest is history. I recognize some fans might not consider Gaga’s latest video to be her best, it’s still drawn out, exaggerated, and hypersexual. It’s I really don’t see how it’s much different from any of the other mainstream pop videos whose popularity essentially hinges on selling its female star as a sex object. At the same time, Gaga exploits her audience under the premise of “advancing art” and has even become a political speaker. Gaga definitely isn’t making art for art’s sake, and to perpetuate her impression that she is is sheer stupidity. Gaga is acting on the behalf of the major record labels that make money for her, and the “spectacle” is feeding a million-dollar industry.

I first heard about Gaga in my intro to gender studies class when my teacher read us an interview in which Gaga disowned feminism while simultaneously claiming to be fighting against sexist double-standards within the music industry:

G: You see, if I was a guy, and I was sitting her with a cigarette in my hand, grabbing my crotch and talking about how I make music ’cause I love fast cars and fucking girls, you’d call me a rock star. But when I do it in my music and in my videos, because I’m a female, because I make pop music, you’re judgmental, and you say that it is distracting. I’m just a rock star.

I: Are you also a feminist?

G: I’m not a feminist – I, I hail men, I love men. I celebrate American male culture, and beer, and bars and muscle cars…

Apparently Gaga likes to buy into the stereotype that feminism=manhatingism, and although she claims to be at least as ballsy as a shallow, groin-scratching male, she’s not man enough to stop spreading ignorance of the political opinions she claims to believe in. Throughout her career, Gaga has gone back and forth on where she stands with the ‘f’ word. What’s puzzled me this whole time is how Gaga, in addition to being the latest thin, blonde, half-naked super star, has come to be seen as a leader within the LGBTQ. In this same interview two years ago, she speaks revealingly as to her appeal to the gay community:

G: I’ve got three #1 records and I’ve sold almost 4 million albums world wide.

I: So what’s the biggest [thrill] of your career so far?

G: The gay community.

I: Why?

G: ‘Cause I love em so much. ‘Cause they don’t ask me questions like that. ‘Cause they love sexual strong women who speak their mind.

Gaga recognizes that her most loyal fans are members of the gay community, and in this strange political climate, apparently that means she has a right to claim she’s a leading voice within that political sector–even though the LGBTQ and feminists have worked together for decades.

You know who else the gay community loves? Britney Spears and Madonna. Britney Spears and Madonna even made out one time, you know, just for their gay fans, right? It seems to me Lady Gaga–who is an open bisexual–is no more a gay rights activist than either of the former Queens of Pop. Further, if she’s so gung-ho about supporting the gay community, why is she so apprehensive about being an open feminist? I guess I just don’t see how Lady Gaga has really changed anything in the mainstream music industry.

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