Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Section B Question 6 Media and Collective Identity

Section B Question 6 Media and Collective Identity
For A2 I have studies the representation of women in both contemporary and historical media. As David Buckingham noted in 2008, “identity is fluid and changeable” – and arguably the identity of women in recent times has changed, some may argue it has become more mediated.

Identity itself refers to who we actually are, the construction of ourselves – perhaps even the representation of ourselves and our social groups that we as media consumers wish to have. While many such as Buckingham and Gauntlett champion the fact the create and construct our own identities; others such aa Theordore Adorno see identity as something pushed upon us by the mass media, that we have no alternative but to take the dominant identities we are exposed to “something is offered for all so that none may escape,” he writes in explanation of this fact. Adorno therefore argues that our identities are becoming increasingly mediatedthat is, that they influenced by the mass media, inherent identifies are weak and influenced by the media around us.

Nuts’ magazine is a stereotypical ‘lad’s mag’, aimed at 18-24 year old males. In ana analysis of the 19-25th March 2010 issue I performed the content proves interesting with regards to representation of women. Images of semi-naked females in suggestive poses represent women as victims of symbiotic annihilation. They are portrayed as merely objects of sexual pleasure for men – the images have been constructed, Laure Mulvey would argue with her theory of the Male Gaze, solely with the male consumers in mind, who using the Uses and Gratifications Model are consuming the text for sexual pleasure. Most significant here, however, is the so-called Mirror Effect of Mulvey’s Male Gaze.

This states that women themselves consuming the images will apply the
Male Gaze, and see the female in the image in a sense of what Baudrillard would call hyperreality, assuming the idea that this representation is ‘how women should be’ and in turn they should construct their identities similarly in order to appeal to males – aftr all women are the subdominant group in an apparent patriarchal society. Identity therefore has become mediated in this situation as Adorno says. The “culture industry” that is the mass media has imposed a dominant representation onto a collective group; who have felt pressured to adapt it as part of their collective identity.

In the 2001 film “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider”, Lara Croft, the main female character is represented as fairly masculine (stereotypically masculine) in terms of her choice of clothing, body language and manner. All of these micro-elements construct her identity. However, throughout the film, we also see Croft use what can be considered the concept of femininity to her advantage, flirting with male characters and wearing stereotypically feminine clothes towards the final scenes.

In terms of her character’s identity this supports Buckingham’s aforementioned assumption that “identity is fluid and changeable” but also conforms to Queer Theory. Queer Theory is widely recognized
in Judith Butler’s 1990 book ‘Gender Trouble’ and states that the genders male and female are just as much the product of representation as the concepts of masculinity and femininity. She calls for a blurring of boundaries between genders and their stereotypical identities and calls for the media to celebrate such diversity. As a character, Croft arguably has blurred the boundaries displaying traits of both male and female behaviour.

If Adorno’s assertions are applied here it can be argued that again the dominant identity of women as sly, untrustworthy and in need of patriarchal dominance is being applied through Croft’s deviant use of fronting identity to her advantage.
However some could argue that the
prominence of Queer Theory does not encourage the mediation of female identity instead it encourages dominant representations to be characterized and boundaries to be blurred – implying greater personal control over identity as advocated by John Fiske and David Buckingham rather than mediated identities.

Cosmopolitan is a magazine aimed at females around 30+. In all ways it can be said that pragmatically the magazine pushes femininity as an identity for itself, with stereotypically female colours and text styles. In turn, the feminine identity of the magazine is applied as a representation of the readers, further suggesting a mediation of women’s identity. The magazine focuses heavily on beauty and fitness, reinforcing the dominant ideology of the “ideal” women that women should aspire to a fixed concept of beauty.

As an example in the April 2010 issue a large image of Holly Willoughby (celebrity) features on the cover. Although unlike Nuts magazine, she is wearing fairly covering clothing and lacks cosmetic make-up, it is interesting to note that her clothing is white in colour – Ferdinand de Saussure would note that this has semiotic significance using his semiotic theory and Roland Barthe’s levels of signification, we can identify that white has connotations of innocence and weakness. Therefore this represents her as innocent and weak – reinforcing dominant patriarchal representations of women. Due to her status as a celebrity, her level of influence is great. In herself she is a semiotic symbol of success and affluence, so those who take inspiration from her will take this constructed innocence and weakness and apply it to their own identities. This is a clear example of the mediation of identity. It suggests a passive audience, influenced by the mass media as Adorno and other quasi-Marxists would suggest.

It can be seen therefore, that as post modernists say, we live in a media saturated society. We are surrounded by signs which cannot be ignored. Women in the media are often represented as varying, whether it be as sexual objects for the pleasure of males; or as innocent, as ‘stay at home’ housewives as suggested in 2008’s film Hancock. Here, despite possessing stereotypically male strength and ‘superpowers’, the lead female aspires to be a housewife – reinforcing the sub-dominant representation of women. Either way however women are often the victims of mediation. The theories of consumption and construction of identity from theorists such as Adorno and Mulvey clearly show that despite the specific representations, one common identity is ‘forced’ upon women in the media – a subdominant social group living in a patriarchal society. Identity is constructed using this as a basis; and even media texts which challenge this representation and encourage Queer Theory diversity are still arguably mediating identity with their influence. Identity is fluid and changeable and can be individually constructed as Gauntlett and Buckingham state. But arguable, the mass media are, and have, mediated the identity of women in contemporary society.

EAA 20/20
EG 18/20
T 10/10

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