I have been on the Visual studies course now for about 5 weeks and progress has been a little slow. I have found that the different tasks I need to keep up with are quite daunting. These include
- Individual Projects – reading, note taking, BLOG answers
- Supplementary reading – eg from The Visual Culture Reader, Ways of seeing,
- Keeping a learning log/sketchbook
Because of the different nature of this course compared to my Drawing and Painting courses I have found that I have not been keeping a learning log over the last few weeks- it’s as if the shock of a different style of module has taken my brain off course. These tasks, which seemed ‘normal’ for the other courses have seemed less natural.
So tonight I ve decided to begin by having a look at a few images from an online newspaper, simply to get me thinking about Images, and talking about them. I will talk about them in the same way as I did with my Painting/Drawing Modules. This will include my thoughts on the images, whether I like them, and to explore some theoretical concepts which may underpin them. I will also begin to properly use citations and references in my written work, in order to maintain academic integrity.
Image 1: Actress Eleanor Tomlinson: Power, passion and the girl who fired up Poldark (2015)
Our Sunday evening screens are sizzling thanks to actress Eleanor Tomlinson, who beat a string of hopefuls to win the coveted role of Demelza. She tells Daphne Lockyer how delving into painful memories from her past helped her get into character
Eleanor wears CHIFFON DRESS, Bora Aksu. RINGS and EARRINGS’
Image 2: Eleanor Tomlinson: We’re seeing more strong female roles (2016)
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Image 3: Aidan Turner as Ross Poldark (2016)
The large colour picture (image 1) on the left is clearly a glamorous shot of a pretty young actress. Do I like it? Well, she is very attractive, but I am cynical about this image, and don’t like it within a newspaper’s pages. This actress is starring in Poldark, a popular new TV series, which also stars a dashing and handsome male lead. The text above tells us that she helps to make our TV on Sunday Sizzling, the text below tells us about the adornments of her body. Despite using the lurid language sizzling, the text continues by telling us that she got this important part by beating many rival actresses, and the article goes on to discuss how the actress used her overcoming of childhood bullying in her school in Yorkshire, to inform her performance. One therefore presumes she is a talented and conscientious actress.
This is all well and good, but Image 1 looks very similar to any image we might see in a girlie magazine, or a Renaissance nude, albeit with her clothes on. Image 2 is more reserved, but still shows the actress in a figure hugging dress, with her breasts and body shape notable obvious. It is juxtaposed with a small caption which once again, seems to compliment the actress by welcoming ‘more strong female roles’.
Despite the indirect compliments about her acting talent, in the text, Image 1 is actually a very commonplace example of images of women reproduced over the last several hundred years in Western art, painting, photography, and other media (Berger,1972: 57). Berger (1972) discusses at length the symbolism behind this sort of representation of women in pictures, and the convention of how women and nudes have been depicted over the centuries. With regard to the power relations within a picture he states that a man’s presence is ‘dependent upon the promise of power which he embodies’ (Berger,1972: 45). In contrast a woman’s presence ‘expresses her own attitude to herself, and defines what can and cannot be done to her’ (Berger,1972:46).
Accordingly image 1 (and to a lesser extent image 2) seems to tell us that this talented actress is presenting herself in a stereotypical way, to be seen by a male audience, that she is quite aware of this, and that it will be to her own benefit. Image 1 is all about the woman’s beauty and her availability as a sexual object-there is no other characteristic explored; No reference to her artistic excellence, any humour or human empathy, nor indeed to any of the suffering which befalls her character Demelza.
Instead, she is reclining, accentuating her breasts with her left arm, showing the outline of her large hips and pelvis, and seems to be about to tap on the floor, as if waiting for the viewer to do something. If we combine this with the powerful stare with which she meets the viewer’s eyes, we can see that this image is pretty much all about sex and her availability for it.
The gaze can represent many things, including power, magic, and the metaphor for devouring the object of one’s gaze, using eyes, mouth, or with a penis, and all in relation to sexual intercourse (Fenichel, 1999: 327-328). Freud discusses the primeval scoptophilic (or libidinal) aspect of the gaze (Freud (1905) cited in Fenichel, 1999: 329). The male gaze of the viewer of this picture must be extremely scoptophilic and strong for the girl to meet it with these eyes.
She herself may be a strong (in this sense feminist- In this sense anti-hierarchical?), but this article picture is not. Perhaps she is strong, and the media have cynically projected onto her the role of a subjugated female under an oppressive hierarchical male stare. This would fit with a classical Marxist view of the mass media which tells us that they are actually controlled by the economics of society (Chandler,1995:2). In this case the actress is subjected (knowingly or unknowingly?) to a still mainstream bourgeoisie ideaology of male sexism-whether it be from the advertisers who buy copy space in the online paper, or the dominant male hierarchy of the newspaper’s staff themselves.
This classical view (the economist Marxist view), could be further developed by noting that on on level the text accompanying images 1 and 2 may allow us to think that the media are (as some cultural Marxist’s think) liberal and able to show autonomy from the economic Base of society. (Curran et al. (1982), cited in Chandler, 1995:2). Perhaps they are championing the interests of women ( here represented by ‘strong women’), or the working-class, or any subjugated minority. However, this may be what Althusser would call a false consciousness (Chandler, 1995: 3) pedalled by the paper, but underpinned by the sexism of the dominant ideology. In view of the extreme dominant sexist ideology behind images 1 and 2, I find it highly ironic and cynical that the juxtaposed texts appear to be welcoming this actress’s talent and her inclusion in the upsurge of ‘strong female roles’.
Ironically this series of Poldark has been criticised for female sexism- in the mass hysteria supposedly caused in women who watched the male actor Aidan Turner using a scythe and revealing his muscly chest (Image 3). However if we compare the images of the actress above with that of Turner (Image 3), I think the journalist Alice Jones has it right when she points out that no sexism is valid, but when it comes to the sexism involved in the portrayal and consumption of men and women, the power dynamics are frequently not the same (Jones, 2016) .
‘ Men are rarely objectified in a way that strips them of the power they wield. Their flesh is muscular and ready for action – it is not the passive sexualised nudity of so many women on screen and billboards’ (Jones, 2016).
Image 1: Actress Eleanor Tomlinson: Power, passion and the girl who fired up Poldark (2015) [photograph] At: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/you/article-2988498/Actress-Eleanor-Tomlinson-Power-passion-girl-fired-Poldark.html#ixzz4PiMaPOQM (Accessed on November 5th 2016)
Image 2: Eleanor Tomlinson: We’re seeing more strong female roles (2016) [photograph]. At http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/it-doesnt-matter-if-a-mans-hunky-like-poldark-no-one-should-be-objectified-10154739.html. [Accessed on November 5th 2016]
Image 3: Aidan Turner as Ross Poldark (2016) [photograph]. At http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/it-doesnt-matter-if-a-mans-hunky-like-poldark-no-one-should-be-objectified-10154739.html. [Accessed on November 5th 2016]
Berger, J. (1972). Ways of Seeing. London, Penguin Books.
Chandler, D. (1995). Marxist Media Theory at http://visual-memory.co.uk/daniel/Documents/marxism/marxism01.html. (accessed on 5th November 2016). p1-11
Fenichel, (1999), ‘The scoptophilic instinct and identification’ in: Evans and Hall (ed.) Visual Culture :a reader. 327-328). London. SAGE Publications ltd. 327-339
Jones, 2016: ‘Poldark may be hunky but he shouldn’t be objectified’ in The Independent [Online] at: http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/it-doesnt-matter-if-a-mans-hunky-like-poldark-no-one-should-be-objectified-10154739.html. (accessed on 5th November 2016).