A response to watching ‘The Nice Guys’ on NETFLIX.


Fig. 1 The Nice Guys (2016)

‘The Nice Guys’ (Black, 2016) was a very enjoyable film starring Russel Crowe and Ryan Gosling (fig.1). The two star as LA private detectives Jackson Healy and Holland March, who stumble upon each other through the same case, the disappearance and murder of several people involved in a PORNO- cum- Anti-corruption film.  The subject matter is very classically a Hollywood murder mystery. It involves dead bodies, murder, Hollywood parties, gun fights, fast cars, corruption in the police and Law department, and flawed (but contrasting) lawmen, all accompanied by cliched ‘Starsky and Hutch’ 70’s music.

It specifically resembles the film L.A Confidential, and both film’s star Russel Crowe (reprising his role as a tough guy cop who struggles with his temper) and Kim Basinger; but it’s not a traditional working of the murder genre, such as in Dirty Harry, or LA Confidential.

The film has elements of both the spoof (mocking imitation of someone or something, usually light and good-humored  (Dictionary.com,  2017)) and pastiche (a literary, musical, or artistic piece consisting wholly or chiefly of motifs or techniques borrowed from one or more sources(Dictionary.com, 2017). The atmosphere is usually relaxed and mildly comic (even in the dramatic scenes), occasionally slapstick, but there are poignant interludes, such as that following the murder of Amelia Kuttner, who the two private eyes were supposed to be protecting.

The film satirises the many clichés found in violent USA murder whodonnit’s.  Perhaps this can be thought of as a type of deconstruction of the usual discourse and tropes provided by the traditional genre.  From a constructionist point of view these traditional films are often built upon paradigmatic binary pairs, with airplay given exclusively to the dominant trope (which thus becomes a cliché).

Sometimes the film highlight’s the alternative discourse through characters; Russel Crowe’s traditional Private investigator Jackson Healy (tough, street-savvy, but down on his luck) is contrasted with the hapless unconventional Holland, who is  followed around by his teenage daughter (who solves most of the clues for both PI’s), has no sense of smell (it is suggested that his former house burnt down and killed his wife, because he could not smell the gas leak), and discovers the body of one victim by falling down a hill and landing on top of it!   The Nice Guys’ somewhat ambivalently fulfil the usual characteristic of bravery. They show courage and valour in the shootout at Holland’s house when they battle with the hitman ‘doctor’, but they act like cowards when they arrive at the top floor of the hotel and hear bullets flying in the corridor- swiftly returning to the ground floor in the lift.

Sometimes the alternative discourse is part of the narrative, and looks oddly absurd, though it ironically represents a more reliable reality. For example, in the film’s shooting scene at the party, guns often go off accidentally, and usually kill the wrong people, and when Holland finally saves the important  film canister from near the wreckage of a burning car he has to use his jacket to protect his hand after discovering the canister was very hot!

Occasionally the dominant paradigm is not deconstructed by presenting the opposite of the usual binary pair, but just mocked, and thus refuted. In the cliched 70’s hippy protest about city air quality, the protestors feign death on the steps of a government building.  Holland thinks the missing girl Emelia may be present and asks ‘which one of you’s Emilia ?’ several times. Eventually one protestor says ‘….we can’t answer -were all dead!’ and when Holland later treads on one of their hands by mistake she say’s ‘Hey that hurt!’ to which he responds ‘ I thought you were dead !’ This is slapstick humour, and makes us cynically question the whole basis  of the ‘student/young person demo’ .

Later the guys attempt to pay off a young boy who they meet near the burnt- out house where the Porno-cum-Protest’ film was made.  The usual Hollywood tip-off by a youngster would be followed by a ‘thanks mister’ or something reverential, thus emphasising the power and heroism of the cop or PI.  The Nice Guys pay the kid who has some quality information on the Porno film, but the kid’s so self-confident that he appears to think he might make it as a porn star and asks them ‘Do you wanna see my cock?’

In another incident Holland helps to lampoon the All-American Hollywood film idea of the big sister having her boyfriend over to ‘make out’ and chucking out the little sister. When Holland’s daughter’s friend say’s this has happened, he says ‘she’s such a slut’ and little sis replies ‘yes I know’, offering an alternative view of the situation.

Kim Basinger plays a very senior police official who, it transpires, is corrupt, and is behind the murders, even that of her own daughter. This is a little unusual- corrupt powerful law enforcement characters are usually male- (think ‘Where the sidewalk ends’ (1950), ‘Bad Lieutenant’ (1992) and ‘Copland’ (1997) (Taste of Cinema, 2015). This is a straight replacement of a woman in a role traditionally taken by a man eg. Replacing male with female from the male:female couplet. It may reflect a feminist discourse, but Basinger plays Judih Kuttner, whose name is too close to the well- known- expletive- slang term for the female genitals for comfort, and suggests she is a figure to be ridiculed not admired; she is after all a criminal.

At the end of the film the corrupt Judith escapes justice and jail. Interestingly, here the naïve Holland seems to understand that evasion of justice does happen sometimes, and helps Jackson put things in perspective (they have after all, he says, solved their first case jointly, and he has photocopied some flyers for their new joint detective agency-although Jackson is said to look unfortunately like a Mexican on them!).


Fig. 1  The Nice Guys  (2016) [movie poster] available online at http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3799694/ [accessed 31st July 2017]


Black, S. The Nice Guys (2016) Warner Bros Pictures. USA.

Dictionary.com (2017) Definition of spoof [online at] http://www.dictionary.com/browse/spoof [accessed 31st July 2017]

Dictionary.com (2017) Definition of pastiche [online] at http://www.dictionary.com/browse/pastiche [accessed 31st July 2017]

Harbour, E. Taste of cinema (2015) [online] at http://www.tasteofcinema.com/2015/15-great-movies-about-police-corruption-that-are-worth-watching/ [accessed 31st July 2017]




Text:’White’ by Richard Dyer


  • Can whiteness be a category -like eg. Blackness in film?
  • Most ‘minority’ analysis – on women, black, gay etc…. concentrates on how these groups are portrayed and represented, as part of the analysis of the way they are subordinated
  • But concentrating on these groups, without showing ‘the norm’ alongside them reinforces their ‘oddity/ differentness’.
  • Concentrating on the ‘norm’ eg the dominant category can also work to redress the balance – this has mainly been done with an analysis of the construction of ‘masculinity’


  • the author states that it is ok for a writer on the ‘dominant’ to be part of the dominant group ( eg. White and male). He should not go overboard on self criticism, but must acknowledge it may have an effect on his writing.
  • White v black is not just about ethnicity, and we have many everyday examples where the norm is white cf black.
  • White is light v black is dark- safe v dangerous
  • White is good and black is evil- the bible. Even these which may seem obvious are constructed….. it’s certainly possible to think of light/white as dangerous and black/dark as safe ………examples…
  • Black is often thought as a colour and white as a background or nothingness (white paper, white light) . Scientifically white is all colours and black is the absence of colour.
  • This resembles the idea that the ‘norm’ is white= everything, and black is somehow different.
  • Even in calls to the ‘nation’ (which seem inclusive of many groups), does it really include Black -in the case of Britain- or is white an underlying additional assumption of the norm here??, like we assume whiteness in addition to the norms of class, gender, heterosexuality……


  • Because it’s often assumed in the background whiteness is often hidden as a category in itself ( except in extreme case such as racism…)
  • It also makes it hard to analyse…. Unlike black. So we have the eg. Brief encounter which becomes about middle class- not White, but we have The colour purple which is about Black, before poor…….
  • The film ‘Being white’ shows vox pops of white people who ,in practice, are unable to define themselves as white, but always as subcategories of white- eg. Jewish….
  • Dyer suggests several areas that might be useful in analysing this difficult characteristic of ‘white’- eg. Portrayals of white in racist extremism, or in non-white film. Or if exchange white characters with black ones in iconic white films…..- what does it say about whiteness? (the commutivity test)


  • All these methods need to contrast white with non-white (and this is not the case with the analogous analysis of say portrayal of blacks, or American Indians).
  • Three cinematic films are mentioned where whiteness is analysed through the presence of non-white others, Simba, Jezabel , and Night of the Living Dead. The three cover a wide range of cinema characteristics (budget, style, subject etc…)
  • Definition coterminous=covering the same area.
  • Dyer looks at what is similar about the portrayal of whiteness in all 3 (diverse) films, but admits that due to whiteness’s resistance to being categorised there is an inevitable massive variation in whiteness in films.
  • Nevertheless, ‘all 3 films share a perspective that associates whiteness with order, rationality, rigidity….’ (ref) and a sense (in very different ways) that whiteness is being contested.
  •                                                                                                                                                   p.461
  • all 3 make reference to potential loss of dominant state of the whites-Simba- the uprising of the Mau-Mau against British occupation, Jezebel-the abolition of slavery in the USA, and ‘Night’ (implicitly) the various power struggles of the black people in 1960’s USA.


  • Dyer says that the sense of otherness in these films is based on ‘existential psychology’- introduced by Sartres where ‘an individual becomes self-aware by perceiving its difference from others’ (this sounds a little like Lacan’s mirror phase, but this involves a misapprehension/false perception  about ‘no difference’ with another individual (the mirror image)
  •  This existential pysychology has been discussed by numerous authors , but Dyer concentrates on how it is played out in the films…
  • In each film Whites are dominant but dependent upon Blacks in some way, and they realise this (differently) in all 3 films.
  • This dependency delegitamises the white dominance, and Dyer’s fascination is in
  • how the films struggle to hang onto a justification of white dominance, however difficult it is to do.


  • The film is British, and is a ‘colonial adventure’ story, where the hero achieves ‘personal growth’.


  • Dyer describes the film’s narrative as a discussion of the serious issue of the Mau-Mau uprising, with different symbolic groups or individual people representing different attitudes to the problem
  • Finally, the hero (Alan) is the main symbol- his growth is allowed through engagement with the problem.
  • The film involves a complete binary separation of the black and white cultures -with no in-between or meeting.
  • This separation is achieved through cinema effects (symbols…..)
  • Basically white is rational, safe, organised modernity etc… and blackness is the complete antithesis of this….
  • The meetings of the whites and blacks are contrasted to illustrate how they represent these characteristics.
  • The whites- early evening, light, indoors, ‘high-key lighting’, orderly, speech only,
  • The blacks- the binary opposite, including excited gestures, unintelligible speech, and physical movements such as daubing with blood and entrails….


  • |The idea of ‘boundariness’ is used throughout the film, characteristic of dominant groups in general they have boundaries- eg. Rows, order, uninterrupted speech……but also the setting of boundaries is characteristic of the white/male especially .
  • Dyer says the film is racist ‘in the broadest sense’, but not the narrower one. The film believes that the blacks can evolve and achieve all the progressive characteristics of ‘whiteness’.
  • Several liberal characters believe in the ability of the Mau-mau to do so (including, in the end, the hero Alan), whereas the conservative whites do not.
  • As a reinforcing of this potential, the character of Peter is black and specifically has all the necessary characteristics (Doctor, educated, rational, humane, liberal….) of Whiteness.
  • But- those who believe in the potential evolution are subordinated to others in the film, and in the end liberalism is overcome, Peter dies, and the whites rescue Alan’s farm from the Mau-Mau attack.
  • The film believes in the possible evolutionism of Blacks to whiteness (though it fails in the end), but this Fixity of ideas about how colonised people should act (to be ‘better’ people-more like the colonisers) , or more generally in the how we see the behaviour of any ‘other’ group, is ‘deeply disturbing’ (ref).


  • The opening sequence is discussed- how filmic techniques are used to symbolise the binary opposites of white and black. Eg. The white viewpoint is given by, steady aerial shots (give the best view), modernity of the plane, bringing the hero to Africa. Black characteristics include pain, blood, death, fear, untrustworthy, primitive.
  • Binarism is shown by both the film techniques and through the narrative.
  • Aspects of the hero include- resolving the conflict, his adventure and personal growth,
  • Colonialism as a landscape allows white males values to flourish, it holds, adventure, discovery, needs taming, conquering etc….
  • It also requires ordering, rational control , authority….etc…
  • Through his development of responsibility through the film, he wins the love (and hand) of Mary


  • other films have explored the idea of colonialism eg. Black Narcissus.
  • They often end in acknowledgement of failure
  • The hero Alan also fails throughout the film…….. he fails to keep the farm, to protect Peter, to catch the Mau-mau leader……..
  • The failure shows an anxiety towards the Black threat of the mau-mau.
  • Simba endorse white superiority of values, but shows an anxiety that they will work against the problem (blackness).


..in your blog

Watch the films Simba, Jezebel and Night of the Living Dead or at least Simba.

Find The Battle of Algiers (Italian: La battaglia di Algeri), a 1966 black-and-white film by Gillo Pontecorvo based on events during the 1954-1962 Algerian War against French rule. xxxiii This late neo-realist film is in stark contrast to Simba and the comparison is worth the effort.

• Note how Dyer uses some of the theories alluded to earlier in the course (hegemony and Sartre’s ideas of the self) to analyse the films and construct his argument.

• Over the period of a week, see how racial identity and identities are dealt with in the visual media: film, newspapers, the web, any exhibitions you might visit, advertising images and, particularly, the television. Make notes, illustrated where possible, of your analysis, taking Dyer as your model.


Night of the  Living Dead

I decided to look at this film instead of Simba, as it is one of my favourites. here is my analysis (film timings precede the text).

2.08 : An American flag shown in the cemetery- the US national sign, and all it signifies, be it heroism…or colonialism and racism.

This is the initial sign of the  paradigmatic symbolic differences which are suggested throughout this film – White V Black, Good v Evil, Dead v Alive. These are key vehicles for the director to discuss an underlying discourse throughout his text (Pooke and Newall, 2008: 104)

3.00:  Johnnie is a typical American- and portrayed as too selfish to want to come and visit his father’s grave- he even makes a sick joke of it- and is harangued by his sister Barbara. Both are very American looking (fig.1)- white, 60s clothes, blonde, and they reinforce the status quo of white USA- compared to Blacks.


Fig. 1  Typical White Americans

5.17: Barabara prays at the grave – he continues to make jokes- this is setting up a dualism between seriousness and frivolity. Johnnie jokes the iconic ‘‘they’re coming to get you Barbara’.

At this point in a White 60’s USA the audience might legitimately ask Who? It could be ghost and ghouls- or other symbolic enemies of 1960’s white USA- Black people, The Soviet regime, Vietnam…

10.00 The mise en scene for the film is USA old country, old gas stations, dirt roads, very hillbilly like.

This suggests a certain ‘good old days’ mentality and a foreboding of white racism and violence. The house Barbara escapes to is run down and she is scared shitless. The music is dramatic with visual filmic shocks such as fast edits to a stag’s head on the wall. This may remind us of the scary house in ‘Psycho’.

13.10: More zombies appear -the house is surrounded by THREAT.

14.00:  Ben, the hero and most important character in the film, appears. At first it as if he might be a threat too- from how he is filmed- but he’s not- he realises they are both (he and Barbara) in danger (fig. 2), and the good guys (alive not dead)- and they both get in the house. He says ‘it’s alright’, showing calmness and power and control, and the dramatic music stops as if some calm has appeared.


Fig. 2 Ben realises that Barbara is alive and needs his help.

Ben is very symbolic. He’s tall, good-looking, well spoken, kind and brave. These paradigmatic characteristics are very obvious throughout the film and are reinforced by the suggestion of their opposites in the characters, action and dialogue during the film. In fact the film concentrates far more on the relationships between the humans than on zombies. The ‘problem’ with the hero Ben is that he is not white- he’s black. This is an obvious deconstruction of the typical American Hollywood male movie star (Clarke Gable, Charlton Heston…..). This film concentrates on the deconstruction of the postcolonial  symbols of white America in the 1960’s, hinting at white supremacy, racism, occidentalism and many more. Ben is male however, and the film spends no time on deconstructing the man v woman duality. Feminists will find little here to be happy about, as the women of the film are portrayed as typically female- weak, emotional, frightened, and hysterical.

14.20- Ben is acting rationally and calmly  (eg. ‘the pump is out of gas’), thinking about escape. Barbara  in contrast is full of terror and emotion. He also wants to find some food, and get to where other people are.

15.00 When Ben sees the half-eaten body, there are no sound effects- its calm, but when Barbara is seen we get cheesy melodramatic music. Cut again to him and the music stops. This is symbolic enactment of an argument /dialectic about the Rational (and Enlightenment)  V Emotion and superstition.

17.50: The first dozen zombies are all white men. Is this representative of USA society in the sixties (note we appear to be in the deep South by the accents- so racism is more endemic). Does this symbolise that POWER is held by White males in USA society at this time (power which needs to be defeated both in the film and symbolically of course). The way the director uses white here increases the power of Ben’s threat toward the status quo. He threatens mainly white zombies, but more generally white society. Through his importance as the hero, Ben ‘throws the legitimacy of white domination into question’ (Dyer, 1999:461).

19.28: Ben rationalises over a dead zombie- ‘Don’t look at IT’ . He lights a fire  to stave off the zombies (light = good, dark= evil) .

Are there also suggestions of the Ku Klux Klan but in reverse here- Ben is igniting white men (fig. 3)?


Fig. 3 Fire to ward off white American zombies

21.27: Ben gets frustrated with Barbara-but checks himself and acts compassionately- as a hero should.

21.49- He talks to her as if a white is talking to a Black. A major part of a colonialist ideology is the idea that blacks (or any peoples)  who could not understand English were somehow stupid, and also savage and primitive .Here Ben addresses  Barbara almost as if she is the ‘ignorant black savage’ of colonial ideology. eg.  ‘Do you understand?  ok?….ok? ‘  Barbara is dumbstruck and unintelligible.

This is a deconstruction of social mores, and the colonialist attitude to blacks and the Oriental ‘other’. The heads on the wall of the white farmer’s house (fig.4) implies they the whites are rather savage, primitive etc. again deconstructing the symbolism of the savage black native.

4.jpgFig. 4  Signs of the primitive in the white farmer’s house

24.34: Ben includes her in the work in a small way- to help her become less paralysed with emotion. He is a good manager (‘pick out some nails-the biggest ones you can find…’)  he says. At 26.36  he describes an encounter with a gas truck and zombies  photographically accurately and analyses it as if he were Sherlock Holmes. He symbolises Intelligence and rationalism, not ignorance and superstition (more traditional characteristics applied to ‘the other’ non- white races.

29.30-: When Barbara finally starts speaking she talks about Johnnie, her brother. He starts to listen politely, but as she carries on he starts to work again, without telling her to stop babbling, suggesting he is Good and Kind.  Shouting at her when she’s in shock would be counter- productive.

31.55: Barbara gets hysterical and hits Ben, and he punches her. She faints and he seems regretful, but puts her on the sofa with care and gentleness (fig 5), and opens her coat (she said she was hot earlier).  At this point a fresh observer might think ‘Oh no he’s going to rape her’ if he had a racist ideology, as the portrayal of blacks as hypersexual is an important part of the colonialist discourse (Doanne, 1999: 449). This may have been the status quo reaction to a black man/white woman situation like this at this time in the USA.


Fig. 5 Ben treats Barbara with gentleness and concern


32-45: The radio announces that murders are taking place by an unidentified army of assasins, with no organisation or apparent reason for the slayings. Ben in contrast continues to methodically work on hammering wood, showing that he is the opposite of the zombie, and of the ruling powers (the Bourgoisie)- who are having problems controlling this mayhem in their society (the radio reports a deluge of calls to police- who don’t know what to do!)


The question of the other in relation to the zombie has to be part of this film’s function, even if it seems secondary to the racial arguments. Are zombies an apotheosis of nothingness? They seem to have physical movements, but no language, no intelligence, and are driven by instincts and ‘drives’- in Freudian terms they seem to be the id compared to a human’s more complex id, ego and superego. Romero suggests that the zombie is the equivalent of the human id- that humans  driven by desires subconsciously, even whilst they negotiate their way through life with preconscious control . Importantly Freud believed that a tension is present due to the subconscious/preconscious elements of the human existence, and that may manifest in several ways which include ‘psycho-neurotic’ behaviour (Pooke and Newall, 2008: 117). It seems likely therefore that Romero believes that zombies represent some aspect of the human itself.


34 57- the radio reports that the president has called a cabinet meeting. High ranking scientists are to be brought together. All arms of Power and Society are pulling together against the problem.  Here we have all the organs of power (in Marxist terms, the ruling class or Bourgeoisie) trying to solve the problem. The president is the most powerful figure on earth, and in charge of the most powerful country-at least in the late 60’s. This sets up the question are the bourgeoisie up to this problem posed by apparently simple and unintelligent beings?

36-42: The radio is on and the transmission of info is taking place just barely audibly- but continuously, as if just in/out of our consciousness. Ben rests for the first time and has a cigarette. I am reminded that even God rested on the seventh day and saw that his work thus far had been good.

38-44: ‘Look I don’t know if you’re hearing me’ Ben says to Barbara, who has woken, but still seems in a trance/mute/staring eyed.

In fact Barbara seems very like the zombies who are threatening the house- the paradigmatic opposite of Ben. This is no feminist movie.

40-52: For the first time other people emerge from the cellar- aggressively posturing to Barbara as if she is the enemy here (fig.6). The people are very touchy. The more level-headed Ben is instantly sceptical about them- suggesting they’ve been cowardly hiding in the cellar, and not even got their excuses/story straight. This touchy aggressiveness may be an allegory of the 50-60 s cold war between USA and ‘the other’- whether it be Communists, Soviets, Chinese. This cold war touchiness was epitomised by the Cuban missile crisis in 1962.


Fig. 6  Tensions run high for Mr Cooper

43-00: Ben and Mr Cooper argue about whether upstairs or downstairs is the safest place to be. The young man tries to act as ‘smoothing the waters’ but Cooper is adamant and aggressive and will not budge his ideas- however much things are explained rationally by Ben. Mr Cooper symbolises Fear, aggression, ignorance- all packaged in a white man. This man is threatened by Ben both physically and emotionally.

44-54- We have the first glimpse of 2 female zombies (fig. 7).


Fig 7 Two female zombies appear

47-50:  Ben says to Cooper ‘…get the hell down in the cellar- you can be the boss down there- I’m boss up here’ in a clear reference to a power struggle within the microcosm of the house- the splitting off of groups into us and them. This seems to take precedence over the battle with the zombies at this point.

51.40:   Mr Cooper and his wife Helen fall out over the plan-  she thinks it’s stupid to stay downstairs with the radio (representing the power of information) upstairs. She makes it clear in her discourse that they are both unhappily married! So Mr Cooper is portrayed as not just aggressive and touchy, but also stupid, and a poor husband. The deconstruction of the supposed supremacy of whites and white men especially is relentless.

55.00: Cooper sounds off but does nothing useful. His wife says ‘Why don’t you do something to help somebody’.

56-47: The radio reports that a committee has ‘established’ that the unburied dead are coming back to life.

Here the powerful establishments of government and media are telling the masses what’s going on, the announcement coming from a typical ‘newsroom’ with lots of ‘workers’, typing, working, being busy (Fig. 8). This represents the Bourgoisie. It seems that the director Romero wants us to know that the Bourgoisie – the government, the ruling classes, the bosses, and the media , are transmitting ideology- and we may be best to treat the information with caution.  Interestingly there are different possible scenarios within Marxism about the amount of power which the media has to moderate the bourgeoisie message (see Base and Superstructure from my BLOG) . Here we have a suggestion (the typing, the ‘work’ atmosphere of the newsroom) of a Classical Marxist attitude that the Media deliver the ruling classes’ message. Alternatives exist such as the pluralist view that the media are autonomous from the ruling classes.

8.jpgFig. 8 The media deliver the bourgeoisie message about the crisis.


57-27: The newsman says that they now have a plan- rescue stations are being set up, as if this will be the solution.

This suggests White over-optimistic thinking by the Bourgoisie, and seems to poke fun at the ludicrousness of it all.

58-33:  Radiation is mentioned as a possible cause for the first time. Radiation emanating from outerspace, from a destroyed satellite probe from venus.  At this point the Space Race between the Russians and USA was underway- and the USA would soon put the first man on the moon.

59-00: The news channel shows a disagreement between the doctor, the General and the Politician as to what the plan is. They (the POWER groups) seem unprepared and disunited.

1.03- The people in the farmhouse, for the first time, seem to act together in a plan. Judy talks to Tom- ‘if I could only call my folks….’ Showing her vulnerability and separation from family. At 1.06-40 we have tender music, and a tender scene between these two lovers. She’s worried because he needs to get the truck-so will be in danger, they kiss. They will both be dead soon.

1.11.37: We can see a bug on the screen. Is it on the camera or on the window which Mr Cooper looks out of ? If it is on the camera then it suggests it has been left there (not edited out) to deconstruct the film. This technique tends to free up the observer from becoming part of the action, and allows him/her a degree of dispassionate objectivity about the issues in the film (Mulvey, 1999: 389). We are being told that this is not a true story- but is a made up film-  reinforcing the idea that the director is delivering an important political message, not telling a story.

9.jpgFig. 9 A bug lands on the camera to deconstruct the film?

At 1.12 41s the zombies threaten Ben on his own. Ben then sees that Mr Cooper would not let him in- because he is a coward or perhaps he wants him dead? Is this overt racism? After a practical session where both men nail up the broken door together to make it safe, Ben punches Cooper in anger.  Throughout this fight scene the music remains the same as that which accompanies the zombie v human threat suggesting that Mr Cooper is as big a threat to ben as the zombies.

1.17 : Ben says to Cooper ‘who knows what kind of disease those things carry’- in relation to his daughter who has been bitten by a zombie.

1.18/27: Government scientists continue to report that radiation is rising and this means dead bodies will continue to come back to life

1.18 54: shots of ‘vigilante type gangs’ (fig. 10). The advice from the Government and media is ‘Kill the brain and you kill the ghoul’ .

10.jpgFig. 10 A Zombie hunting gang

1.20: Chief Mclelland is interviewed by a journalist and seems upbeat. The journalist asks him if they’ll be able to wrap it up in 24 hours.  Here there are shades of the ‘Great War’ or more recently and more American the Vietnam war- both of which lasted for much longer than initially hoped. Again this deconstructs a typical Hollywood film where the American army are shown as all-powerful and good.

1.12 24: Mr Cooper plans to get the gun off Ben- as if he is the enemy-not the zombies. He gets the gun whilst Ben fights off zombies- and tells his wife to get down in the cellar. Ben then gets the gun and shoots Cooper fatally (fig. 11).


Fig. 10 An enemy is shot by the hero

1.24 30: Barbara breaks out of her trance to defend Mrs Cooper from Zombies and Mr Cooper’s child begins to devour his body. Then the child kills her mum with a brickie’s trowel in a scene which is reminiscent of the psycho shower scene.

1.26 06- Barbara sees Johnnie as a zombie- and treats him as if he’s still human (‘help me’) and embraces him. They kill Barbara, and overrun Ben- who escapes to the cellar.

1.29-30: The morning, quiet and birdsong suggest that the action has finished now. A gang gets near the house- helicopter, men, guns, uniformed officers, dogs, they are all white (fig 12).  Here there are suggestions of 1960’s civil rights demonstrations and the violence which accompanied them.


Fig. 12 Dogs and policemen

1.33. 39: Ben hears their gunshots and goes up to investigate. The men shoot him ‘right between the eyes’ (fig. 13) and he dies instantly.

13.jpgFig. 13 Chief Mclelland tells the man to shoot Ben

This is the ultimate deconstruction of a heroic Hollywood ending to a movie (eg. The Poseidon adventure). Near the end of the film everyone else is dead – except the hero man (who is black), and he too is then shot without any fuss and with no drama. But there is no preamble about whether Ben is a zombie- the gang have no reason to suspect he is- he does not look like one- there is no attempt to find out. This could be just the murder of an innocent black man. They use meat hooks to drag him to a truck and load him on like a piece of meat. They burn him on a bonfire, like jewish victims of the holocaust. The end of the film is an anti-climax – nothing  resolved or accounted for.


Fig 1-12 : Youtube: Night of the Living Dead (HD, FULL MOVIE, 1968)  (2013)   online at

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-_f2Enn8x5s [accessed 14 Dec 2017]


Doane, M. (1999) ‘Dark continents :epistemologies of racial and sexual difference in psychoanalysis and the cinema’ in visual culture: a reader. Evans, J and Hall, S (eds.). London. SAGE Publications. p. 448-457

Dyer, R (1999) ‘White’ in visual culture: a reader. Evans, J and Hall, S (eds.). London. SAGE Publications. p. 457-467

Mulvey, L. (1999) ‘Visual pleasure and narrative cinema’ in visual culture: a reader. Evans, J and Hall, S (eds.). London. SAGE Publications. p. 381-389

Pooke, G and Newall, D (2008) Art History. Abingdon.  Routledge



Examination of racial identity in the media

I was a little anxious about this exercise because I figured that any discussion of race identity in today’s UK media must necessarily be based on evidence which was far more  subtle than for example the cinematographical evidence of colonialist racism in the 1950’s film ‘Simba’.  My work has explored racial identity fairly broadly, and is based on selecting elements of mass media which included a racial theme, and expanding on the issues involved.

I was certainly aware that I picked out only examples of Black racial identity from the media. In hindsight this has everything to do with what Richard Dyer describes as ‘the colourless multi-colouredness of white people (which)  secures white power by making it hard ….to ‘see’ whiteness’ (Dyer, 1999:459). Essentially I seemed able to carry out the exercise only when the black example was available- because whiteness as a category is nebulous and difficult to analyse.

Sun 22 Oct. 2pm.-A black continuity man on R4 (Neil Nunes-fig.1)  has a noticeable jamaican  accent – but he still sounds rather ‘received English’.

Fig. 1 Who has the most irritating voice?  (2017)


Here we have a very common media response to a more enlightened (western) existence. The BBC is attempting to redress the balance and make the BBC more representative of the UK and its audiences.  It certainly started off at a very low bar. I remember in the 1980’s that there were hardly any black faces (or voices) on the news. We now have a lot on the news, current affairs etc, eg. Michelle Hussain, Rageh Omaar, George Alagiah. In fact lord Hall of the BBC has pledged that  ‘to improve diversity (we) will see one in seven presenters and actors being black Asian, or from an ethnic minority’ (The Telegraph, 2017).

However, what of the fact that this Jamaican accent is boxed up in a rather posh, ‘BBC’ type enunciation?  It seems a little like the colonialist idea that the Whites will help the Blacks to progress by helping them become more white- eg. In the film Simba. Certainly there are other presenters/announcers who sound unashamedly non-white on TV- for example a continuity announcer on Channel 5 (I think) who has an amazingly real Carribean accent-which actually makes her quite difficult to follow, but is very refreshing!

Additionally the rather non-threatening (politically non-powerful) nature of the news caster (who’s job is simply to read the news, not to make any) seems to me to make the idea of  ‘tokenism’ in this essentially non-powerful  job  a little more  ‘white’. Is this desire for representation continued in the real positions of power in the UK ? (see later). It is interesting that Neil Nunes was voted in 2011 as having the most annoying voice on radio 4 when Richard Ingrams polled the readers of ‘The Oldie’ (a magazine for old people)- and the result was suppressed by the BBC (The Telegraph, 2011).


7 pm. Radio 4 news- Robert Mugabe has been stripped of his WHO AMBASSADOR for World Health after world condemnation

Fig. 2  What Mugabe told the party conference yesterday (2016)


Robert Mugabe has been a staple of the British news for many years. In some sense it is unfortunate that such an unreasonable, ignorant, and laughable black man gets such a lot of air time on UK media. However I must confess that my attitude towards him is almost totally media driven, and I have little knowledge of the Facts (as opposed to the BBC’s version of the facts). Although I think I am able to rationalise my ridicule about his dress sense (which often seems whacky to a Westerner like me- which itself may be a prima fasciae example of  my colonialism  and racism) ,  his reported anti-democratic actions, and his control of an ailing country (including AIDS sufferers who are not prioritised for healthcare),  am I as a white man  really entitled to judge this man ?

I do question whether the man is as evil as he is made out to be . At least, perhaps he has some mix of good and bad in him. My problem is with a BBC who do nothing to discuss the question of the colonialist White Rhodesia, or any possible connections between the problems of (now thankfully) Black ruled Zimbabwe, and any overhanging legacy which the country bears from those racist days. Mugabe was, at least, a defender of the independence of his home country from colonialist rule. What counts for Zimbabwe and Mugabe here, could equally well apply to many other difficult and problematic post-colonialist African  countries (and leaders).  The issue of Mugabe and Zimbabwe for a white UK observer is therefore inevitably problematized- in a similar and related fashion to Dyer’s own admission that his whiteness must be acknowledged throughout his essay, though it does not negate  anything he has to say on the issue of  white (and implicitly his discussion of non-white) (Dyer, 1999: 458-9).

8.55 pm Internet headline: Evening Standard apologises for cropping Solange Knowles’ braids in cover photo

 Fig. 3   solange-knowles-tells-magazine-dont-touch-my-hair  (2017)


Solange Knowles (Fig.3) – a very high profile black female singer has criticised the Evening Standard newspaper (who’s editor is the ex- chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne and thus would seem very UK establishment- white, male, middle aged, rich, etc….). The singer discussed throughout the original magazine interview that braiding was culturally important to her-an  ‘act of beauty, an act of convenience and an act of tradition” — it is “its own art form.” Newsbeat (2017). The magazine apologised saying it was done for layout purposes. I do not believe that this was done with any racist intention (ie. To deny the opportunity for the artist to show off her braids, and a hairstyle which looks unconventional from the Western point of view) but this was clearly a very insensitive gaffe, given the importance of the singer’s hair to her own life and black culture.

 Mon 23 oct: Both 6pm BBC 1 and ITV 6.30 pm news have black news casters this evening.

Both these newscasters are of Asian origin (see above).

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan is on the news re a tax for diesel cars in central London.



Fig. 4 London Mayor: The Sadiq Khan story (2017)

Sadiq Khan (fig.4) is a very high profile black UK citizen. He grew up on a council estate, born to a bus driver father, he’s a muslim (Telegraph, 2016) , and perhaps the most important man in London. Here we have a really powerful black figure in UK society. Rather like Dyer’s idea that analysis of white is easier when white domination is threatened (as clearly depicted for example in the zombie film ‘Night of the living dead’ )  the presence of Kahn as London Mayor within a society still dominated by white power is more interesting because ‘it throws the legitimacy of white domination into question’ (Dyer, 1999:461).

7pm. my Facebook reveals that I have only one black or ethnic minority friend out of c. 135 people.

This was rather a shock to me as I considered myself accepting of all people in society. The one black FB friend I do have is actually a work colleague, and we are thus thrown together more by accident than friendship (although to counter this I have other white work colleagues who have not been promoted to FB friend status). Is this to do with the way different ethnic groups stay and socialise together-feel happier within the same group? Or, is this due to deeper invisible community and political forces at work?

Tonight I finished my Charles Dickens biography audiobook.

Not one black person was named or mentioned throughout this 17 hour audiobook. This perhaps tells us that however much inequality of racial identity there still is in the UK, it has improved significantly since the Victorian days. As for Dickens himself, although many of his books deal with inequalities in the treatment of minorities (religious, disabled, imprisoned, orphaned etc…….) it can be argued that his ideas had little  actual effect on the lives of the oppressed minorities, and that in terms of racial identity he was actually demonstrably racist (historynowmagazine, 2014).

8-10 pm adverts-Further evidence of an attempt to increase black and minority representation in adverts

In both a Michelin tyres advert and a ‘Mybuilder’ advert (fig. 5) within the same advert break on Ch 4  we had at least 3 black people in the ‘vox pops’ section of the adverts.  It is noticeable that many other adverts  have also increased their representation of black minorities and other minority groups such as homosexuals and the disabled on TV.


Fig. 5 Mybuilder TV advert (2017)

Thursday 26 Oct. Radio 4 ‘Forethought’ programme at 12 noon

A black woman discusses black women’s hair and how fashions have change. For example in the 1960’s  black women would often use hypochlorite to straighten and whiten the hair. This suggests that at that time there were fewer opportunities for Black women to express their own cultural desires, in a UK which was rather white orientated and had little time for the portrayal of ethnic groups in the media. A counter argument might say that these women were eager to experiment with white fashion which may have been relatively new to them, but why then change so quickly to more culturally authentic styles like the afro only a decade later ?  In the 1970’s Black fashion had changed to the afro, portrayed in many 1970’s cop shows and movies. Arguably this was also racist as most blacks were portrayed as criminals, drug pushers, and running away from the good guys.

The Newspapers


  • Gina Miller (a high profile black woman ) who led a high court BREXIT challenge has been  named UK’s most influential black person.
  • Adverts- many of the newspaper adverts have Black representatives in them-eg. BT Broadband where mum has dreadlocks and the daughter has an afro.
  • Sports pages- Here we have many black faces- eg. Dina Asher- Smith a UK runner, Venus Williams a US tennis star, and  Danny Rose-Spurs. Jesse Lingard (Man United) scored twice !

There are very many Black sporting celebrities and this ought to be a positive step, giving people positive black role models, with the remuneration of success (albeit excessive in my opinion). However, we must guard here against a fixed colonialist attitude to Black identity which sees the Black person as excelling in for example physical prowess but not mental agility. As Kobena Mercer says the ‘all brawn and no brains’ fixity is played out daily in the popular tabloid press. On the front page headlines black males become highly visible as a threat to white society, as muggers, rapists, terrorists and guerillas’ yet on the back pages sporting black people are ‘heroized and lionised’ (Mercer, 1999: 439). It would certainly be nice to see as many successful black faces on the front few pages of the average paper as are seen on the back of one.


Fats Domino died.

Domino was from New Orleans, a city now infamously connected to the issue of institutional racism in the modern USA. In 2005 the city’s areas inhabited by Blacks and the poor were hit by flooding (Fats Domino had to be rescued himself). However the response of George W Bush was noticeably inadequate and is believed by many to have demonstrated the country’s racist attitude (including Spike Lee who made a film ‘When the Levees Broke’ about the affair).



Fig. 1 Telegraph Who-has-the-most-irritating-radio-voice (2017) [photograph] online at   http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/celebritynews/8304155/Who-has-the-most-irritating-radio-voice.html [accessed 9th Dec 2017]

Fig.2 insiderzim.com What Mugabe told the party conference yesterday (2016) [photo] online at http://www.insiderzim.com/what-mugabe-told-the-party-conference-yesterday-full-speech/ [accessed 9th Dec 2017]

Fig. 3 Newsbeat  solange-knowles-tells-magazine-dont-touch-my-hair (2017) [photo] online at http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/article/41692323/solange-knowles-tells-magazine-dont-touch-my-hair [accessed 9th Dec 2017]

Fig. 4  Telegraph  London Mayor: The Sadiq Khan story (2016) [photograph] online at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-36140479 [accessed 9th Dec 2017]

Fig. 5 Youtube (2017) MyBuilder Advert 2017 – With Amanda Lamb online at  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CGHysJjKjh8 [accessed 9th Dec 2017]



Dyer, R. (1999). ‘White’ in visual culture: a reader. Evans, J and Hall, S (eds.). London. SAGE Publications.     p457-466.

Historynowmagazine (2014)  charles-dickens-poverty-in-britain-and-racism [online at] http://www.historyisnowmagazine.com/blog/2014/4/25/charles-dickens-poverty-in-britain-and-racism#.Wir9hvXXJjo [accessed 9th Dec 2017]

Newsbeat (2017) solange-knowles-tells-magazine-dont-touch-my-hair [online at] http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/article/41692323/solange-knowles-tells-magazine-dont-touch-my-hair [accessed 9th Dec 2017]

Mercer, K. (1999). ‘Reading racial fetishism: the photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe’ in visual culture: a reader. Evans, J and Hall, S (eds.). London. SAGE Publications.     p435-448

Telegraph (2014) One-in-seven-BBC-presenters-and-actors-to-be-black-Asian-or-ethnic-minority-under-new-Lord-Hall-pledge [online] at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/bbc/10914219/One-in-seven-BBC-presenters-and-actors-to-be-black-Asian-or-ethnic-minority-under-new-Lord-Hall-pledge.html [accessed 9th Dec 2017]

Telegraph (2016)  London Mayor: The Sadiq Khan story [online at]  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-36140479 [accessed 9th Dec 2017]





Project-Black. In your BLOG……

Fanon is writing from the point of view of a black colonial, a second-class citizen of his own country (although in French law he was a citizen of France).

What are his key points and how do these relate to visual culture?

Black men feel normal amongst their own kind, but in a white society or group they feel like they are abnormal and ‘defined’ as if by only the thoughts of the whites. This  relationship does not exist reciprocally ie. whites are not therefore defined by blacks…..

There is a whole set of thoughts and histories which the white men think or tell which  set up the idea of blackness (are these ideologies?) – and the black man defines himself by them. This is wholly terrible for the author, who just wants to be.

This sort of determination is all consuming, as the black man is identifiable immediately by his skin colour. Compare this to the jews, who have been reviled and hunted in the past, but who are identifiable only through their actions, not their appearance. This makes them less vulnerable than the blacks to  the over-determination of the whites.

This problematizes visual culture with respect to the relationship with Whites and Blacks

  • Even in today’s less prejudicial society, the hierarchies of visual culture are often dominated at the top, by White people, and there is the risk that society views  and defines Black people  by the media’s white people’s  ideas and narratives, rather than how Black people actually feel or are .
  • Because the visible difference between Black and White is greater than  eg between jew and gentile, the potential for prejudiced interpretations of Blacks by white audiences is greater than those interpretations of Jews or less visible minority (or simply ‘different’ )groups of people portrayed in the media.
  • If the negating pressure of prejudiced thinking on Black people is as great as Fanon describes, can we ever have a truly accurate description of Black people as seen through visual culture media ? ie. are Black people ever allowed to be simply themselves in life, let alone in visual media ?
  • could this pressure cause a backlash which makes Black visual media artists overly orientated towards retribution (towards Whites) and redirection, as opposed to development of their own personalities and culture ?
  • do Black visual artists have to act ‘White’ in order to get noticed in White dominated visual media ?
  • How can  interpretation be standardised between different audiences of visual culture ? do they need to be? What are the arguments for and against?
  • Just how damaging and dangerous can Visual media be to differently coloured peoples? Not at all or massively ?  Does ‘sticks and stone can break my bones but calling names means nothing ‘ apply or is hate speech and imagery massively harmful? When should it be illegal?

(As I write these words I am instantly aware of how the situation has improved -at least a little- in the present day, and that in the liberal and ‘foreward-looking’  West we  are constantly told to be careful about the way we use language, and to avoid ‘politically incorrect’ or discriminatory language. I agree with the sentiment, but worry about how one ‘learns the rules’ and indeed whether words alone  can be discriminatory. I remember a conversation with a friend who argued that  ‘a coloured man’ was discriminatory and a ‘man of colour’ was not despite my pleas that this was simply a matter of  syntax)

 Many artists of Afro-Caribbean, African or Asian family origins working in Britain, the country of their birth, make work dealing with their take on, for want of a better term, blackness. Find such a work and make notes and annotations to explain this. Chris Ofili is just one such artist but there are many others.







Fig. 1 Walker, B.  Boundary II (2000) (Painting)  [online] at http://www.artscouncilcollection.org.uk/artwork/boundary-i   [ accessed 26 November 2017]

Fig. 2 Walker, B.  The Big Secret (2015) (Conté on paper) [online] at http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/barbara-walker%E2%80%99s-large-scale-drawings-remember-britain%E2%80%99s-black-servicemen-and-women  [ accessed 26 November 2017]

Walker, B.  The Big Secret III (2015) Conté and paint on paper [online] at http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/barbara-walker%E2%80%99s-large-scale-drawings-remember-britain%E2%80%99s-black-servicemen-and-women  [ accessed 26 November 2017]


Artscouncil.org  (2016) Britain’s black servicemen and women  [online] at http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/barbara-walker%E2%80%99s-large-scale-drawings-remember-britain%E2%80%99s-black-servicemen-and-women [ accessed 26 November 2017]

Arts Council Collection (2017) Boundary II [online] at  http://www.artscouncilcollection.org.uk/artwork/boundary-i [ accessed 26 November 2017]

June96.wordpress (2014)  Barbara Walker [online] at https://june96.wordpress.com/  [ accessed 26 November 2017]




Text:  ‘The fact of blackness’ by Frantz Fanon


  • The author came into the world with an idealism which was removed by his becoming ‘an object’.
  • He suggests that within the world of black people he felt ok- not different-something like a natural state.
  • But when he was seen by ‘the other’, by whites, the change in him was very physical-like a chemical reaction. They looked and behaved towards him as different
  • Colonized peoples (is this another term for black? Or is it more general?) seem to have a fundamental Flaw in their world view. …They can only understand themselves as black- in relation to the white man. The author believes the converse is not true.


  • the customs and history of black men were wiped out by white men, because their culture and civilisation was different.
  • In the 20th C, the author remembers talking about ‘the black problem’ with friends, but he thought everyone was equal, and the differences between people seemed like an abstraction.
  • This changed massively when he began to meet white men, or more specifically their eyes…..
  • In the white man’s world the author describes a different schema which governs his sense of self. His sense of his consciousness being set apart from his body, (perhaps a little like that of women in John Berger’s text on the nude in art??)
  • He is always aware of how his body is moving in space and time- it’s never completely instinctual and natural-because he is always observing himself-           (like Berger’s woman who is both surveyed and surveyor-here the white man is equivalent to Berger’s observing man)
  •  He had both a sense of himself as a black body (the corporeal schema), but also a sense which came not from anything bodily, but through how he was viewed by ‘the other’-the white man, which was based on ‘stories and anecdotes’.
  • He next describes an incident where his blackness was raised by a white man (albeit a child)


  • as the child ratchets up the tension shouting ‘Look, a negro!’ several times, Fanon moves from initial amusement to nausea.
  • His description of how he changed throughout this encounter is difficult to grasp completely, but he says he ‘crumbles’ from a ‘corporeal self’ (implying that he was inhabiting his own body in unison here) to a ‘racial epidermal schema’ (ie. One defined by being Black with respect to the whites) which seems to involve something of the feeling described earlier (a disembodied consciousness).
  • He seems to have become embroiled in a negative train of thoughts about his blackness, and many stylised characteristics of negroes (ie. Those which prejudiced whites would dwell on).

These negative thoughts seem similar to the imaginary world set up through ideologies. He was subjecting himself at this point to a racist ideological view?

  • ‘On that day’ fanon says, he became an object- against his will (it’s not entirely clear whether this was the first time it happened- the start of his being objectified, and separated among white men)..
  • The child becomes more racist, and his thoughts continue to spiral with caricatured and mean descriptions of the negro, and by extension himself. He is ugly, mean, bad, angry…
  • The author makes comparisons with another ‘different’ group- the jews. The jews are anxious about how people think they might act-in stereotypical jewish ways (‘their conduct is perpetually overdetermined from the inside’).


  • But unlike the jews, Fanon is instantly recognisable as an ‘other’ based on indelible skin colour-not actions which can be hidden (he is over determined from without).
  • Fanon implies that from this movement, he begins to move slowly, to find life difficult and restricting, he is changed from his natural self into one completely determined by the white man.



Project-Images of women. In your BLOG……….

Using only newspapers and magazines as your source, construct a visual essay illustrating the visualisation of women today. There should be at least 12 images in your essay. Then do the same again but taking an opposite position.

Visual essay 1-Visualisation of women-position 1


Scan text 50002.jpg Scan text 4

Scan text 70006.jpgScan text 60004.jpg

Scan text 40007.jpg

Visual essay 2-Visualisation of women-the opposite position

Scan text 120002Scan text 110003.jpgScan text 100007.jpg

Scan text 90005.jpgScan text 80012.jpg



Make a collection of images of nakedness and the nude, annotating them to indicate which they represent, how and why.




Fig. 1 Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn , Bathsheba Bathing, 1654 (oil on canvas)  [online at] https://www.bridgemanimages.com/   [ accessed 26 November 2017]

Fig. 2  gertsamkunstwerk  male nude statue, (2017) [photograph] [online at]  http://gertsamtkunstwerk.typepad.co.uk/.a/6a00e551ef63008834011570caf694970b-popup

[ accessed 26 November 2017]

Fig. 3  Hugo van der Goes The Fall, Adam and Eve tempted by the snake (after 1479)  (oil on panel) [online at] https://www.bridgemanimages.com/   [ accessed 26 November 2017]

Fig. 4 Daily Star Breastfeeding woman (2015) [photograph] [online at] https://www.bridgemanimages.com/      [ accessed 26 November 2017]

Fig. 5 Unknown artist As passion took over ( c. 1775-80) (Opaque watercolor with gold on paper ) [online at]  http://www.philamuseum.org/collections/634-549.html#object/35724

Fig. 6 Lucian Freud  Nude with Leg Up (Leigh Bowery) (1992) [oil on canvas] [online at]  https://www.bridgemanimages.com/  [ accessed 26 November 2017]


Berger, J (1972) Ways of Seeing Middlesex, England. Penguin Books

wikiart.org (no date) Man with leg-up [online] at https://www.wikiart.org/en/lucian-freud/man-with-leg-up [accessed 26th November 2017]



Project- Images of woman.

Text: Ways of Seeing by John Berger

(chapter 3)


  • The presence of a man and woman are not equal conventionally
  • Man’s presence is related to his POWER and is directed at OTHERS


  • A woman’s to her OWN SELF and what can be done to her.
  • Women are surveyed by men and to maintain some control, women also survey themselves.
  • A woman’s identity is split into two- the surveyor and the surveyed.
  • Women treat the surveyed part as they would want to be treated by others

P 47.

  • Men ‘act’, women ‘appear’
  • The nude in European painting tells us something about how women have been seen in the past


  • In Genesis, man and women became ‘naked’ due to their changed consciousness after the apple incident
  • God punished the woman, by making her serve the man.


  • This story was painted in medaevil times-the shame was about each other
  • By Renaissance times the shame was with respect to the viewer.
  • When secular painting began nudes other than adam and eve were painted , but always being Looked at by the viewer.

What changed in society such that now the viewer is important? Does the ‘adam’ character leave the picture and view the eve character (the nude?)


  • Often the woman was watched as part of the narrative of the picture eg. Susannah and the elders
  • Sometimes she looks in a mirror ( thus views herself also)….


  • In The Judgement of Paris women are not just looked at, but judged..like a beauty contest. The winner becomes the prize, the losers are not beautiful……… ….


  • Interestingly, other non-European art traditions do not have the women passive and looked at. They are instead engaged in sex activities with the same engagement as the man.
  • As opposed to nakedness, the nude seems to be a conventionalised view of women. It started with painting and art (Kenneth Clarke thought it a ‘form of art’) but can also be seen in media like photo’s  and magazines, and also relates to Real sexuality today.


  • The author states that to be a nude is to be on display, seen as an object, which can be used as an object. This is different to nakedness.
  • In each nude painting we have a viewer who is unseen, clothed, and male.


  • Nudes are displayed sexually to this viewer, and they are passive, having little sexuality themselves
  • The absence of body hair helps to pacify the women sexually, as it is a sign of sexuality and passion.


  • Sometimes the nude has a lover in the picture, but she usually looks out at the viewer, ignoring the lover-presenting her Front to the viewer-it flatters him.
  • Again- this is European art- it’s different for other cultures.


  • There are a few exceptions to this story of nudes. There are paintings showing a women naked and engaging with a man in the picture-not the viewer.


  • Berger asks about the function of nakedness
  • A large part of the answer is sexual – we see the naked body and want to have it.


  • ‘their nakedness acts as a confirmation and provokes a very strong sense of relief ‘…….’we are overwhelmed by the marvellous simplicity of the sexual mechanism’ (Berger, 1972 p.59)
  • The woman who may have had subtlety and mystery before ( her hair, eyes, her face are part of her personality-a complicated thing, her face is certainly unique) suddenly becomes like all the rest!
  • Berger thinks this levelling out as we view the breasts and genitals is a relief because everything is geared towards one thing SEX, and that Ground’s us in reality.

This is rather a complicated page but has some good ideas……. Berger’s argument seems to rely on the ‘subtlety of expression of non sexual parts cf sexual ones, but are not also the breasts and genitals less ‘unique’ in their form, or at least our ability to distinguish between different ones? Perhaps this explains the feeling too…

p. 60

  • Berger links the previous discussion to the difficulty of making an expressive painting or photo of a naked woman (as opposed to the conventionalised nude).
  • The instantaneous look of nudity before sex/love is banal-because it is a transition between the more subtle expressivities of both the woman’s character , and the mutual act of lovemaking. Making it a conventionalised fantasy is an easy remedy.


  • Ruben’s painting of his wife is discussed as transcending this problem of banal nakedness through
  1. The robe is falling away and concealing therefore there is a more dynamic sense of time (transcending the single instant)
  2. Details such as the dishevelled hair, and the fat on her legs…-which are personal not conventional (admitting subjectivity)
  3. The painting contains a formal break between the upper and lower body- it does not ‘work’ visually. This element of subjectivity- perhaps he was overcome with emotion when painting these bits !- transcends the conventional…(admitting subjectivity).


  • there is an irony and a contradiction in the nude-it represented the extreme individualism of the artist, yet treated women as if they were all the same.


  • women still survey themselves in the 20th and 21 st centuries- doing what men have always done.
  • The nude has become uncommon in contemporary art. The change in attitude can be seen in Manet’s Olympia-compared to eg. Titian’s. She is a prostitute who seems to be at odds with the role she plays.
  • The idea of prostitutes was a strong one in the early 20th C in many artists.


  • the essential role of women as the ‘looked upon’ has not changed much however. 


Project-Looking, observation or surveillance BLOG questions….

Foucault makes us ask of an image – particularly a naturalistic one and even more particularly in any of the modern media, photography, video etc: Is this the result of looking, observing or surveillance? Are we looking at, observing or subjecting the image and/or its subject to surveillance? And does the contemporary desire to be seen (fashion, the desire for instant celebrity and the associated media exposure), or the seemingly opposite, scopophobic, desire for privacy from the camera, have its explanation in Foucault?

  • Many video artists today use themselves as their subject (eg Lindsay Seers). Think about this in relation to panopticism.
  • Find six images in any medium: two that are the result of looking, two of observing and two of surveillance and explain your choices.

Video artists and the Panopticon

  1. Bill Nauman:  Violent Incident (2012)
  2. violent-incident-bruce-nauman-tate-modern-1345511097_b                                                                 Fig. 1  Violent Incident (2012)
  • In this work Nauman used actors to portray a violent incident around a dinner table
  • The series of screens show the different parts of the violent action- it is as if we see the scenes on company surveillance cameras, and we are security guards (the watcher, the enforcer).In t
  • One of the possible uses of the Panopticon is to watch different criminals in their cells. The different screens here represent the different cells in the Panopticon.


2.  Gillian Wearing, 2 into 1, 1997

In this series of videos, the artist explored the effects of  hiding a person’s  identity- and how it allowed them to act.

”Wearing placed an ad in Time Out and invited people to come into a studio, put on a disguise and spill their guiltiest secrets. A 36-year-old virgin tells how watching his sister kiss his brother destroyed his life; a woman describes how she drugged and robbed the man who cheated on her; others in Neil Kinnock or George Bush masks own up to using prostitutes, or ghastly revenge on bosses.”

(The Guardian, 2012)

This work examines a crucial part of surveillance- we need to be identifiable as the culprit in order to be punished. Rid yourself of your identity, and it’s like you are not being watched, and it is easier to commit a crime. The people in Wearing’s videos may or may not have committed ‘real’ crimes. Some admitted to things which were not illegal, but which they were ashamed of (whether they were the perpetrator, or an innocent victim). This shame which they carried was like ‘inner crimes’ – and talking about them was like recommitting or being subjected to the crime again. Wearing the masks helped them to discuss these inner psychological crimes.

Analysis of six images

Before I start I’d like to make a distinction between the process of looking at images as carried out by the maker of the image, and by the viewer of the image (the audience). They are the same images, but may be the result of very different mental processes and ‘looks’. For example- a photographer takes a picture of a naked model for a girlie  magazine (or a ‘boyie’ one). He/she may look at him/her intricately- this is a technical work and needs to accentuate the visual clues of sexual availability which maximise the value of the end-image.  This is likely to be a very different look to the simple scopophilic look that the magazine viewer gives the image, on his or her way to powerful sexual thoughts and feelings. A film director like Hitchcock might piece together intricate visual narratives, and be aware of the different looks he wants the audience to give the film. But his own look may be one of intense scrutiny and workmanship- because he knows the images have to be flawless if he is to succeed as a director and artist. The images that follow have been described in relation to the audience/viewer.

  1. The scopophilic look (sexual gratification/stimulation). kate winslet nude celebrity pussy sex scenes sex tapes                                                                                       Fig. 2 A scene from Jude (1996)

Fig. 3 is a film clip of the actress Kate Winslet, from the film Jude. She plays Jude’s wife and this is a prelude to the first time they have sex. The image represents a scoptophilic look- one of pleasurable looking. The actress is pretty, womanly, and is completely naked- and passive. These are strong cues for the scoptophilic look as part of the sex instinct – one progresses from looking to having sex, the eye being an important part of sexual forepleasure (Fenichel, 1999: p. 329).

2.The scopophilic look- identification with the hero.


Fig. 3  Covershot from the film The Judge (2014)

I have just finished watching this film. It is a good example of a central character who I view as the hero, and who I identify with. The psychological characteristics of this form of looking are discussed clearly by Laura Mulvey in her essay ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ (Mulvey, 1999).

In this film, the central role is taken by Robert Downey Jr. who plays Hank.  Hank has a few bad points, but they are outweighed by his good ones. We learn that he is a hot shot lawyer, has a big house and car, went to an Ivy league college and came top of his class. He’s also funny, popular with women, and good-looking.  However, he has more sensitive side too, and in the film he defends his dad (a Judge) against a murder charge. During this time the lawyer has to deal with his mum’s sudden  death, his return home to a quiet and dull hometown, sibling jealousy, problems with an ex-lover, and a very complicated relationship with his dad.

His dad is recently retired, and suffering from terminal cancer. Hank has to  come to terms with the illness, his father’s frailty, the realities of vomit and diarrhoea which his dad suffers from because he’s on  chemotherapy. As well as the physical side of things, Hank has never been openly loved and nurtured by his dad- who is very closed up with regards to emotions. This is partly due to the fact that he crashed a car when on drugs, and his brother was injured which ruined a promising baseball career. However, at the denouement of the film, we also realise that the Judge could never love Hank because he reminded him so strongly of a felon who he had given a lenient sentence to – hoping he could be rehabilitated, but who later murdered a young girl.  Hank fails to keep his dad out of prison, but does get him off the murder charge. After 7 months the judge is released and dies soon after whilst out fishing with Hank.

Hank manages to cope with all this and still remain cool, funny and good-looking. Yes this is a dream Holywood film, but I did identify strongly with Hank- he was a good man who returned to his home town to look after his dad. He had to cope with women problems, family problems, and the loss of his parents. Mulvey has it that my identification with this ideal character is built upon a ‘…more complete, more powerful ideal ego’ that is akin to the view of the child’s reflection in the mirror during Lacan’s mirror stage (Mulvey, 1999: p. 385).

3.Surveillance (I)

Police handout image taken from CCTV footage shows London bombing suspects at at Luton train station in central England

Fig. 4 CCTV camera footage (2005)

Fig. 4  shows an image from a surveillance camera, taken of the London ‘7/11’ terrorist bombers in 2005. Surveillance can be defined as ‘the monitoring of the behaviour, activities, or other changing information, usually of people for the purpose of influencing, managing, directing, or protecting them’.  (Wikipaedia, 2017).

Here we can see important information on the screen- exact time and dates, and the camera location. This was taken by a CC-TV camera, and shows that it is situated above the people, and may therefore be unseen in ‘normal’ circumstances. We can also clearly see the faces of two men. This sort of data can be used by the police, the Crown Prosecution service, and the legal system as evidence in prosecution of criminal cases, thereby incarcerating (or some other method of punishment/rehabilitation) criminals and protecting the public in future.

4.Surveillance (II)

Gin Lane 1751 by William Hogarth 1697-1764

Fig. 5 Gin Lane (1751)

This is a print by William Hogarth. The artist used the image as part of a campaign against the uncontrolled production and sale of cheap gin in. The artist has included scenes of violence, child cruelty, drunkenness, civil breakdown and general chaos.  

The artist may have made the etchings from direct sketches of the drunken debauched people, or may have made them up. Whichever was the case, he has produced an image which documents the chaos  in London (he seems to be largely unobserved), and which increased the awareness of society to  a specific social problem. This awareness brought about a reduction in the number of gin shops, and a reduction of the drink-fuelled social problems, through legislation (The Gin Act) by the powerful force of government. In this respect the original image has characteristics of a surveillance.

5. Observation (I)

Amongst the definitions of Observation, we can find

  • The ability to notice things, especially significant details
  •    a statement based on something one has seen, heard, or noticed.

(Oxforddictionaries, 2016)

The first definition seems very like what we expect of an artist- we sometimes define an artist as ‘someone who notices visual details’. The second definition seems to suggest that as well as simply documenting details, one who observes may also state a view on what he has seen. This too is often the case with artists in their work, and some artists have been rather political figures.

5. Observing the significant details

The Incredulity of St. Thomas, 1602-03 (oil on canvas)

Fig. 6 The Incredulity of St. Thomas (1602-3)

This beautiful image is Caravaggio’s rendering of the biblical story of Doubting Thomas, who only believed that the man before him was Christ when he was able to stick his finger into the wounds of his crucified body. The artist  has beautifully caught the following details…

  •  The look of doubt-surprise  on the face of the old Thomas- the deep wrinkles in the forehead, the slightly doddery look of an old man, the way he seems to look away as if to increase the sensitivity of this power of touch.
  • The gentle softness of Christ’s robe
  • Jesus’s gently guiding hand
  • The strange and incongruous shape and depth of a skin pocket produced by a centurion’s spear.
  • The intense effort of looking and feeling -of all the men-  no other background features are shown- the background is in deep shadow (this is an example of Tenebrism)


Observation which involves a statement

Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, c.1555 (oil on canvas)

Fig. 7 Landscape with the fall of Icarus (c. 1555)

Brueghel’s painting is more than just a lovely descriptive image; it tells us a deep truth about tragedy in our human lives;- that we do not always experience tragedy at the same time, and that much of the ‘mechanics’ of the world simply does not recognise the existence of Human tragedy.

Here we see the death of Icarus- he has flown too close to the sun using Wings that his father made for him. What should have been exciting and fun has turned into tragedy- the loss of a son.  We also see a landscape with a farmer ploughing his fields, a shepherd with his sheep, and many ships in the sea- all oblivious of the tragedy, all going about their routine, mundane lives.

W.H Auden wrote a powerful poem on this painting (see below)

Musee des Beaux Arts by W. H. Auden

About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

(Auden, 1940)


Fig. 1  Nauman, W. Violent Incident (2012) at http://pictify.saatchigallery.com/150631/violent-incident-bruce-nauman-tate-modern [accessed 24th July 2017].

Fig. 2   A scene from Jude (1996) [still from film] available online at https://nudecelebsgallery.blogspot.co.uk/search?q=winslet %5Baccessed 24th July 2017].

Fig. 3  covershot from the film The Judge(2014) [photograph] available online at http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1872194/fullcredits?ref_=tt_ql_1 [accessed 24th July 2017].

Fig. 4 CCTV camera footage (2005) available online at http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2189417/British-Muslim-convert-bomb-making-manual-arrested-Kenyan-police-white-widow-fugitive.html  [accessed 24th July 2017].

Fig. 5 Hogarth, W. Gin Lane (1751) [Etching and engraving on paper] online at http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/hogarth-gin-lane-t01799 [accessed 24th July 2017].

Fig. 6 |Carravagio, M.  The incredulity of St. Thomas (1602-3) [oil on canvas] online at https://www.bridgemaneducation.com/en/search?filter_text=caravaggio+thomas [accessed 24th July 2017].

Fig. 7 Bruegel, P. Landscape with the fall of Icarus (c. 1555) [oil on canvas] online at http://www.bridgemanimages.com/en-GB/asset/3675/bruegel-pieter-the-elder-c-1525-69/landscape-with-the-fall-of-icarus-c-1555-oil-on-canvas? [accessed 24th July 2017].



Auden, W.H. (1940) Musee des beaux arts (poem) online at http://www.poetrybyheart.org.uk/poems/musee-des-beaux-arts/ [accessed 24th July 2017].

Fenichel O. (1999) ‘The scoptophilic instinct and identification’. in visual culture: a reader. Evans, J and Hall, S (eds.). London. SAGE Publications.   p. 327-339

Mulvey, L. (1999) ‘Visual pleasure and narrative cinema’ in visual culture: a reader. Evans, J and Hall, S (eds.). London. SAGE Publications.   p. 381-389

Oxforddictionaries (2016) Surveillance [definition] online at https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/observation [accessed 24th July 2017].

The Guardian (2012) gillian-wearing-whitechapel-gallery-feature [online] at https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2012/mar/04/gillian-wearing-whitechapel-gallery-feature %5Baccessed 24th July 2017].

Wikipaedia (2017) Surveillance (definition) online at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surveillance [accessed 24th July 2017].