Laura Mulvey Feminist Film Theory and ‘The Male Gaze’
Pleasurable Spectatorship Laura Mulvey analysed the way men and women were represented in films, and speculated about how this would appeal to a spectator. She mixed psychoanalytic film theory (the ideas of Freud and Lacan) for a ‘politically feminist’ end. She said that ‘spectatorship’ and the act of looking itself provided a form of sexual gratification
Scopophilia and Voyeurism Scopophilia = Freud’s phrase for when we get sexual pleasure from looking at other people but Mulvey also noted that Freud said people feel guilty when getting pleasure in this way.
Scopophilic pleasure Mulvey suggested that cinema was the ideal place to get ‘scopophilic’ pleasure because1. the people in the film aren’t aware the spectator is watching2. no-one else can see the spectator getting pleasure because the theatre is in darkness, plus everyone else is watching the screen.
Mulvey said the cinema provides voyeuristic pleasure: pleasure achieved through watching others who don’t know they’re being observed
‘Mirror Stage’ Jacques Lacan was a psychoanalyst who expanded and developed Freudian ideas. Lacan said this is a stage in child’s development where they recognise themselves in other people with similar features. Child develops sense of ‘self’ and ‘Other’ that influence it’s thinking for the rest of its life.
Link back to Mulvey Mulvey used Lacan’s idea about the importance of seeing your self ‘visually reflected’ to explain why people like films. When we see a character on the screen like us, we identify with it – and this helps reinforce our sense of self.
Mulvey’s Conclusions Most mainstream films are made by male filmmakers for male spectators This results in ACTIVE (Hero) male characters and PASSIVE (Object) Female characters
How do these appeal to the (male) spectator? Mulvey said that mainstream films appeal to the ‘Male Gaze’ Women are presented as something pleasurable for the male spectator to look at; In her own words, popular films “are obsessively subordinated to the neurotic needs of the male ego”.
Narcissistic identification Narcissus was a figure in Greek mythology, a boy who was so attractive he fell in love with his own reflection Narcissism = loving your own image Narcissistic identification = male spectator sees male hero on screen and gets pleasure by both feeling similar to the hero and admiring/loving the idealised image of masculinity
Voyeuristic Objectification Voyeuristic objectification = when the male spectator gets pleasure by desiring the female character, and feeling he owns her because she is passive (like an object) and because he can look at her with out guilt (because she doesn’t know she is being watched)
Fetishisation Mulvey also noted that sometimes there were active female characters, especially those portrayed by a female star. However, she said that these weren’t characters that were presented for the female spectator to identify with.. … instead their power seemed to be based around their beauty.
Fetishisation cont’d She said that female beauty was fetishised A fetish is when a source of fear becomes a source of pleasure. Humans don’t like feeling scared and anxious – so, psychologically, they sometimes turn a source of fear into something that gives pleasure So… a male spectator, made anxious by a female characters empowered actions, can turn her into a source of visual pleasure by concentrating on her beauty and sexiness.
Problems with MulveyOne main problem is that she didn’t do any audience research, shebased all her ideas on her own analysis of films.Completely disregards female audienceNo reference to gay/lesbian couples (narcissistic identification)out-dated because there are more videos promoting femaleempowerment and gay relationships.
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