Monday, December 13, 2010

Skin Deep: Finding Love Underneath in Fashion and Film (Final paper)

April Boyd
Steven Wexler
English 313 (Popular culture)

I am fascinated by our desire to find completeness from material things; how our culture is hypnotized by fancy jeweled watches that are constantly being dangled just out of reach. The society we are so immeshed in has tantalized us with notions of love through material gain. We fight for our freedom to buy in a way that is more radical than most wars fought in past times. This cannot be coincidental.  Philosopher, Gramscian, has great insight to this dilemma: " For example, early work on advertising was cast within the problematic of ideology and hegemony. Textual and ideological analysis of advertising stressed the selling not just of commodities but of ways of looking at the world." (Barker, 69). Advertising -- originating from manufacturer and consumer -- is the new language of this world.  As we ingest hours and hours of advertisements, we start becoming what we eat and growing into a whole new world order. 

Advertising preys on the human drive for acceptance. We strive to improve the outer shell of our humanity (our cars, clothes, bodies) in a constant search for approval.  We radically love the self to have an identity others will approve.  We strive and toil and purchase so we can subdue feelings of inadequacy.  Yet, ironically, the places Americans go for healing is actually the cause of the problem:  ad-driven media outlets.  Their unstated objective is to make the view or reader feel simultaneously included and excluded.  This bizarre dichotomy is exemplified in the texts of the magazines Cosmopolitan and GQ along with two romantic comedies "Sweet Home Alabama" and "Maid in Manhattan". 

Searching "Cosmos"'s online version for what the their writers and editors deem as "love", the topics of sex, desirability, and how to speak 'dude' language seem interchangeable for love.  It appears if you are good at sex, attractive, and can communicate with men... you are lovable.  If not, the reader must continue to purchase the magazine and the products advertised within if they wish to be loved because the implicit in every sex/health/fashion article is that you are inadequate.  Furthermore, the explicit message of the articles -- as shown by their brazen titles -- is that women need to be sexy, dress sexy, act sexy and you will finally meet your soul mate (i.e.: you will be loved).  

If Cosmopolitan and similar magazines are correct in their proclamation that one needs to be sexy in order to be loved, it begs the question:  Where do women learn how to be sexy? Unfortunately, for the greater part of the past century, it is from fashion magazines.  This is not just freedom of expression  / post-feminist rights movement, but an ideology created by the those who espouse it.  The rhetoric  chants "Women must be fashionable, sexy (in shape), and possess all knowledge of flirting".  In essence, woman become this image of perfect feminineness by shaping ourselves into the image they have created.  Women might not consciously know this is what we strive to be, but it is evident in the products we purchase for ourselves, friends, and daughters.  We glue fake eyelashes to our face, soak our hair in bleach, and near stop signing up for diet fads. We are trying to be Malibu Barbie -- in the idea of perfection we were sold as little girls.  We are kept in a dissatisfied state that keeps the cycle perpetuating.  Gramscian views this as the job of advertisers, the goal of creating “an 'identity' for a product amid the bombardment of competing images by associating the brand with desirable human values. Buying a brand was not only about buying a product. It was also about buying a lifestyles and values".  As Winship argues: "A woman is nothing more that the commodities she wears: the lipstick, the tights, the clothes and so on are “women"( Winship, 1981: 218) ( Barker, 2008 : 69).

This is a personal issue for me because I have struggled with thoughts and feelings of inadequacy. I never felt I could fit in with other children. I did not know then that I was not buying into the identity the others had so frequently been fed from the womb. I would put on mascara and borrow my older sister's cute clothes, but I still felt unappealing, unwanted by my peers. The dissatisfaction came from a place I thought was an inner ugliness. I assumed the rejection I felt was because I was undesirable. However, the truth was I was not up on the popular, manufactured ideal of feminine beauty. My family did not have a television, therefore I was doomed to be an outcast.  It was almost as if I was growing up in a different society with differing understandings of reality.  Of course, I had some form of shaping from the other culture.  I was exposed to billboards, movies, and Barbie. These things became the image I longed for and sought after with a vengeance when I turned fourteen. I would not leave the house without my eyelashes looking perfect. Sometimes, I would sit in front of the mirror for forty-five minutes applying mascara. I wanted every lash to be dark and lush like everyone else's lashes. Or, just like the image Maybelline sold me. This was extremely difficult because I have blonde eye lashes. This may seem vain to some, but I needed to reshape my image to that of another to feel accepted.  I too was vicariously  indoctrinated by the advertising industry.  Yet, amusingly, I already possessed the natural blonde hair and blue eyes they were selling.  

My personal experience illuminates how peculiar a woman's predicament is. We are told to look a certain way and that look is theoretically obtainable. We just need to change the parts of us that do not fit.  For me it was my blonde eyelashes that needed to be changed, for others it maybe a nose, or hair that needs changing. In Susan Bordo’s "Material Girl: The Postmodern Effacements of Postmodern Culture" she states: "Looking at the pursuit of beauty as normalizing discipline, it is clear that not all body-transformations are “the same”. The general tyranny of fashion-perpetual, elusive, and instruction the female body in a pedagogy of personal inadequacy and lack- is a powerful discipline for the normalization of all women in this culture.”  We must first desire change and to have this desire we must see ourselves as lacking. This “programmed” voice is the one we listen as we drive to the gym, hair salon, and department stores.  It is informing us who to be. According to Bordo, the ‘tape’ has been hijacked by those in power, the people who benefit from our insecurities.  Bordo goes on to write, “But even as we are all normalized to the requirements of appropriate feminine insecurity and preoccupation with appearance, more specific requirements emerge in different cultural and historical contexts, and for different groups. When Bo Derek put her hair in corn rows she was engaging in normalizing feminine practice. But when Oprah Winfrey admitted on her show that all her life she desperately longed to have 'hair that swings from side to side' when she shakes her head, she revealed the power of racial as well a gender normalization, normalization not only as 'femininity', but to the Caucasian standards of beauty that still dominate on television, in movies, and in popular magazines”.

Men have a similar rhetoric that is found in GQ magazine.  Wikipedia states, "GQ (originally Gentlemen’s Quarterly) is a monthly men's magazine focusing on fashion, style, and culture for men, through articles on food, movies, fitness, sex, music, travel, sports, technology, and books."  The magazine strives to show readers what type of man is accepted in today’s society.  The masculine image men are peer-pressured into becoming is one that has snazzy clothes, an easy smile, and well cut hair. This is a legitimate problem for the masculine persona. In the past men did not have to worry about what to wear or how to do their hair. All they needed to do was work hard and protect their country in times of war. This has all changed after the industrial revolution.  The industrial revolution took men from outside and placed them indoors behind a desk or in front of a board meeting.  Faludi, in Baker's text calls this a change to "ornamental culture". He states this "signaled the end of a utilitarian role for men. Ornamental culture is a culture of celebrity, image, entertainment and marketing all underpinned by consumerism. In this context, masculinity becomes a matter of personal display rather than the demonstration of the internal qualities of inner strength, confidence and purpose. Masculinity has become a performance game to be won at the marketplace.” (305-306)

How does a man join in this new game and transition in to a ornamental culture?  According to GQ,  a man goes out and buys a new a suit, purchases a nice BMW, and runs down to Super Cuts.  It is a new gospel to men, but one that has been preached to women for years.  All one has to do is look perfect and be confident.  However, the problem is the rules of perfection keep changing (by GQ and similar advertising sponsored outlets).  The institution selling the needed products are the ones constantly changing the rules of what is needed to be loved.  One day skinny ties are in, the next day their out.  The only way you can find out is continual participating in the materialistic culture and, of course, by purchasing the magazine.  By subscribing to these mind games that are perpetuated in all aspects of American society (and nicely displayed in Cosmo and GQ), people will never be able to attain the love of other human beings we seek after.  The only love that is produced is a love of goods.  The desire for love of others has turned into the consumption of goods.

Mainstream, studio romantic comedies feed the consumerist ideology to both males and females.  Two examples of films that package the same ideas as GQ and Cosmopolitan are "Sweet Home Alabama" and "Maid in Manhattan".  Both of these movies exploit the idea of woman and men enjoying material culture and struggling to be perfect. "Sweet Home Alabama" plays with this idea by telling a story of a average Alabama women who runs away from her average husband so she can reinvent herself as a rich New Yorker .

This is a perfect example of what is expected of us in order to be worthy of love. She ditches her husband for a more sophisticated man. A man who wears all the right stuff and can sway any board meeting. All the actors that live in New York are well groomed and sophisticated while the hicks in Alabama are lacking. This becomes the criteria we base our romantic relationships on. If you don’t fit the mold created by ad-based media, then you don’t deserve love.  Without realizing it we digest this like it’s a spoon full of sugar, not realizing we have now been poisoned with a medicine that will taint our identity. The other movie that bluntly states in a picturesque way that if we can conform we will find happiness is "Maid in Manhattan".  IMBD explains the plot as “A senatorial candidate falls for a hotel maid, thinking she is a socialite when he sees her trying on a wealthy woman's dress.” Even this description gives away the ulterior motive. She is lovable "if".  This is the same Cinderella story women are fed since childhood.  The maid needs to pretend to be rich and wear nice things, so that prince charming will sweep her off her feet.

Ultimately, what we are learning from these advertising sponsored media is that we must look and act like the products they are selling. We are taught that we have the tools to become better, to improve our appearance, but all we need to do is start trying and buying. This is a fallacy, a false worldview they promote. The people they show us are cartoons, they do not exist in real life. They have been altered by plastic surgery, make up, and Photoshop. It is given not to help us, but to help further a consumerist society, all in the name of American freedom of capitalism.  We are damaging ourselves and the people we claim to love. The commercial industry has been giving us our identity and taking away the real radical love we desire from other people. 

Baker, Chris. Cultural Studies  Los Angeles: Sage Publications, 2008
Bordo, Susan. Material girl: The Effacements Of Postmodern Culture 

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Digital media culture

Welcome back,

We are discussing the new digital world that we find ourselves in. The internet is inescapable for our generation and those to come. We socialize, work, research, and study here in this cyber world. To name a few of the many things we accomplish via the world wide web.Although, we certainty are no where near what our grandparents assumed technologically . We don't have flying cars or robots cooking our dinners every night.However, we do have this magnificent resource sitting in our living room. Is this knew digital culture an Utopian society that will bring about a revolution, or is there  a darker side yet to be examined? Lets take a look at how it is a Utopian or a dystopian.

First lets examine three good things the web had given us.  We now have free speech that reaches all over the wold. With a single click of " publish post" and our voice/ opinions can be downloaded. This is without the control of the government or armed forces. Telling us we're out of line or throwing us in jail for disrupting the peace. We are connected to other cultures and places we might never experience without Googles assistance. 

Now lets take a quick look at the dark side of the world wide web. Since, most people are not being monitored by an outside legitimate source people are free to write any thing that pops into their head. Everyone becomes an expert in this world. Even if we want to admit it or not we are being monitored by someone. Take Facebook or myspace Tom gets to see everyones comments and pictures. If he doesn't like something we post he has the power to take it down. Also, the major web browsers (yahoo, Google, etc.) are really controlling where we go and what we see. Through, paid advertisement we are propelled by these big sites towards different website they want us to visit.  Barker, states in Cultural studies theory and practice (pg 356) " By building huge information portals and having an interest in a range of online activities including news, e-mail, chat rooms, and video streams, the big players can direct traffic through the web. We might think we are surfing freely through the web but actually we are being channeled into the limited options chosen by powerful commercial interest." This may not come as a surprise to many of us, but for those of us who have not thought through these knew cultural issues we should continue to look at both sides.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

George Costanza Does The Opposite

(This blog is going to be short due to injury from a recent car accident.)

The in class group presentation regarding Seinfeld was really good. They asked some really deep interesting questions about the language used in the show. At least that's what intrigued my the most. The way Seinfeld verbalizes what most of us are thinking.

Also, how it speaks to us about gender, capitalist, and postmodern ideologies. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


 In,  GlenGarry Glen Ross , we are privy to the strain of  the working class. The men that are seen as slackers or worthless because they are not bringing in the big bucks. How does this scene represent american capitalism and the working class? 

One could say the way Alec Baldwin dangles his BMW and expensive watch as a picture of his power over them is a capitalistic way. What does he belongings have to do with his value? Also, that it is set in an office building and they are trying to push a certain product (houses). Both these ideologies make it a part of our american identity, more importantly the product they are selling (land), from an office located in a major city. Is the biggest representation of capitalism. The fact that they are not actually producing any goods to sell they have to shift around things already produced. The land/ properties are the goods. Most of us don't build houses or make things , but we are all apart of the mass push of goods. This is why David Harvey shows how capitalism shapes our everyday lives. Barker suggests " The city is said to be the site of a class struggle engendered by capitalism. This is marked by contestation over the control of space and distribution of resources, for example the conflicts over the cutting of welfare spending during the restructuring of capitalism in the 1980s and 1990s."   Our value is wrapped up in how much we can produce and how fast we can sell it. The production of goods goes beyond just the value of that product, but it becomes who we are. I am no longer have value all alone, my value lays in the product. 

I am still working through these heavy issues of capitalism and how it affects us. However, it is a very prominent theme that continually shows itself. I will be revisiting this thought later....  

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Welcome back,

I tried to find the full article for your reading enjoyment, but you need a password to get to it on moodle ( online teaching website) & I can't seem to find it anywhere else. Well worth reading if you can get your hands on it.Anyways...
In reading the philoshor Susan's Bordo's : "Material Girl" :  The effacements of postmodern culture. I was appalled to realize I was one of the postmodern women she refers to. I have tried to "control" my image by getting perms, wearing make-up, and working out.  She suggest In a culture in which organ transplants, life-extension machinery, microsurgery and artificial organs have entered everyday medicine, we seem on the verge of practical realization of the seventeenth-century imagination of the body as machine. (1099)  
In controlling our bodies and viewing them as machines that can be tampered and changed. Changed into whatever popular image that is "in" at the time. We have become free to do whatever we want with our image.  All women experiment with their look. We all want to look our best and feel beautiful. Bordo, suggests there is a deeper meaning behind those fake eye lashes or brand new hairdos. Our culture is saturated with the " ideal" feminine beauty. She is tall, thin, blonde, and perfect. This ideal haunts us until we are totally and utterly dissatisfied with what we look like. We are all lacking and trying to cover up our flaws. We are  a dissatisfy race. However, the beauty industry has pounced on us postmodern women and using culture against us. The "innocents" of getting a new hairdo has morphed into: an innocent nose job or a breast enhancement. We have become like gods creating images in the likeness of a beautiful actress:

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Neo-Traditional Romcom

To have a better understanding of romantic comedies I viewed the film 'Did you hear about the Morgans?'. It has elements of Neo- traditional Rom Coms because of its conservative ending and how it relies on the audience to feel sorry for the characters. As McDonald states in her book 'Romantc Comedy: Boy Meets girl meets genre'  (Pg. 85) " These films, therefore, while close to Annie Hall in their visual elements, adopt a much more conservative and traditional ending".  By traditional ending she means( pg.86) "boy meets girl, boy losses girl, boy gets girl back" unlike the radical romantic movies Woody Allen writes. Where the two people we are following throughout the film do not end up together, but split up or end up with the other guy/ girl in the film. We will never experience this in a neo-traditional RomCom because it does not fit in the mold. Also, "Did you hear about the Morgan's?" relies on our ability to feel for there situation. During the movie the couple has to outwit a hired gun man, forgive each other of infidelity, and learn to love one another again in a foreign atmosphere, the charming, quaint, modern 'old west' town they are hiding out in . This McDonald's says is " The works they reference, however, come not from the ranks if screwball or sex comedies, but from romantic dramas, and it is from this type of film that the newer romantic comedy draws its increased emphasis on the importance of tears". Although, I shed no tears while viewing this film I was compelled to feel sorry for the situation they were "forced" into.Ultimately we as the audience have to buy into their sad situation so that we  root for them to be reunited at the end.