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w o m e n & c i n e m a …The Making and Unmaking of Reality… Viewing Exercise The Office (UK) The Office (US) Look for: Differences in photographic technique. Differences in mise-en-scene. Consider: The affect of these differences on the audience in how they interpret the story.

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w o m e n c i n e m a

w o m e n & c i n e m a

…The Making and Unmaking of Reality…

viewing exercise
Viewing Exercise
  • The Office (UK)
  • The Office (US)

Look for:

Differences in photographic technique.

Differences in mise-en-scene.


The affect of these differences on the audience in how they interpret the story.

The social and political implications of these differences in reception.

bell hooks making movie magic
bell hooks “making movie magic”
  • Films are constructed by filmmakers both consciously and unconsciously to deliver certain messages and achieve specific reactions.
  • We must ask that famous question:
  • “Does art imitate life or does life imitate art?”
  • bell hooks suggests that movies make reality
  • more than they reflect reality:
  • But for hooks, this is precisely what movies do not do; “Movies make magic. They change things. They take the real and make it into something else right before our eyes…They give the reimagined, reinvented version of the real. It may look like something familiar, but in actuality it is a different universe from the world of the real. That’s what makes movies so compelling” (1).
  • Baudrillard – hyperreality. Perception is representation.
“Strong texts work along the borders of our minds and alter what already exists. They could not do this is they merely reflected what already exists” (Jeanette Winterson, qtd. in hooks 2)
  • Film and other visual media are a powerful source of influence on our lives precisely because they seem so real, they seem to reflect reality to such an extent that we don’t realize that when we watch movies we are also learning.
When we see something we want to be true in film or that we ourselves experience to be true we say, well, movies are a reflection of reality.
  • As bell hooks suggests, when we are confronted by what’s problematic in the representation of a film, we will often say: “[The movie] was just showing the way things are. It was real” (1).
  • That’s just the way men and women are, for example.
  • But what happens when we uncover all the ways that so called reality is twisted, pulled, tilted and shaped in movies?
So, what kinds of things to we learn
  • when we watch popular movies?
  • …About gender?
  • …About sexuality
  • …About race?…About culture?
  • …About class?
in the darkness of the theatre
in the darkness of the theatre…
  • For hooks, while we might claim to resist the images we see or interpret them in different ways than they were intended, by and large, the persuasive power of film manages to seduce us in both conscious and unconscious ways to follow certain behaviours.
  • Read: “A distinction…no power over them” (3).
  • “If we were always and only ‘resisting spectators,’ to borrow a literary phrase, then films would loose their magic. Watching movies would feel more like work than pleasure” (4).
“Changing how we see images is clearly one way to change the world” (6).

Representations can go a long way to making one feel like one is seeing oneself as part of the world, but as bell hooks warns, they can also be misleading.

Merely seeing a lot of women in movies doesn’t mean we’re seeing an accurate or meaningful representation of women’s lives, or a critical engagement with the categories of gender themselves.

The same is true of race…

Filmmaker Issac Julien:

“…blackness as a sign is never enough. What does that black subject do, how does it act, how does it think politically?”

Cultural Theorist Stuart Hall:

“the moment the signifier ‘black’ is torn from its historical, cultural, and political embedding and lodged in a biologically constituted racial category, we valorize, by inversion, the very ground of the racism we are trying to deconstruct” (7).

Look for:
    • multiple standpoints expressed in a singular film.
    • opposing views expressed in one film.
    • what kind of the worldview is being presented? what are the assumptions that are being promoted?
    • the politics or power dynamics of the film
    • representations of gender, sexuality, race, class, culture, etc.
“Whether we like it or not, cinema assumes a pedagogical role in the lives of many people. It may not be the intent of a filmmaker to teach audiences anything, but that does not mean that lessons are not learned” (2).

It might be that we learn more about race, class and sex at the movies and other dominant forms of moving picture media than we do from any other cultural source!

We may go to the movies to travel, to see difference, to be scared, to be taken out of our comfort zone, but often what we receive in these experiences teaches us to retreat from these desires for otherness rather than to affirm them.

“Movies remain the perfect vehicle for the introduction of certain ritual rites of passage that come to stand for the quintessential experience of border crossing for everyone who wants to take a look at difference the different without having to experientially engage “the other.”

  • the art and science of stereotypes
richard dyer the role of stereotypes
Richard Dyer “the role of stereotypes”
  • Stereotypes can be thought of as:
  • an ordering process
  • (generalities, patternings, typifications).
  • a ‘short cut’
  • (simplifications).
  • a demarcation or marking of boundaries
  • a form of ‘othering’/producing difference
type stereotype
  • For Dyer, “it is not stereotypes, as an aspect of human thought and representation, that are wrong, but who controls and defines them, what interests they serve.”
  • Social types are representations of those who ‘belong’ to society; ‘stereotypes’ are representations of those who do not belong, who are meant to be outside of one’s society, categories of people that are used to mark a boundary between inside and outside.
  • Social types are more open and flexible. In fiction, they function in the narrative in particular ways but don’t shut down the possibilities of their category. So what do stereotypes do then?
The Function of Stereotypes:
  • Stereotypes are often attached to particular and rigid narratives.
  • Stereotypes thus foreclose on the full humanity and dignity and limitless possibilities of individuals by reducing them indefinitely one-dimensional caricatures that do not change.
  • Stereotypes reduce a group of people to a set of rigid characteristics.
  • They separate and render distinct and different what might otherwise be construed as similar and relatable.
  • They make people appear either simplistically knowable or uncomfortably unknowable.
  • Stereotyping is thus ONE tool used to other groups of people.
  • Stereotypes alienate people from each other and themselves by building up false, decontextualized, and misconstrued representations of certain groups.
  • Examples?
Stereotypes enable processes of o t h e r i n g that prevent honest, open, engaged interactions between fully realized and always realizing beings.
  • Dyer: “The role of stereotypes is to make visible the invisible so that there is no danger of it creeping up on us unawares: and to make fast, firm and separate what is in reality fluid and much closer to the norm than the dominant value system cares to admit” (16).
Richard Dyer: “This is the most important function of the stereotype: to maintain sharp boundary definitions…where there are none.”
  • boundaries between:
  • men/women
  • gay/straight
  • black/white
  • abled/disabled
  • sane/insane
internalized stereotype
Internalized Stereotype
  • Not only do stereotypes enable those most empowered by the dominant culture to other marginalized individuals and groups, they are often internalized by those very people.
  • Example: Women begin to believe that they really are not good at math and science. Asian women feel they’re faces look tired or less intelligent.
  • The presence of negative stereotypes can threaten performance and alter one’s sense of self.
  • Stereotypes, when internalized, can also bring people together in problematic and unjust ways.
There is a notable difference, however, between gender stereotypes and stereotypes about racial, ethnic, or religious minorities.
  • Western White culture others it’s non-white citizens through the production of xenophobia (fear of what is strange, foreign).
  • However, there is stereotyping that occurs within all groups comprised of men and women that aims to maintain the hierarchical structure between the genders while still promoting heterosexuality.
Stereotypes are most affectively communicated covertly –
  • image media is one the most affective ways to communicate stereotypes and enable othering techniques.
Stereotypes that we learn through media shape the world for us, making us believe that we see the truth about other people when in fact we are moving through the world with a set of predefined IMAGES.
  • We remember when a stereotype seems to be proven true, and rarely when they are not because we become passively and actively attached to ideas about ourselves and the world that rely on these stereotypes for justification.
  • Therefore, stereotyping is a powerful tool for justifying and/or making light of socially unjust worlds.
the power of cinema
The power of cinema
  • The intimacy of cinema makes it an especially powerful medium for creating and repeating stereotyped ideas.
“Much of the magic of cinema lies in the medium’s power to give us something other than life is”
  • (hooks 9)
s c r e e n i n g
s c r e e n i n g
  • American Pie
  • (Paul Weitz 1999)
  • American Pie
  • (James B. Rogers 2001)