Wednesday, 24 October 2012

The Gaze and the Media

Our second context of practice lecture was all about 'the male gaze'. This is where the male watches the woman, and the woman watches herself being looked at by the man. It is highly relevant in modern society as 'the look' is largely controlled by men, particularly in advertising.

To explain how the gaze works, we can take an image comparison. With the bellow image titled 'Vanity' by Hans Melmin, we see a woman examining a reflection of her face in the nude. Note that the reflection  in the small mirror is inaccurate when we consider perspective. This tells us that the painting is in some sense abstract, meaning that their is focus on the message behind the painting as oppose to photorealism. Because the perspective is skewed, the reflection begins to look like a perfect portrait, elegantly cropped with the shoulders and head in frame. perhaps this could suggest the woman's search for convention and properness, and how she would like to be received under the scrutiny of the male gaze. The viewer is almost invited to examine the females form as the image is in no way evasive, and she becomes merely an object, like a sculpture in an art gallery:

If we now take a look at this second image, we see a female applying makeup, sat on her bed. Here her form is much less elegant and conventional. Her legs are parted, yet she is still clothed. Add this to the reflection in the mirror, and we the viewer almost feels intrusive. Her reflection is correct in perspective, meaning her eyesight catches us looking at the painting. We almost feel caught in the act of peeping, their is a real sense of voyeurism with this image.

The idea of the male gaze is hugely relevant in fashion photography:

Regarding this image, theorist Rosalind Coward said 'The camera in contemporary media has been put to use as an extension of the male gaze at women on the streets.' Again there is this sense of voyeurism, catching someone in an exposed intimate act. This is taken further by including the public backdrop, adding a sense of risk and excitement to the image. Again, the woman almost becomes objectified, her sunglasses breaking eye contact so that the male viewer does not feel he is under scrutiny, as he himself scrutinises the woman in the image.

It is very rare that this gaze is reversed. Even when men are depicted in the nude, they often challenge the gaze. They are never objectified in such ways as the women in the above images.

Moving towards contextualising the ideas in the lecture, we can can see the gaze present in films, games and animation. One of the most noted transmedia characters in gaming, 'Lara Croft' is a perfect example of objectifying the female form for the pleasure of men. She is 'a visual spectacle to be consumed', she is over sexualised, and their is a sense of excitement with her destruction. We see this tradition carried on with many of the female characters in gaming. In the 'Halo' franchise, even the protagonist's computerised companion 'Cortana' is over sexualised:

This idea of digitalised sexual objects in gaming is taken further still, with the 'Miss Digital World' a competition held in Italy, where digital artists create beautiful digital women to compete. Again it is this idea of objectified women being put up for scrutiny against the male gaze. As a result, ideal definitions of beauty are manifested in society.

So why are male protagonists so versatile in age and appearance, while women are almost always depicted as young, attractive and over sexualised. Is it that men are not under the scrutiny of females and their gaze. Take Marcus Fenix from the 'Gears of War' Franchise. He is gruff, scarred and unbathed. This could however, be more fitting to the conventions of the male's traditional role in society. Marcus's rugged, masculine persona could be seen as 'sexy' under the female gaze. Perhaps this in fact reverses the gaze, as Fenix is under the scrutiny of females, whereas the male audience sees the heroic figure as an idealised reflexion of themselves. In a sense the male audience could be viewing themselves being observed and scrutinised by the female gender. Perhaps whereas as slender petite females seem to be a convention in the media, perhaps male characters also conform to certain conventions. For example, although the male protagonist varies in age and is not always portrayed as classically handsome, there is a always a trait of strength and dominance present.

We see the gaze everywhere in the media, from fashion photography, to advertising campaigns, to film and game. This comes with the general understanding that sex sells. Women become objects for marketing, playing on this sense of voyeurism that entices and excites the male market.

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