Friday, October 16, 2009

The Hollywood "Image"

As we talked about in class, Laura Mulvey dealt with the notion of a patriarchal Hollywood. She address that fact that back in the 50s and 60s, women were seen as objects and judged on their to-be-looked-at-ness. She also states that women functioned as either an erotic object for the characters within the story or for the spectator. Here are some classic images from the 50s and 60s that really express what Mulvey was talking about. While these women both had leading roles they were still portrayed as objects to be looked at.

Now after seeing these images I would like to pose a question. Has Hollywood changed, or is it still the patriarchal society praising women on their to-be-looked-at-ness, rather than their talent. While women are being cast for more than just a pretty face it is still apparent that they are being used for their looks just as much as they were back in the 50s and 60s. Do you believe this to be true, or do you feel Hollywood really has changed its ways.


  1. I don't want to be the first to bite on this delicious post, but I will. Mulvey points to avant-garde--what we might call independent--film to provide the corrective to mainstream representations. Thus, I'll add this trailor into the mix. It's not really indie, and it might not be avant-garde, but Ellen Page is in it, for what that's worth.

  2. I'm not sure if "Hollywood" that is changing its ways as much as society is changing their perceptions of what an ideal women is and consequently the movies reflect the shift. Like in Kill Bill the main character is still very much to be looked at despite her masculine qualities (the fighting, etc...

    Furthermore, couldn't you argue that indie films simply offer their own version of a beautiful women to be looked at- aka the slightly off-beat, corky misfit (reference Ellen Page in the majority of her films!)Its a competing sub-culture in society rather than a corrective to mainstream representations.

  3. I would agree with Carolyn that Hollywood still places women in the present society's ideal, different today than in those earlier decades. I think that such exhibition will continue as long as it sells; in my opinion it is, always was, and always will be about the bottom line (sorry to sound cynical). We see differing, more normal views of women such as those of Indie films because the aim is not profit but art. For this reason I believe it is important to support the genre's efforts.

  4. I just want to play devil's advocate because in no way do I think that the fact that 99% of actresses are ridiculously good looking is a weird coincidence.

    While women are intended to be viewed as very good looking objects in movies, at the same time men are no exception to this rule. While there are many more men in movies who are funny because they're not attractive (John Candy, Michael Moore, the Nutty Professor, etc...) most leading male roles are cast because the men are considered attractive, something that people will want to look at for 2 hours. Even the actors cast to be everymen are 10x more good looking than any next door neighbor I've ever had. In other words, I think that Zoolander really turned some of Mulvey's arguments on their head.

  5. Kelsey O'Brien17 October, 2009 23:03

    I'd have to agree- Hollywood is reacting to a changing public rather than vice versa. Thus neither the presence of an aesthetically pleasing woman nor the public's desire to see her has changed; however it is the ideal woman herself who has evolved (i.e. from the classic 50's housewife to the independent woman who performs all sorts of ass-kickery). But I can't help but think of men in the same way– haven't they too evolved? The sections we saw of Mad Men show a type of man (Don Draper) very different and much less domineering than the ones we might find in sitcoms based on the current times.
    Anyway, I think the physical appearances of actors and actresses alike are rightfully a weighty issue when casting a movie/show. Appearance matters just as much as it did in the 50's and 60's as it does, and should, now. For instance, think of all the people who refuse to try oysters simply because of how they look even though they are in fact quite delicious. We eat with our eyes first.

  6. I agree with Carolyn. even today women in films are somewhat treated as objects.

    And yes even in Kill Bill Uma Thurman is objectified- she's nothing like a typical graceful character in 30s or 40s films but she is still treated as an object of desire. Yes, she possesses masculinity yet she exudes sexiness (maybe due to her power or even slender figure..?)
    The point is- in the films of the early 20th century women were merely 'to be looked at' because of their grace, style and femininity. however, in films today women may be portrayed as powerful, strong, masculine and independent but they are still there just 'to be looked at'.

    Another film comes to mind when describing a female character that possesses power and masculinity- anyone seen Bonnie and Clyde?
    Sure Faye Dunaway was portrayed as a ruthless robber, a hooligan who wasn't afraid to point a gun at someone. Yet, she's a character that's very much idolized and seen as an object of desire. There is a sexy, stylish and desirable vibe to her.

    It's very hard to understand why women who are treated with fear and respect in films still appear as object just 'to be looked at'.
    Perhaps, when looking at strong and independent female film characters we associate a sense of sexiness with them due to their strength and power? perhaps the sense of sexiness does NOT come from their 'to-be-looked-at-ness' but because we (the audience) are driven by their masculinity and fearfulness? what if we are just too quick to judge and to immediately assume the aura of sexiness comes from the idea that women are there to be portrayed as sexual (desirable) objects?

    if this is true then I'd say modern films have shifted the sense of desire from simple, beautiful female characters to characters that possess strength and independence..
    ...and thus the answer lies in each generation's desires and what each generation wants to see in a film and find attractive but then wrongly associate that attraction to idea that women are objectified?

    what do you guys think?

  7. .. I just realized that by the time I finished writing my post I had completely changed my answer and thoughts on this topic.. just to clear things up a bit

  8. I agree with a general consensus I've been gathering, which is that women are still objectified in film and media, only what is considered sexy and desirable has a wider margin.

    I have to disagree with some of the points that Nick brought up, particularly about his claims that good-looking men are also cast with aesthetic in mind. I often find that the majority of films which cast attractive guys, they're more typically found in "chick flicks" or date movies than regular comedies, action, etc. You mentioned that there are often not-so-attractive male comedians staring in films, but even in those movies, there's always some illogical hot chick in the corner, balancing it out. Maybe this is just bringing up a bigger issue of what kinds of films cater to men and what kinds to women. I just think it's a lot easier to find a film with an attractive female and an okay guy than a film with both attractive males AND females and isn't a ridiculous vampire movie or something of that nature.

    Also, going back to how women are still seen as sexy and as an object to be looked at during film, even if they act more masculine and domineering, would it be too much to relate this back to Freud? If the male mind is subconsciously disgusted by a lack of penis in the female, then perhaps it is also subconsciously attracted to women who portray "masculine" qualities, like ninja fighting and karate and all those Kill Bill fantasies?

  9. I think one important fact that we're overlooking here is that Hollywood actresses aren't the victim here - they're asking to be put in the spotlight. They seek out roles in projects, try out for auditions, and put themselves in front of the camera. Hollywood isn't objectifying women - they're objectifying themselves. For the actresses who put themselves into sexy costumes and play sultry roles on camera, they have absolutely no right to complain about how the media treats them when they're simply asking for the attention.

  10. You make a good point Harleen. I feel like many women can be oblivious to the way they're subjugated, but even for those who aren't oblivious, you could argue that, if they want to act/perform/whatever, what are their choices in terms of available roles? How often are deviant female roles celebrated? (I mean deviant in terms of aesthetics, primarily.)

  11. I am intrigued by the question that Marielle posed:

    If the male mind is subconsciously disgusted by a lack of penis in the female, then perhaps it is also subconsciously attracted to women who portray "masculine" qualities, like ninja fighting and karate and all those Kill Bill fantasies?

    Although I am tempted to say that Freud would argue that men's attraction to women in masculine roles plays upon a subconscious or repressed homo eroticism, I realized that we are overlooking a big detail in answering this question. Rather than focusing on the role, we should focus on the woman. A heterosexual man will be attracted to any beautiful woman whether she is a damsel in distress or the warrior slaying the dragon. It isn't the actress's role or costume that defines the man's attraction to her--it is her physical beauty itself.

    For example, the concept of Charlie's Angels is based around the fantasy of three gorgeous women kicking butt in sexy outfits. If these actresses were replaced by three "ugly" women, men would not find them attractive simply because of their masculine roles and sassy personalities. Rather than watching the movie with an attitude of arousal, many men would watch it with an attitude of derision (certainly not all men...I'm not trying to stereotype).

    Has anyone seen G.I. Jane? What do you think about the attitude with which the audience views her? Although Demi Moore is beautiful, I think that viewers become more invested in her character as a person than as a sexual being, which is ironic considering the fact that her sex is the central focus of the movie. Ideas?

  12. I definitely agree with Carolyn's points. The "sexy" image of the woman has definitely continued to the future but I believe the role of the woman has changed.

    Take Mr. and Mrs. Smith for example. If anyone has ever seen that movie... she's pretty much a badass that is competing with her husband and sometimes even has one up on her husband. The woman Angelina Jolie played would never have existed and never did exist when Marilyn Monroe was around.

    As for something like Charlie's Angels. If you think about it, they're still not completely in their own control even though they kick butt. They have this man that overpowers them, Charlie. So they're never really fully independent women. Yet, in Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Angelina's character works for a company that is basically all women.

  13. I think that everything posted is valid. Perhaps women's roles in mainstream Hollywood have changed in the sense that they occupy more dominant roles, although as for costumes and objectification, I do not think there has been a change whatsoever.

    As for "indie" films, I think that they have somewhat broken many stereotypical female roles in that popular in indie films tend to include, lesbians, feminists, activists, etc. These are just popular roles that are portrayed in modern culture. So I guess Mulvey's cry has somewhat been addressed and maybe even answered.