“Race, Ethnicity and Film” and “Postfeminism and Popular Culture”

July 27, 2011 § 2 Comments

Kato knows, and likes you just the way you are.

Robyn Wiegman, “Race, Ethnicity and Film”

Per Robyn Wiegman, the study of race and ethnicity doesn’t constitute a proper field within film studies, at least not compared to, say, feminist film theory which is its own Thing. That said, race and ethnicity are very important in the history of film. But hold the phone y’all because race is not exactly the same as ethnicity, though historically there’s been some crossover. “Race” –what we now describe as race– reduces surfaces to some universal(-izing) essence and creates/maintains hierarchies based on similar. “Ethnicity” indicates specific cultural difference (language, geographical origin) between groups of people. The concept of race is tied up with the concept of stereotypes. Stereotypes are bad. They contribute to role segregation (the good ones all go to whitey) and role stratification (non-white actors are relegated to the margins, reinforcing their status as “Other” in relation to the central, unmarked white). Even the technical aspects of filmmaking reinforce racialized/racist ideologies, for example by equating universalized POV with the white protagonist(s), or shooting a city street scene in which only white bodies are visible (165). Viewers of the film get sucked into the “segregationist logic” as well. Except they can engage in resistant/counter-hegemonic readings. So it’s like give and take, due to postmodernism. Thank goodness identity isn’t a real thing, maybe (contrast with hooks for maximum lulz). Also Richard Dyer wrote an essay about being white. And there’s this other book that’s good. Just some food for thought, the end.

Angela McRobbie, “Postfeminism and Popular Culture”

At a certain point –McRobbie designates 1990 as the watershed moment– it was decided (passive voice very much intended) that feminism did all it needed to do. We won you guys! Girl power! We can do anything boys can do, just with more style and cuter shoes hee hee! Consequently the term itself become –at least in the popular media/imaginary–redundant at best, and at worst something to be actively repudiated (“I mean I believe in equal rights for everyone,” quoth the wide-eyed female college student to her 36 year-old creeper English Lit TA just before he lunges forward and honks her on the ass. “But it’s not like I’m a feminist.”) Far from mourning the mouldering corpse of feminism, McRobbie takes the zombie route and argues that such repudiation actually speaks to its continuing presence and influence — for one thing it wouldn’t make people so mad if it wasn’t simultaneously recognized as a powerful force (same thing as the opposite of love isn’t hate, but indifference). Plus the same discourse out of which the anti-feminist position emerges often –and simultaneously!– smugly touts female empowerment. So it goes with semi-ironic/deliberately sexist ads which both flout and undermine the charge of sexism. “We dare you to call us sexist,” the ads seem to say, and then show us even more tits because that’s what empowerment is all about. Women doing what they want, when they want! And if they happen to be in their underwear while they’re doing it, even better! Because it’s a free country! Who are you to tell me what to do with my vagina! Oh and what, you have a problem with my “Slutty and Proud” t-shirt? Would it be better if I was home cooking dinner for my husband? Pregnant? In an ankle-length knee skirt like some mousey-haired Sister Wife? I don’t know about you, but I’m a modern woman. I own my sexuality, flaunt it if ya got it etc etc (260).

According to McRobbie, such post-feminist rhetoric can be traced to the ubiquitous yet often invisible (or more accurately, taken for granted) freedoms associated with (usually white) (usually straight) middle class privilege. Under this rubric, young women are free not just to do what they want when they want for whatever reasons, they’re also free not to have to think about where their freedoms came from, nor to whom these same freedoms are denied. Ironically, then, (certain) women are able to reject feminism because they have benefited so thoroughly from feminism (hence McRobbie’s claim that post-feminism implies active feminism). And yet at the same moment that feminist ideologies are invoked, they’re repudiated as relics of a bygone era, a so-called “double-entanglement” which is both progressive and regressive — yet denies itself both (256). And then after a two-paragraph summary of Bridget Jones’ Diary, the essay sort of just stops.


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