Thursday, 5 January 2012

Here's me, looking at me, looking at- what the?

Happy new year everyone! Thought I'd start 2012 off with something cool I've noticed lately: quite a few TV programs have featured extended shots of women looking at themselves in the mirror (Crownies, now sadly over, featured at least two of these that I can recall, in its only season). It might seem like a small thing, but what's really cool about it is that it actively disrupts an objectifying gaze, because it positions the viewer to look at the woman through her own eyes. It's a private moment, and both the woman and her image are present in the frame. Her eyes are prominent, emphasising the fact that she is gazing on and evaluating her own image, not inviting evaluation or objectification from any outsiders.

It makes me think of Laura Mulvey, the film theorist whose 1979 work 'Visual Pleasure in Narrative Cinema' now seems pretty dated but still makes a good point. If you're not familiar with Mulvey's work, she basically argues that cinema positions its audiences to view the female body as a sexualised object. Most importantly, she argues, this gaze is constructed as (heterosexual) male, and a female viewer is therefore positioned to look at women as sexualised objects, through a (heterosexual, lustful) man's eyes.

By contrast, by encouraging the viewer to share the woman's gaze on herself, these 'mirror shots' actively work against the kind of camera work Mulvey writes about. They invite a viewer to see the woman's body as she herself sees it, in probably the only gaze that is explicitly non-, or even anti-sexualising.

Good stuff.

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