Sunday, August 15, 2010

Women in Baseball-Final

A League of Their Own, is often considered to be a feminist film favorite. With all the men off fighting overseas in World War II, the All American Girls Professional Baseball League is created in 1943 to stop baseball from being shut down during the duration of the war. Although it is considered to be a feminist film, which I will defend, I am going to argue that the film has many aspects that actually go against feminism, mainly through the use of female stereotypes present throughout the film, as well as highlighting other theories prevalent in the film.

Attaining the feminine ideal is one of the main focuses throughout A League of Their Own. Kit is constantly being compared to her older sister, Dottie, who represents ‘the ideal.’ She is the prettier, older sister, who is better at baseball. After a game, Kit complains about things men in the crowd say to her, such as: “Good thing your sister bailed you out, Kit;” “Kit, why don’t you get your sister to teach you how to hit?” and “Kit, why can’t you be beautiful like that sister of yours Dottie?” The last one isn’t actually true, but it is how Kit perceives herself to be inferior to her seemingly perfect older sister.

When Ernie Capadino, the baseball scout comes to convince Dottie to try out for the girls professional baseball team, he tells her “Your country needs you. You cannot only play ball but you’re kind of a dolly, that’s what we’re looking for.” Dottie responds that she is a married woman, and her husband is overseas. Capadino says, “Oh relax! I’m talking lookie, no touchie. Just that we want girls that are easy on the eyes.” Kit interjects that she’s more than ready to go and willing to leave right then. He tells her, “I don’t want you! I want her! The one who hit the ball,” and turning to Dottie, says, “I want you. You I saw. You I like.” Here again, Kit is always in the shadow of her older, idealized sister. Although Kit is a great ballplayer too, her sister is still better, but it’s her beauty that makes her a truly hot commodity. Capadino constantly references to Dottie’s looks, even more so than her athletic ability. He finally agrees that if Kit can get Dottie to come, then she can come too.

Dottie tells Kit that she doesn’t want to go because she is happily married and waiting for her husband to return. Kit asks, don’t you want to go “just so you can say you once did something? Something special? Please Dottie. I gotta get out of here. I’m nothing here.” This goes back to the idea of the woman being ‘the other,’ and being content just staying at home being a good housewife and nurturer. Kit wants more than this, because she knows she doesn’t fit into the same feminine ideal as Dottie.

On the way to Chicago, they stop to scout another girl named Marla. She is an amazing hitter that can bat both right and left handed. Her father tells Capadino, “Coach in the American Lesion team said if she was a boy he’d have took her to the state tournament. And I said, if she was a boy, I’d be in New York talking to the Yankees, instead of living in this place. “ Once Capadino gets a close up view of Marla, he sees she is a very unattractive, overweight girl. He makes an obvious grimace, disgusted with the way she looks, and walks away saying “Uh, we’ll let you know.” Dottie asks him what’s the matter. He tells her, “I can’t use her.” Dottie can’t understand why not since she is such an amazing hitter. Capadino makes a reference to her looks and Kit respons, “You mean you ain’t picking her cuz she ain’t pretty?” “ Well look who just caught up,” he tells her. Dottie and Kit refuse to go, since Marla is being so blatantly overlooked just because of her appearance. Marla’s father pleads with Capadino, “I know my girl ain’t so pretty as these girls. But that’s my fault. I raised her like I would a boy. I didn’t know any better. She loves to play. Don’t make my little girl suffer because I messed up raising her. Please.” Capadino reluctantly lets her go. Marla is afraid to leave her father because she is the one that takes care of him, and because she won’t know anybody. Her father expresses the same feelings Kit had to Dottie earlier, saying, “Nothing’s ever gonna happen here. You gotta go where things happen.” From a structuralist point of view, using Saussure’s idea of semiotics, “a science that studies the life of signs within society” (Saussure), the women’s looks are the signifier, and the signified is the concept of the way the ideal woman should look, even while playing baseball. This coincides with the idea of arbitrariness, which means that there is no natural reason why a particular sign should be attached to a particular concept, just as a woman ballplayer does not have any natural reason to be pretty.

During the time of the tryouts, a female radio announcer gives this speech: “Careers and higher education are leading to the masculanization of women with enormously dangerous consequences to the home, the children, and our country. When our boys come home from war, what kind of girls will they be coming home to? And now for the most disgusting example of this sexual confusion-Mr. Walter Harvey, of Harvey Bars, is representing us with women’s baseball. Right here in Chicago, young girls plucked from their families, are gathered at Harvey Field to see which one of them can be the most masculine. “ This proves Susan Bordo’s point that “Through the organization and regulation of time, space, and movement of our daily lives, our bodies are trained, shaped, and impressed with the stamp of prevailing historical forms of selfhood, desire, masculinity, and femininity” (Bordo). This goes along with Butler’s idea that women are categorized according to their facets of identity, such as sexuality, and the distinction between sex and gender. She bring out that sex is biological, while gender is culturally constructed. She goes on to say that “sexed bodies cannot signify without gender, and the apparent existence of sex prior to discourse and cultural imposition is merely an effect of the functioning gender. That is, both sex and gender are constructed” (Butler). .” Although the announcer made reference to the girls being masculine, Butler would argue “that gender is performative: no identity exists behind the acts that supposedly ‘express’ gender, and these acts constitute-rather than express-the illusion of the stable gender identity. Furthermore, if the appearance of ‘being’ a gender is thus an effect of culturally influenced acts, then there is no solid, universal gender: constituted through the practice of performance, the gender ‘woman’ remains contingent and open to interpretation and ‘resignification’” (Butler). This is what Butler refers to as ‘Gender Trouble,’ for people to trouble the categories of gender through performance. This announcer also acts as if these women are no longer female, which coincides with Beauvoir’s thought that if “one wonders if women still exist, if they will always exist, whether or not it is desirable that they should, what place they should occupy in this world, what their place should be” continuing, “It would appear, then, that every female human being is not necessarily a woman; to be so considered she must share in that mysterious and threatened reality known as femininity.” Just being a functioning female is not enough to define a woman. “The terms masculine and feminine are used symmetrically only as a matter of form…just as for the ancients there was an absolute vertical with reference to which the oblique was defined, so there is an absolute human type, the masculine,” says Beauvoir (Beauvoir). This is what she linked back to Aristotle, who said “The female is a female by virtue of a certain lack of qualities; we should regard the female nature as afflicted with a natural defectiveness’ (Aristotle).

The only reason why the women are recruited to play professional baseball to begin with is because the men are away fighting in the war, not because the women have truly reached equality with men in sports. The true reasoning behind this professional girls league is to generate revenue. As Aristotle pointed out, “Humanity is male and man defines woman not in herself, but as relative to him: And she is simply what man decrees; thus she is called ‘the sex,’ by which is meant that she appears essentially to the male as a sexual being. For him she is sex-absolute sex, no less. She is defined and differentiated with reference to man and not he with reference to her; she is the incidental, the inessential as opposed to the essential. He is the Subject, he is the Absolute-she is the Other” (Aristotle). The man being the ‘One’ and the woman being the ‘Other’ is a form of the master/slave relationship.

The girls that made the teams are shown what uniforms they will be wearing: short, sexy dresses. There are various outcries from the girls, such as: “You can’t slide in that!” “Hey, that’s a dress!” “It’s half a dress!” “Excuse me, that’s not a baseball uniform,” “Yeah, what do you think we are, ballplayers, or ballerinas?” “What’s she wearing underneath? I can’t wear that, my husband will kill me.” Ira Lowenstein, the man in charge of the girls’ league informs them that, “If you can’t play ball in this, you can’t play ball with us. Right now, there are 38 girls getting train tickets home who will play in a bathing suit if I ask them.” He also goes on to let them know that they will attend regular classes at charm and beauty school, because “Every girl in this league is going to be a lady.” Even while playing professional sports, it’s extremely important for the girls to maintain an acceptable feminine ideal to benefit society. At charm and beauty school they are taught how to be graceful, proper, dainty, sip tea, and have good posture. Their instructor tells them to set with “Legs always together. A lady reveals nothing.” It’s interesting how they want the girls to remain lady-like and ‘reveal nothing,’ yet they give them skimpy uniforms to play baseball in. They are also judged on their appearance, and their hair, eyebrows, etc., are fixed up so they look as good as possible. The fact that so much emphasis is put on how attractive the women look goes along with what Bordo is referring to when she says that “the body is a metaphor for culture” (Bordo). The female body is a symbolic form that culture has inscribed on, influencing the way the women should look, and that they are not worthy if they do not look a certain way. The women having to attend beauty school and get make over’s is an example of how “Through the exacting and normalizing disciplines of diet, makeup, and dress—central organizing principles of time and space in the day of many women—we are rendered less socially oriented and more centripetally focused on self-modification” (Bordo). Historically, “the discipline and normalization of the female body should be recognized as an extremely durable and flexible form of social control…such a preoccupation with appearance may be a form of backlash against changing gender configurations and power relations” (Bordo). According to Bordo, trying to uphold these standards of what is the ideal female body is what leads to disorders such as hysteria, agoraphobia, and anorexia. Women also feel the need to attain the feminine ideal in order to get a man and be happy. This is present in the film when Marla marries Nelson, all she can keep saying is “I’m so happy!” over and over again. This follows the misconception that women need a man in order to be happy, and with Marla, the only time you ever see her happy is after they make her up and put her in a dress in order to be more feminine, and she is pursued by a man for the first time.

When the girls are at their first game, they have to endure the relentless comments from the crowd: “This should be something;” “Hey glamour puss, can you throw the ball?” and “Girls can’t play ball! I might break a nail.” Even women in the crowd join in on this. When Dottie hits a home run to win the game, the game announcer gives the man, their coach, the credit, even though he is drunk passed out in the dugout, saying “Jimmy Dugan, the master strategist, had her swinging away. Boy, he sure knows his baseball.” Even when a woman is a great baseball player on her own, it has to be attributed to a man.

When Lowenstein points out to Coach Dugan that he has some pretty good pall players, his response is, “Ballplayers?! I haven’t got ballplayers! I’ve got girls! Girls are what you sleep with after the game, not what you coach during the game”

When the news is covering the girls’ baseball league, it focuses on the typical female aspects to make it more acceptable to the community since most people don’t agree with women being outside of the home, let alone playing professional sports. The commercial announcer described some of the girls on the team: “Alice ‘Skeeter’ Gasper says, “Legging out a triple is no reason to let your nose get shiny” as it shows her powdering her nose on the field. It continues: “Helen Haley has not only been a member of several championship amateur teams, she’s also an accomplished coffee maker,” as it shows her serving coffee to all the businessmen on the field. “With her husband in the Pacific, Betty Horn enjoys cooking spaghetti and knitting; Ellen Sue Gotlander is a former Miss Georgia. Yoww; Then there’s ‘Pretty’ Dottie Hinson; And there’s her kid sister Kit, who’s as single as they come.” Then the camera pans out showing the whole field with a figure far away so that you cannot see her, and introduces Marla Hooch, “She’s a hitter.” The announcer does not have much good to say about the two women who do not fit into the feminine ideal. Although the girls are ballplayers, they have to embody the ‘angel’ in the house and ‘aesthetic ideal’ that most female characters have to embody as Gilbert and Gubar mention in The Madwoman in the Attic. Going along with what influences Bordo says advertisements have on women and Saussure’s thought of ideal concepts signified, sights of women doing ‘natural things’ equals the concept of the ideal woman within society, and appeals to a society that doesn’t feel women should be outside the home, let alone playing baseball. This also coincides with Althusser’s theory of ideology, and how “social practices determine the characteristics of the individual and give them an idea of the range of properties that they can have and limits each individual” (Althusser). The ideal roles of these women are determined by social practice, and the values, desires, and preferences of women by society are inculcated by ideological practice.

When Dugan gets upset because he is being upstaged by Dottie’s coaching abilities, he criticizes her saying, “Stop thinking with your tits.” The idea of a woman being in charge, and perhaps better than him, is enough motivation for him to sober up enough to wake up and coach his team. Still, even when the girls do really well and win, he still says they aren’t ballplayers because they are women. Dugan yells at Evelyn when she makes a mistake, and she has a ‘typical female’ reaction, he screams at her numerous times, “There’s no crying in baseball!”

Hardly anyone is showing up to their games, which means no profit, so Lowenstein tells the girls he’s going to need something spectacular in order to stop the league from closing them down. Dottie decides to do the splits while catching a foul ball to create a story for the magazine, and it works. The girls come up with other tactics, such as “Catch a foul, get a kiss.” The girls have to work harder and use their femininity in order to attract spectators and make the fact that they are playing professional baseball more acceptable for the community.

The community seems to have totally accepted the girls’ league and treat them as not just women, but truly great baseball players. The next scene shows the baseball way out on the sidelines of the outfield where there are a group of black women and a few black workmen watching the game from afar. Dottie runs halfway over and says “Right here,” holding out her glove. One of the black women picks up the ball and throws it way over Dottie’s head all the way to Ellen Sue, who catches it, hurting her hand through her glove because the woman had such a strong arm. The black women gives Dottie a nod, showing that even though it seems as if the community has come so far in changing their views, there is still a long way to go, especially where race is concerned. This also points out the realization that there are no black women playing in the league. Although the women in the league “get their shot equality there’s still a long way to go to reach anything like fairness” (Erickson). As the black woman throws the ball, it is a very moving moment as she seems to embody the determination represented in Langston Hughes The Negro Artist and The Racial Mountain- “Why should I have to be white? I am Negro_ and beautiful!”(Hughes).

The women continue to make their games into an entertaining show in order to be more socially acceptable, and are able to sell out tickets to their games. This shows “that women can do the same things as men can, but will probably be discriminated against until they prove themselves” (R. Caroline). The women were able to break cultural expectations and stereotypes to play baseball, a game professionally played by men. Mr. Harvey tells Lowenstein that he appreciates the great job he did generating sales, to which Lowenstein replies, “But to be perfectly honest, I think the girls deserve most of the credit.” Harvey responds, “Oh they’re great. Fortunately, we won’t need them anymore.” When Lowenstein asks what he means by this, Harvey informs him that since they are winning the war, the men will be coming back soon, and they won’t need the girls next year. “I love these girls! I don’t need them, but I love them!” he says. Lowenstein is appalled, and asks Harvey if the same is going to happen in the factories: “The men are back, Rosie. Turn in your rivets. We told them it was their patriotic duty to get out of the kitchen and go to work. And now, when the men come back, we’ll send them back to the kitchen.” Harvey’s response is basically that they very well can’t send the men in to the kitchens. Lowenstein points out all that the girls go through and how hard they have worked, saying “I sold your product when there was no product. This is a product!” and asks for permission to take over the league. Harvey’s response is that “there is no room for girls’ baseball in this country once the war is over.” Lowenstein is persistent and says he will prove him wrong. This connects with the Marxist ideology of how “the ruling class is the ruling force of society”(Marx); and Marxist commodity concept of ‘use-value,’ which is determined by how useful the commodity is. The girls’ professional baseball league is only useful to him as long as the men are overseas, and when they return, the girls’ league is no longer needed because Harvey no longer needs to depend on them for profit. It is also interesting that the ‘use-value’ of the women being a successful and profitable commodity was based on their appearance.

This film is full of binary opposition that Hegel referred to, such as maser/slave, man/woman, white/black, and feminine/masculine. The main one, being man/woman follows the typical hierarchy of a society that is patriarchal and controlled by men. The idealistic female baseball players are the binary opposite of their failed big league male player coach Jimmy Dugan.

The girls become the first women ever to be inducted into the baseball hall of fame, which is dominated by men. The fact that it is also based off of a true story is what makes so many women feel empowered by the women in the movie and what they were able to overcome and accomplish. However, they were still only able to do so by adhering to the standards of what society held to be the ‘ideal’ woman. Beauvoir best sums it up, “They have gained only what men have been willing to grant; they have taken nothing, they have only received;” “The reason for this is that women lack concrete means for organizing themselves into a unit which can stand face to face with the correlative unit” (Beauvoir). The women in this film did this by creating A League of Their Own.

Works Cited

Althusser, Louis. “Idology and Idological State Apparatuses.” The Norton Anthology of Literary Theory and Criticism. Leitch Vincent. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2001. Print.

Aristotle. “Poetics; On Rhetoric.” The Norton Anthology of Literary Theory and Criticism. Leitch Vincent. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2001. Print.

Bordo, Susan. Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture and The Body. Berkely, California: University of California Press, 1993.

Bordo, Susan. “The Body and the Reproduction of Feminintiy.” The Norton Anthology of Literary Theory and Criticism. Leitch Vincent. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2001. Print.

Butler, Judith. “From Gender Trouble.” The Norton Anthology of Literary Theory and Criticism. Leitch, Vincent. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2001. Print.

De Beauvoir, Simone. “From The Second Sex.” The Norton Anthology of Literary Theory and Criticism. Leitch Vincent. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2001. Print.

De Beauvoir, Simone. "The Second Sex, Woman as Other." Web. 10 August 2010.

Erickson, Glenn. Review: A League of Their Own. 4 April 2004. Web. 12 August 2010.

Gilbert, Sandra M. and Susan Gubar. "Madwoman in the Attic." The Norton Anthology of Literary Theory and Criticism. Leitch, Vincent. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2001. Print.

Hegel, Georg. “Phenomenoly of Spirit; Lectures on Fine Art.” The Norton Anthology of Literary Theory and Criticism. Leitch Vincent. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2001. Print.

Hughes, Langston. “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain.” The Norton Anthology of Literary Theory and Criticism. Leitch Vincent. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2001. Print.

Marshall, Penny (Director). 1992. A League of their Own [Motion Picture]. United States: Columbia Pictures.

Marx, Karl. "The Communist Manifesto." The Norton Anthology of Literary Theory and Criticism. Leitch, Vincent. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2001. Print.

Marx, Karl, and Friedrich Engels. “From Capital, Volume 1.” The Norton Anthology of Literary Theory and Criticism. Leitch, Vincent. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2001. Print.

R. Caroline. A League of Their Own. Women’s and Gender Studies Blog. 10 April 2008. Web. 12 August 2010.

Saussure, Ferdinand. "Course in General Linguistics.” The Norton Anthology of Literary Theory and Criticism. Leitch, Vincent. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2001. Print.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

"Too Negro"

In “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain,” Langston Hughes starts off quoting a young poet who said, “I want to be a poet-not a Negro poet.” He interpreted this to mean the young man wanted to “write like a white poet,” which could mean he wanted “to be a white poet,” and even going as far as to say the poet subconsciously “would like to be white.” This mountain that Hughes refers to, which stands in the way of any true Negro art in America, represents the “urge within the race toward whiteness, the desire to pour racial individuality into the mold of American standardization, and to be as little Negro and as much American as possible. “ I think here in America we see this every day, not just toward African-Americans, but toward every other ‘non-white’ race.

The young poet’s parents make comments such as “Don’t be like niggers,” and “Look how well a white man does things.” As a result, “the word white comes to be unconsciously a symbol of all virtues.” However, this poet comes from a middle class, and as Hughes points out, the majority “are the low-down folks, the so-called common element…the people who have their hip of gin on Saturday nights and are not too important to themselves or the community, or too well fed, or too learned to watch the lazy world go round. They live on Seventh Street in Washington or State Street in Chicago and they do not particularly care whether they are like white folks or anybody else…they still hold their own individuality in the face of American standardizations.”

The youtube clip above became in instant hit overnight, quickly becoming the most watched video online. Although the young man in the clip, Antoine Dodson, is not an ‘artist,’ he is a representation of the ‘common folks’ Hughes talks about from Chicago or Washington. His family lives in the project in Huntsville, Alabama. Yet, there was so much backlash from this same ‘middle class’ as the young poet’s family, because they thought this was an unfair representation of African-Americans in the area, and they felt that Dodson gave them a bad name. This is a perfect example of what Hughes calls the “urge within the race toward whiteness, the desire to pour racial individuality into the mold of American standardization, and to be as little Negro and as much American as possible.” It is ironic though, because if Dodson had not called the news and been interviewed, there would not have been as much coverage or effort put into finding the attacker, because usually things that happen in projects tend to get glossed over.

“And perhaps these common people will give to the world its truly great Negro artist, the one who is not afraid to be himself. Whereas the better-class Negro would tell the artist what to do, the people at least let him alone when he does appear. And they are not ashamed of him-if they know he exists at all. And they accept what beauty is their own without question.” Hughes goes on to say that while some people appreciate “negro art,” they shy away from anything that is “too negro.” This shows that even while America may be accepting to African-American art and culture, it is still filtered out as to what is acceptable to the filtered standard of “whiteness.”

As we can see in the second clip, Antoine is just a regular person, who had simply reacted to the attempted rape of his sister, angry and upset, just as anyone would be. Many contacted the newsroom saying they felt that “Interviews with people like Antoine reflect poorly on the community.” The reporter’s response was, “To that I say censoring people like Antoine is far worse.” The video was remixed into many different songs and raps, some of which are hilarious, but it still shows that there are many Africa-Americans that are afraid of being “too negro” and less white or American, even in places where “people like Antoine” are actually the reality, not a ‘poor representation.”

Here is an example of a remix for those interested. It got so big you can even buy it on iTunes now.

Works Cited

Hughes, Langston. “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain.”Leitch, Vincent. The Norton Anthology of Literary Theory and Criticism. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2001. Print.

Reflection on Presentation

For my group presentation on Feminism and Gender studies, I worked with Djinji, Ashley, and La Tiere. We all read through the material and then discussed with each other which theorist we could like to cover. It worked out perfectly, because we all had particular interest in a different theorist. We kept in contact through email and text messaging to go over what activities we had come up with to engage the class in a discussion. It was really important to us to stay away from ‘lecturing’ or simply presenting the material to the class. Instead, we decided to assume that everyone had indeed read the material, so that we wouldn’t spend too much time summarizing the information, and actually relate it to something the class can connect with.

The theorist I covered was Susan Bordo, focusing on her book Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body. My main goal was to find a way to engage the class through the use of something they could relate to and wouldn’t find boring. I came up with the idea of a game called “Guess the Celebrity.” Basically, I showed ‘unflattering’ pictures of headless celebrities and had the class guess who they were. Then I revealed who the celebrity was, as well as the photo shopped version of the celebrity in the photo. The game turned out great, because the class was actually participating and trying to guess who the celebrities were. There were also a few ladies in the class that were particularly good at the game. In her book, Bordo focuses on the impact of pop culture and how culture is a metaphor for the body. She focuses on how women obsess over attaining what is defined as the ideal female body, and how they resort to things such as plastic surgery and obsessive dieting. I also showed pictures of celebrities before and after plastic surgery, to make the point that the ideology of the female body that our culture defines for us, and the women that we look up to, are not even real. This related back to the game about photo shop.

After the game and pictures, I covered the main points about the impact pop culture has on women and their quest for the ideal body. The response from the class was amazing, and I never imagined they would have so much to contribute. There was always someone eager to answer the questions I asked. In fact, there was so much discussion, I was not even able to cover all of my points. I thought this was great, because the point was to engage the class in a discussion, but I also felt rushed, and I wasn’t able to cover as much as I would have liked on the negative effects trying to reach the unattainable beauty, such as hysteria, agoraphobia, and anorexia. I was going to focus on anorexia, especially its existence in the modeling industry, because most young girls look up to models as the ideal of what they should look like. I also worked on a slideshow that showed actual supermodels that suffered from severe anorexia and bulimia, and I was a little sad that I wasn’t able to show it because I think the sad and disturbing images really drive the point home, and brought up that there are even supermodels that have died as a result of starvation.

Overall, I felt that my part of the presentation went better than I could have hoped for. I was able to engage the class in a conversation, and relate my theorist’s ideas to things they were familiar with and could relate to. I wasn’t expecting so much class participation, but I’m really happy that everyone got involved, and I felt that I had accomplished the point of the effects pop culture has on our view of what is the ideal body.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Dying to be Perfect

Susan Bordo is a modern day contemporary feminist that links modern consumer culture directly to the formation of gendered bodies. The body is a symbolic form, the surface of which culture is inscribed. According to Bordo, the body is a metaphor for culture. In her book, Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body, Bordo discusses the impact of pop culture, such as television, advertisements, and magazines, on shaping the female body.

Pop culture creates an ideal of what the female body should look like. The anxiety women feel while trying to attain this ideal body sometimes results in typically female disorders such as hysteria, agoraphobia, and anorexia. Bordo categorizes these disorders as “obsessive body practices of contemporary culture.” She also includes plastic surgery, obsessive dieting, and manic physical training. However, Bordo further goes on to say that although these practices may be bizarre or extreme, they are actually completely logical manifestations of the anxieties and fantasies fostered by our culture. This ideal female body is represented as what is normal, natural, or even real.

While the media emphasizes thinness as the standard for female beauty, most of the bodies idealized are usually atypical of a normal, healthy woman. A model is defined as a standard or example for imitation or comparison. Twenty years ago, the average fashion model weighed 8% less than the average woman. Today’s models weigh 25% less. Women between the ages of 18-34 have a 7% chance of being as slim as a fashion runway model, and the chance of being as slim as a supermodel is less than 1%. Still, 70% of young women said models influence their idea of the perfect body shape. Even the supermodels themselves often pass out on the runway from starvation, and some have even died from anorexia.

A Brazilian supermodel named Ana Carolina was dropped from a runway show for being “too fat,” and soon after developed anorexia. She literally starved herself to death. Just six months prior, her sister, also a supermodel, had died after collapsing on the runway from starvation. Even supermodels, who are seen as an idealized female body are impacted by trying to reach an unattainable beauty. After several models died of anorexia and passing out on the runway was coming more and more common, a French woman named Isabel Caro who herself has been an anorexic for over fifteen years, posed naked for a billboard to protest size zero models during fashion week in Milan, Italy. In the clip above, CBS interviews Isabel Caro, a perfect example the effects the ideologies of our culture have on women, as well as the mental and physical disorders that result.

Works Cited:

Bordo, Susan. “The Body and the Reproduction of Feminintiy.” Leitch, Vincent. The Norton Anthology of Literary Theory and Criticism. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2001. Print.

Bordo, Susan. Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture and The Body. Berkely, California: University of California Press, 1993.

Studies-Eating Disorders Program at Stanford University School of Medicine. 2010. Web. 7 August 2010.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Base and Superstructure

In the scene from “Glengarry Glenn Ross,” a motivational speaker has been brought into talk to the sales people. He starts out by ‘firing’ everyone and telling them they have to earn their jobs back. The employees don’t feel they have good leads. He tells the employees they are nothing and they are not worthy of the leads if they cannot close them. Although he belittles the employees and tells them everything he has that they don’t, they are not able to stand up to him. This is not only because they don’t want to lose their job, but because everything he is saying is true. He is the successful rich businessman that they want to be. He has everything they don’t, and they want to believe that they are capable of achieving the same success.

His speech and the way he treats the employees is a portrayal of the base and superstructure theory in Marxism. His speech and treatment of the salesmen relates to the relations of the means of production within the base. Everyone and everything is subject to the relations of production. The base is a representation of the economy and the way production is organized. This includes the relationship between the employer and employees. In “Glengarry Glenn Ross,” the motivational speaker treating the employees as if they are worthless and demanding more of them in order to keep their jobs relates to the relationship between the managers and workers. These relationships are an aspect that influences the relations of production, and therefore, the base. The base influences the superstructure, which help to determine other relationships and ideas in society, including culture, religion, education, and politics.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Big Fish or Truth

The study of phenomenology was founded by Edmund Husserl, and further examined by Martin Heidegger and Jean-Paul Sartre. It is essentially the study of structures of experience of consciousness. It studies the appearance of things and the way they appear in our own experience. These conscious experiences come from our subjective, first person point of view of what we observe through the use of our senses. There are many signifiers that have meaning in what we have experienced. These experiences include our own perception, thoughts, imagination, memories, emotions, and desires. According to Husserl, “our experience is directed toward — represents or “intends” — things only through particular concepts, thoughts, ideas, images, etc. These make up the meaning or content of a given experience, and are distinct from the things they present or mean.” Perception and self-awareness are major aspects of phenomenology. It focuses on subjective, practical, and social conditions of our experience.

Perspective and imagination is what makes it possible for two people to experience the same thing and have a totally different perception of it. In Tim Burton’s “Big Fish,” the main character, Edward Bloom, tells stories of his experiences from his own perception and memories, which are also based off of his imagination and desires.

In the first clip, his son Will tells his wife he has never told her the stories his father told her because none of it is true. He believes that his father found his life so boring that he had to make up stories to make it interesting. According to Will, “He has never told me a single true thing.” Will doesn’t understand why his father continues to tell these stories, because he feels that he is embarrassing himself.

In the next scene, Will talks to his father, saying he has no idea who he really is because he never told him any facts. His father responds that he has told him a thousand facts. His father believes he tells stories about his life, while Will sees them as nothing but lies. He doesn’t understand why his father continued making up stories even as he grew older. Will feels stupid that he believed his father’s stories so much longer than he should have. He tells his father, “You’re like Santa Clause and the Easter bunny combined- just as charming and just as fake.” He wants to know the real person behind his father’s stories, not the fantasy from his imagination. Will wants his father to just be himself, when he truth is that his father has been nothing but himself.

While cleaning out his father’s office, Will starts to find evidence that coincide with the stories his father has been telling him his whole life. Will’s mother tells him that not everything his father ever told him was made up. Will ends up tracing his father’s footsteps and realizes that the stories he grew up hearing were not completely made up. In fact, they were mostly truth. He starts going to places and finding people he once thought only existed within his father’s mind.

The second clip (from 3:00) is the scene of his father’s funeral. Will looks around and sees all the ‘characters’ from his father’s stories, further proving that his father did not make up or imagine all of the stories he told. He did perhaps embellish them, but that is the beauty of perspective, because the father could have truly been telling the stories the way he believed he experienced them.

This relates back to phenomenology and the imagination. Will’s father believes his stories to be the truth, while he believes them to be complete lies. The truth is actually somewhere in between, with his father’s stories representing his experiences in his consciousness. Will’s father has a great sense of self-awareness, unlike his son, which is why he is able to separate his self from his thoughts. He does not believe that his thoughts determine who his self is. The characters and objects in his stories were signifiers of the actual people and objects in real life. Edward Bloom did not make up stories. He simply told things the way they appeared to be to him.

Works Cited

“Big Fish Movie Part 9 of 14.” YouTube, 27 June 2008. Web. 28 July 2010.

“Big Fish Movie Part 13 of 14. YouTube, 1 July 2008. Web. 28 July 2010.

Leitch, Vincent. The Norton Anthology of Literary Theory and Criticism. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2001. Print.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Semiotics in Art...

The desolate man full of despair goes to his lover for comfort. He needs her. Their arms passionately embrace each other, showing their eternal love for one another. She literally thirsts for his flesh, because she cannot live without him. She drains him of his blood, life, and love. He loves her anyway. They need each other. Their love is unconditional and pure despite what she is. He does not try to escape. His need for her is greater than his pain. She softly holds him as she fulfills her need, consoling him during his beautiful sacrifice. He continues to hold her in return as she drains him of his life…he wants her to need him as much as he needs her, no matter what the cost.

There are many parallels between art and language. Artists began using structural linguistics as a means to assess the underlying principles, methods, and rules of art. New branches of aesthetics developed from theorists such as Ferdinande de Saussure. Saussure focused on semiotics, which is a science of signs within society. Language is “a system of signs that express ideas,” consisting of two components. They are langue, the system of language that is internalized by a given speech community, and parole, the individual acts of speech. One of these components cannot exist without the other. It is a self-contained system of signs. Structuralism is how cultural meaning is produced. These signs are what give us culture and identity. Signs are made up of signifiers, such as sound or image, and the signified, which is the concept or meaning. Structuralism analyzes cultural phenomena according to the principles derived from linguists such as Saussure. Emphasis is on the systematic interrelationships among the elements of any human activity, which is the basis for the social production of meanings.

A new belief was that art possessed an internal logic that could be understood through language theory. Art was perceived as a primitive language that combined visual signs and linguistic principles. Structuralism in art focused on the language that exists between compositional elements and the conventions of art, rather than form or subject matter. It centered on process and system analysis. Structural art does not inspire the viewer through aesthetic perception, but was a model for the analytic appraisal of art. Structuralism interpreted art like a sentence. Images are often thought of as a second form of communication that is just as expressive as a natural language. In visual art, semiotics interprets messages based on their signs and symbolism. Most signs are iconic as well as symbolic. According to Saussure, the heart of semiotics is the realization that the whole of human experience is an interpretive structure sustained by signs. Humans use these signs to convey feelings, thoughts, ideas, and ideologies. Semiotic analysis uses cultural and psychological patterns that underlie language and art. There are many similarities between a visual image and the image that written language creates. Semiotics translates a picture from an image to words. Art subconsciously consists of signs, signals and symbolism.

Symbolism is a literary movement that spread to painting in the 1880s. Symbolists were trying to cope with the notion of subjective ideas, which determined that the senses are inseparable from human emotions and that people and objects are symbols of a deeper existence. Visual language is an expression of deep, emotional, ambiguous thoughts. The above painting is a work by the Norwegian symbolist painter Edward Munch (Norwegian pronunciation: [ˈmʉŋk]). He is known for his most famous painting, “The Scream.”

The painting at the top of the page is a great example of how society uses signs and symbolism to interpret meaning. Most pictures use signs that have both a symbolic and visual meaning. Symbols and signs may also simply be a representation of the real thing. Artists often use this as a means to differentiate between the signifiers and the signified. Is the woman in the painting consoling her lover, or is she sucking his blood? It can be perceived as both.

The painting was originally titled “Love and Pain,” which Munch said to be nothing more than “just a woman kissing a man on the neck.” The title is very important because it is the only actual ‘text’ linked to the image. It is the only sign that is actually made up of words. Using this original title as a means of interpretation, the image represents love through an embrace between two lovers. It is as if the man is seeking comfort from the woman. It suggests a relationship between falling in love and getting hurt. The painting seems to evoke a soft intimacy between the two, yet the woman is the strong, dominant one in the painting, while the man is vulnerable and weak. The title refers to the duality and power struggle inherent in the nature of love. The lovers depict love’s paradox of tenderness and pain. The man’s arm is also embracing the woman, which would depict a mutual feeling between the lovers. They are connected through their own self-fulfilling desires and sacrifice. Munch portrays the woman in the painting as a frail, innocent sufferer. Sorrow is depicted by the woman’s helplessness to do anything except console the man, forever entwining her suffering in his own as long as she remains with him. Although some believe the painting to reflect Munch’s sexual anxieties, it is also considered to be a representation of his turbulent relationship with love itself. However, there is a dynamic exchange of power presented in the painting, and Munch successfully romanticized the representation of a gruesome and horrifying death.

Now known as “Vampire, “ this title alone evokes a completely different interpretation and meaning from the viewer. Munch intentionally made the relationship between the two figures ambiguous. A Polish critic named Stansilaw Przyszeksi noticed its vampirish image and misinterpreted the painting, saying “A broken man and on his neck a biting vampire’s face…The man is rolling about in the bottomless pit, weakly, powerlessly, rejoicing in the fact that he can roll about weakly as a stone. Yet he cannot free himself from the vampire, nor can her free himself of the pain, and the woman will always be sitting there, forever biting with a thousand viper’s tongues, with a thousand poison fangs.” Munch’s literal interpretation was rejected, and eventually he accepted the title of the painting as we know it today, saying, “It was the time of Ibsen, and if people were really bent on reveling in symbolist eeriness and called the idyll ‘Vampire,’ why not?” It is hard to deny the vampire-like content of the image.

“Vampire” was part of a 20-work project called “Frieze of Life,” based on themes of love, betrayal, fear, death, and sex. All of these are symbolized in this painting. Munch’s art was based on the misery and conflict of society during his time, as well as his own unhappiness in life. He followed themes of childhood tragedy, intense and dramatic love affairs, and ceaseless traveling. His paintings show his social awareness and tendency to express the basic fears and anxieties of mankind. This relates back to the semiotics, using the signs found in art in relation to society and the cultural identity we receive from it. According to Munch, “We want more than a mere photograph of nature. We do not want pretty pictures to be hung on drawing room walls. We want to create, or at least lay the foundations of, and art that gives something to humanity. An art that arrests and engages. An art of one’s innermost heart.” His works explored the fundamental stages of human development and experience. “Vampire” consists of sex, death, and willful abandon on the form of a vampire seductress, enveloping her object of desire. This paradox of love is still the main theme, with its components of struggle and release, and of fear and desire. The painting is able to embody these intense, conflicting emotions.

In visual art, color is an important, obvious sign used for interpretation. The dark colors and shadows in the background illuminate the figures in their dark embrace. This coincides with Munch’s dark and romantic aesthetic vales. The red tones excite the dramatic vampire subject matter. The woman’s hair is red, which symbolized blood pouring over the lovers. Her hair is also depicted as snake-like, symbolizing the man as her victim whose blood she is sucking. The woman’s arm is bright white, which is a sign of strength purity, yet is also related to the characteristic of a vampire. The redness in her face represents passion. The shadows and rings of color around the figures are meant to create an atmosphere of fear, menace, anxiety, and sexual intensity. Following themes of life, love, fear, death, melancholia, anxiety, infidelity, jealous, sexual humiliation, and separation in life and death, which the artist based off of his own personal feelings, and fears, the painting is a cross between myth and reality.

Another important factor in Structuralism is the existence of binary opposites. This painting has several obvious binaries, such as love and evil, comfort and despair, pleasure and pain, harming and helping, and of course man and woman. The difference here is that the woman is the hierarchy in the binary opposite, while it is generally the man.

This painting was at the forefront of emerging images of devilish women that spread throughout pop culture to remind society the dangers associated with unrestrained female sexuality. Munch was the first to personify this feminine threat using a complex psychological representation. It illustrated the sexual desire and delicate nature that a romantic relationship cannot exist without through its use of grim representation of death. The painting as a whole is a symbol for tragedy in a sexual relationship. It is still seen as the emblem of sex and seduction, and the daring romance rarely seen in modern art. It is an iconic image that is able to stand apart from its historical context, and is often referenced in the cultural lexicology of contemporary art. Other artist of his time idealized women and the dominance of man. Munch’s women possessed somber beauty whose inaccessibility became a terror for the artist. The woman is depicted as a vampire to symbolize the draining of life-blood from the artist, representing the unresolved experience of the mystery of sexuality. The woman consoles the man, yet uses this to her advantage to gain what she needs- his blood. The mutual embrace seems to symbolize their need for one another, rather than the woman taking advantage of the man.

“Vampire” is known to be haunting beautiful, making the viewer feel both love and uneasiness, comfort and despair. Art depends on the signs found within semiotics just as much as language does, because without these signs we would have no way of interpreting the meaning of visual art.


Ferreira, Angela. How useful is semiotics as a method for analyzing works of art? Art & Perception: multi-disciplinary dialog. 25 Feb. 2007. Web. 20 July2010.

Saussure, Ferdinand. "Course in General Linguistics." Leitch, Vincent. The Norton Anthology of Literary Theory and Criticism. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2001. Print.

OcVirck, Otto, Robert Stinson, Philip Wigg, Robert Bone, and David Cayton. Art Fundamentals: Theory and Practice. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2002. Print.

Semiotics in Visual Art. 3 Dec. 2008. Web. 20 July 2010.

Vukits, Matt. Black Angels Watching Over Me. Matt Vukits Blog. 17 Feb. 2007. Web. 20 July 2010.