Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Encouraging a Critical Perspective Towards Gender Portrayals in Media

I left tonight’s discussion thinking very heavily about the issues we talked about, and I felt a little disturbed that although we agreed that there needs to be greater active consumption across our cultural landscape, I don’t think we adequately provided tangible methods to encourage this form of critical interpretation. Obviously we cannot argue that consumers each have their own personal ways of consuming media products (otherwise concepts like reproduction, cultural trends, and social constructs wouldn’t work) but we should also remember that everyone is capable of reaching personalized interpretations of what they consume. The main question, then, is how do we actively encourage our peers to reach this capability, to consume texts in ways that challenge conventional norms, that unpack assumptions they might otherwise take for granted, and, most importantly, that provide paths of escape from the terrible cycle of mindless media reproduction?

As it relates to masculinity, making headway in this area is critical because it’s apparent that conventions of masculinity are affirmed by culture. As I mentioned in class, I have faith that active consumption will work toward developing solutions to the problems that confront masculinity, if anything, because it will help dispel (or at least question) broad generalizations about gender and prevent them from being replicated in reality.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this, and I want to provide some practical ideas that we can employ that might encourage a more critical approach to media consumption. Mostly I think that one very simple place where we can find practical solutions lies in the ways that we discuss media with our friends and family, and while we ourselves might approach texts from a critical perspective, I want to offer a few topics we can use to reframe discussions about cultural products towards more critical positions. Since this class and blog are both about masculinity, the suggestions I’ll pose will relate accordingly, but they can obviously be applied for other specific purposes:

1. Discuss texts beyond what you like and dislike. It’s cool to talk with your friends about why something was really awesome, but it’s better to discuss why it was awesome. For example, It’s great to say that you like a certain film because the actors are really great, but wouldn’t it be more critical to say that you like them due to the way they portray their genders, a statement that invites deeper discussion about the nature of gender, its portrayal, and its reproduction?

2. Explore the producers. Ask questions about who is producing cultural products and what effect they have on consumption. Does, for example, the fact that most video game producers are men have an effect on how gendered video games are?

3. Talk about the context. What does the overwhelmingly male gender in a movie like Full Metal Jacket say about the society it was produced in? What does this film say about the nature of the Vietnam War and the various social movements of the ‘60s and ‘70s? Do we interpret this movie in the same way that audiences did at the time it was released?

4. Look at the stereotypes. Most people are familiar enough with the concept of stereotypes to be able to discuss them in meaningful ways, but often they are not given the opportunity to take part in these discussions because they do not occur as frequently as they should. Start relatively small with more obvious stereotypes, but gradually move to ones that are more subtle.

5. Encourage locating personal, textual relationships. When people find links between how gender plays out in their own lives and how it’s portrayed in the products they consume, they begin to realize that television isn’t just television or that video games aren’t just video games. These products are statements about the nature of gender (and of reality, at large) and, just like all statements, we are not obligated to accept them.

Obviously this is semi-weighty stuff, but that doesn’t mean that people want to avoid these discussion points. Just because audiences do not leave movie theaters or turn off their television sets immediately beginning to discuss the greater implications of what they’ve just consumed does not mean that they are unwilling to engage in criticism. In fact, I’ve found that the vast majority of people essentially want to offer criticism except that they frequently do not know where to begin. Since we, however, are familiar with critical consumption, we need to be the ones to invite discussion with our peers, challenge the assumptions of their hermeneutic practices, but validate their personal interpretations (especially if they are in stark contrast to our own).

When it comes to gender, we need to move beyond judging whether or not a text is legitimate because that is an alienating topic to many people. Instead we have to start small, introducing peers to the value of a critical outlook, thereby allowing them to gradually come to their own conclusions about how culture portrays and influences gender.

In summary, we need to empower the people we know by making them aware of how much agency they have when it comes to interpretation. We need to discuss with them topics like the ones I posed that are engaging and lead to a critical mindset, and then we need to actively listen to and respond to what they have to say about these topics. Basically, we’re obligated to give people the tools they need to critically evaluate gender on their own terms, and I think that by introducing critical discussions about media we can help begin the process that will eventually culminate in that development.

2 comments:

Coming out the closet Feminist! said...

Great post! it truly does boil down to addressing issues, we wont accomplish much by taking away or banning. And although we are aware i didnt come to see "the light" on may issues until it was personally addressed to me, and now i can pick and choose what i want to expose to myself or my child.(how gendered toys are).

Leila said...

Excellent. I especially like encouraging discussion of media beyond simple "likes" and "dislikes." Discussing films or music is an opportunity to invite deeper engagement with the issues they reflect/raise. This is a valuable post.