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(Catherine Lucas, 2006) Using the Psychoanalytical Notion of the ‘Male Gaze’ to Analyse Visual Examples from Film, Photography and Advertising: Challenging whether this concept is still relevant to an understanding of our cultural production.
Voyeuristic looking involves a controlling gaze and Mulvey argues that this has has associations with sadism: ‘pleasure lies in ascertaining guilt – asserting control and subjecting the guilty person through punishment or forgiveness’ (Mulvey 1992, 29).” In considering concepts of pleasure, Mulvey ascertained two types of scopophilia, which is defined as a joy of ‘looking’.However, the televised version of the ‘Laundrette’ advert showed women as the active viewers in the scene [Fig 3b], not exclusively homosexual men, suggesting less acceptability of such areas of human sexuality than is apparent in more straightforwardly subversive adverts of today, such as the previously explored FCUK advert.However, “with the increasing visibility of gay men in British Society it was almost inevitable that gay images would appear in the press…new style magazines…were published in the 1980s…Aware of their gay readerships, I-D and Blitz along with Face featured articles, features and photographs that would appeal to this market…an explicitly homoerotic style developed, consciously or unconsciously aimed at and appealing to a gay audience…inviting heterosexual men to view gay-inspired images and to question the assumptions of the male gaze.” Mulvey’s original theory of The Gaze is centred on that of an active male and passive female; the heterosexual male is always the one who is looking at or objectifying the passive female, who exists to be looked at for pleasure, in a position of submissiveness.One may argue from a position of hindsight that Mulvey expresses some proof of naivety by neglecting to address the existence of the homosexual gaze, and even of the heterosexual female gaze.Take, for example, the ‘Fashion versus Style’ advertising campaign launched by French Connection UK.
The basic plot of the advert was a fight between two girls [Fig 2a] clad in FCUK’s latest clothing line.“As Jonathan Schroeder notes, ‘Film has been called an instrument of the male gaze, producing representations of women, the good life, and sexual fantasy from a male point of view’ (Schroeder 1998, 208).” The FCUK advert could definitely be categorised as a portrayal of male sexual fantasy, although ultimately the advert is supposedly aimed at women who would buy the clothing collection.However, the lesbian element of the advert cannot be ignored, and brings us into the idea of the ‘homosexual gaze.’ “A useful account of ‘queer viewing’ is given by Caroline Evans and Lorraine Gamman (1995).Her in-depth investigation into the female exhibitionists who choose to partake in the show, which films ‘ordinary’ women in various states of undress and sometimes in scenes with other women, brought up this quote from “Girls Gone Wild” regular, Debbie Cope: “…yeah Girls Gone Wild is for guys to get off on, but…it’s fun!” This quote clearly signifies an awareness of the male gaze, but also as an alternative to habitual feminist views against the use of the male gaze and suppression of a ‘female gaze’ in popular culture, a certain desire of some women to exhibit themselves for this very purpose –a trait explained by Mulvey’s theory of ‘narcissistic scopophila’ and exhibitionism, which will be explored in more depth as the essay progresses.Many feminists argue, “…media images of women are always directed at men.” However, this argument, once fuelled mainly by images from the pages of “Playboy” [Fig 1], seen by some as degrading to women, may now in our increasingly liberal culture even be traced into ‘prime time’ advertising, with the concept of voyeuristic scopophilia particularly apparent in the portrayal of some scenes, such as that which I shall now relate: Modern advertising is controlled in the United Kingdom by the Advertising Standards Agency, which ensure that what is shown on our television screens is politically correct and inoffensive.