341 Week 11 #1

December 13, 2010

Laura Mulvey argument about visual pleasure is centered around the idea of Scopophilia, which is the desire to look at people for pleasure. In the scenerio of looking at films for pleasure, women are presented as an object of the male gaze that is most pleasurable to look at. There are three components to this concept of scopophilia. The first is the identification with the male protagonist as he is trying to win over the female in the film. The second is fetishism, which is to look at the women and objectify her for her body her appearance. Voyeurism is the component, which is characterized by distance and possibility of violence. This can include viewing a female in a sexual way that involves a sadistic thrill because it victimizes the women who doesn’t know she is being looked at. Mulvey says that voyeurism creates a situation where women are punished for eliciting desire. In Psycho, Norman Bates kills Marian Crane because on some level he wants to punish her for instilling a sexual desire in him that he cannot fulfill. Hitchcock comments on this in Psycho in the sense that the female protagonist is objectified, fetishized, and an object of voyeurism. When she meets someone who is a literal voyeur in the film, she is killed by that person. Hitchcock sets up a scenerio where the audience can become aware of how they derive pleasure from voyeurism, fetishism, and identification as the film forces them to identify with the killer. Mulvey ideas are rooted in Freud’s theories about repressed castration anxiety. This theory would say that in order to deal with this anxiety you can choose to devalue women, who represent this fear of being castrated, because they are incomplete. The other way to deal with this anxiety is to pretend it doesn’t exist and substitute something else for it. It would then get repressed and return as a symbolic fetish and manifest itself in the objectification of women. In light of this theory we can say that Norman Bates chooses to punish a women who he subconsciously views as incomplete or castrated so to speak, and therefore less valuable.
Mulvey believes that a man facing castration anxiety has two ways of dealing with it: either disavow the women who represents this fear of lack or over-glamorize and objectified. This is how females become objectified for their bodies; men substitute a lack of one body part by over-emphasizing other female body parts. Mulvey calls this excessive fascination with bodies, this seeing them as purely objects for sexual desire, fetishistic scopophilia. She see scopophilia through the male gaze as particularly dangerous because it treats beautiful women in Hollywood films as objects to be controlled. In her opinion, it’s sexual in nature, in that it uses these women for sexual stimulation through the act of looking. She believes that film by nature is voyeuristic because you’re looking at people who cannot look back; this feeds into the idea of narcissism, like in Lican’s mirror stage. Here the viewer misrecognizes themselves in relation to the people on screen. This creates a problem for women, because in this way women are asked to identify with the male gaze that wants to objectify and punish women. Female viewers are forced to participate in scopophilia or voyeurism, both of which function to punish women. She uses this as evidence for her argument that women exist in film solely to be looked at in a sexualized and controlling way by men.
According to Mulvey cinema has moments and narrative, which are active and male, and moments of spectacle, which are passive and female. The problem with this relates to scopophilia, fetishism, voyeurism, and narcissism because women are shown as passive objects to be looked at and desired, and female viewers are forced to participate in their own objectification. There are moments in film, when women appear for the sole purpose of being desirable and glamorous, that have nothing to do with the narrative. Hitchcock tries to make the audience aware of these moments of spectacle, by including isolated segments where Marian Crane is just standing in her underwear just for the sake of being objectified that have nothing to with the plot. This is one way that Hitchcock manipulates the audience into feeling guilty for participating in this act of cinematic voyeurism; he intentionally makes the viewer aware of voyeurism in order to criticize it. In light of these ideas it’s interesting to note how in the beginning of Psycho the camera searches for a story or something to focus on in a voyeuristic way until it finds Marian in her underwear; here she is presented as a sexualized object for Sam and for the men in the theatre. Mulveys would say that she needs to be punished for being a sexualized women and for the rest of her time in the film she is objectified by men. This can be understand as an example of scopophilia, because every man she meets looks at her wants to control, or dominate her. When the cop looks at her through his sunglasses- this represents the idea of voyeurism in movies because she is being looked at and can’t look back- it’s as if he knows she’s guilty of something, and that crime is being a sexualized women. Marian is objectified until she encounters the man who is insane that uses voyeurism and scopophilia. Instead of objectifying Marian as a way of dealing with the sexual desire that she represents, Norman Bates punishes Marian by killing her. Mulvey would say Psyhco is about objectifying women, and Norman takes scopophila to the psychotic extreme. This is how Hitchcock criticizes scopophilia, and makes the audience aware of how it’s a kind of violence against women. The male gaze of Norman attempts to control Marian, but because of his disavowal of women, he has to punish her for being sexual. Then he blames another women, his mother, for the murder, which comes back to his castration anxiety.

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