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This quote is from Laura Mulvey. It refers to how the world is unbalanced between the roles of males and females. This is caused by the act of looking. Looking is done by the male gaze, where the woman are the ones being looked at. The importance of this is that since the males are the ones who gain pleasure from looking at females, the females become sexual objects, where their physical appearance holds the look of the male (Mulvey, 2002:395). This act of looking becomes a sign for the male's desire and power (Mulvey, 2002: 398). This can be seen in films, where pleasure is gained from looking at females by both those in the film and those watching outside of the film (Mulvey, 2002: 398). This imbalance reproduces itself outside of the film into the real-world, where females become objects of desire, causing them to be unequal to males.
2. "Race is like a language ... a floating signifier."
This quote is from Stuart Hall. It refers to how race is like language, where just as language carries meanings through its words, so does race. Due to the fact that it is a "floating signifier", it carries meaning in a culture, but from a social viewpoint, it changes between different cultures since it doesn't have a fixed signified (Ironstone April 8, 2013). This indicates that the meaning of a person's race changes through the way individuals of a given society interprets it. The importance of this is that race should be looked at as a cultural construct, as it is transformed through economical, political and social changes of a specific time. What this means is that our beliefs and understandings of race through appearances are not based on genetics or science but are rather lived experiences (Ironstone April 8, 2013). Understandings of race are constructed and classified through a culture's ideologies of a specific era, where it does not carry a permanent meaning, but is continuously changing.
3. "Currently, the commodification of difference promotes paradigms of consumption wherein whatever difference the Other inhabits is eradicated, via exchange, by a consumer cannibalism that not only displaces the Other but denies the significance of that Other's history through a process of decontextualization."
This quote is from bell hooks. It refers to how a dominant culture essentially takes over another culture through "consumer cannibalism". What this means is that through the objectification of a culture, it can be commodified and sold. This removes the history of a culture and takes away its importance in society, where the voices of difference are lost (Ironstone April 8, 2013), and thus consumed by mass culture. The profit made by someone's "otherness" removes their significance, making a person's diversity no longer a part of their culture part but a part of the masses. This is done through "white" culture, where essentially the "others" values and worth are taken away, giving them no base or structure for their own identity (bell, 1992: 30). A culture's individuality is produced into something that can be sold in the market place, removing all previous meaning from it.
4. "There is no gender identity behind the expressions of gender; that identity is performatively constituted by the very 'expressions' that are said to be its results."
This quote is from Judith Butler. It refers to how the idea of gender and the way it represents our identity is not actually permanent, but that we act a certain way due to the fact that gender is socially and culturally constructed. We represent our identity through our gender, where how we choose to express ourselves to others, is decided for us by society, telling us who we are (Ironstone March 15, 2013). This "who we are" is categorized by our gender. Gender carries norms and expectations with it, it tells us how we are supposed to act and behave in regards to our identity. The importance of this is that if gender is performed (Butler, 1990: 22). This "act" or "performance" of gender has been instilled in us from the moment we are born. We constantly condition ourselves to fit into a specific gender through the repetition of it, causing us to become unaware to it (Ironstone March 15, 2013). Gender identity is built through distinguishing ourselves from someone else (Butler, 1990: 22). Gender is something constructed in our minds, where our idea of it expresses itself through the way we act and associate ourselves with others in society.
5. "By 'public sphere' we mean first of all a domain of our social life in which such a thing as public opinion can be formed."
This quote is from Jürgen Habermas. It refers to a place, where any concern in an individual's social life can be discussed in private to form a public opinion. This opinion is formed through a mutual understanding between those in the public sphere. Everyone is open to take part in discussion, where they can convey to others their interest and desires (Ironstone March 1, 2013). This is important because citizens can form an opinion in this public sphere, creating a public opinion and thus forming democracy (Habermas, 1989: 235). Everyone is allowed to speak and convey their own issues and problems. By identifying problems in society, it can influence and change their world, giving citizen's power.
6. "[A]nalysis of the public sphere needs to undergo some critical interrogation and reconstruction if it is to yield a category capable of theorizing the limits of actually existing democracy."
This quote is from Nancy Fraser. It refers to how this idea of the public sphere, by Jürgen Habermas, needs to be changed if it is actually going to produce a place of free discussion and equality. The importance of this is that the public sphere, described by Habermas, is not open to everyone, as it excludes a large part of society. The public sphere was a bourgeoisie public, produced by wealthy, older, white men (Ironstone March 1, 2013). It did not include woman, minorities, or dealt with a "common concern", as the common were not part of the discussion (Ironstone March 1, 2013). The public sphere did not allow everyone to ask and answer questions, or to address their needs and opinions. So in order for a democracy to exist within society, a single public sphere cannot exist, but rather multiple publics need to be formed (Fraser, 1990: 77). This would allow for anyone's voice to be heard, creating social equality.
In the society that we live in, much of what we find important comes from the media, where we have come to base our lives around it and consumption. We base our understandings of the world from the images and signs we see in TV, music, film, advertising, etc. Each of our identities have come to be understood through social constructions, where we form our ideas of what gender and race mean based on this. These social constructions have become commodified by the media where our identities have increasingly been structured around what the media tells us to be (Bell, 1992: 31). These constructions have come to affect our social behaviour, as it influences how we act and behave in our social lives.
Trying to define culture is difficult, as it is continuously changing, and due to this, we struggle trying to find the meaning for own identity. Gender has come to be defined by society, not by biology, by defining what it means to be either masculine or feminine; where our gender becomes a performance based on the culture we live in (Butler, 1990: 22). Race is created and changed, not by genetics or science, but by society, as it is constantly placed in categories so we are able to differentiate us from others (Ironstone April 8, 2013). This is done in order meet the needs of a society, including the economy and politics of a given time period. Due to this, race never holds one meaning.
Stuart Hall, bell hooks, Judith Butler and Laura Mulvey all explore this idea of the construction of identity. I will use their ideas to address how race and gender are formed and socially constructed throughout the film "Save the Last Dance". By understanding how social constructs have become "naturalized" in culture, gender and race can be grasped and perhaps challenged.
When growing up, one of my favourite movies was "Save the last Dance". I loved the dancing and the clothing worn in the film, and I especially loved the romance between the two main characters. But, looking back at it through a different perspective, I can clearly see how gender norms and racial stereotypes and shown throughout the entire film.
Firstly, the film is about a white, blonde female ballet dancer named Sara. Her mom is killed in a car crash, so she has to move in with her dad, in a low income, predominately black neighborhood. She is transferred to a school in the area, which is populated by mostly black students. Due to this, does not fit in. At this school she makes a friend name Chenille, she then meets her brother Derek, and eventually they fall in love. After she dances like a "white girl" in a night club, he teaches her how to dance to hip-hop. She then uses these new moves to audition for a prestigious dance school, where she gets accepted.
In "Racist Ideologies and the Media" Stuart Hall discusses how the media produces racist stereotypes, in which the viewers become to believe these stereotypes as true. This causes it to become constructed in our culture (Ironstone April 5, 2013), where racist ideologies, in the sense of images and concepts, become reproduced in society (Hall, 2000: 273). This can be seen in the film, due to the fact that many of the black men who are friends with Derek are stereotyped as tough, violent, abusive, angry and involved in crime, where as the black females are stereotyped as jealous, loud, "slutty", and single teen moms. In contrast to this, Sara represents innocence, and has ambition and goals in life. This film directly divides and places the black and white characters against one another. This can especially be seen with the character Nikki, who is Derek's ex. Nikki is stereotyped as an "in your face", "home wrecking" aggressive black girl, who doesn't think Sara and Derek should be together based on her skin colour.
Derek becomes contrasted against the neighborhood he lives in as he is ambitious and smart, where he is portrayed as the "exception" as he goes against the "black" life of becoming part of a gang and a criminal like his best friend Malakai has. This shows that Derek moves away from the "norm" of what is stereotyped to be a black male, as he takes on the qualities of a "white" man. These type of stereotypes depicted in this film, can be seen throughout the news all the time where white people are seen as the victims and blacks or minorities are seen as dangerous, uneducated and poor. Due to this, as a culture we have come to represent all black people this way, as we have constructed it in our minds to think this way based on the way the media portrays race to be.
Opposite of this, is how black culture, in the way of clothing, music and dancing, have become commodified in the film, and thus in society. The clothing worn, music listened to and dance moves by the black characters in the film are represented as cool and popular, where the white male characters in the film take on this black culture, by wearing baggy pants, over sized jackets, boots and bandanas in order to fit in. Lip, the main white male character, dresses and speaks the same way his black friends do, and gets made fun of it for it because to them he is trying to "act black". In one of the scenes, Sara goes to a popular night club with Chenille and her friends, where she is wearing a conservative matching cardigan and skirt. Before going into the club, Chenille takes Sara into her friend's car and changes Sara's outfit, taking off the cardigan and putting big silver hoops in her ears. This way she fits in, and looks like she is a part of the group. After this she then changes her whole wardrobe in order to fit into her news friends group. This relates to "Eating the Other" by bell hooks as she discusses how culture is consumed and purchased. This is where the "different" are made into something that can be packaged, bought and sold, taking away the importance of the others culture (bell, 1992: 30). This film made it popular for girls to wear big hoop earrings and for guys to wear bandannas. As well, the males portrayed in the film who wear oversized clothing and listened to hop-hop and rap music are portrayed as tough and manly, influencing viewers to think that if they dress this way and listen to the same music, they too will be tough. This can be seen in society today, as bell explains, where white, middle-class, suburban boys dress and listen to the same music as in this film, absorbing black culture, making it their own (bell, 1992: 31). If Lip wasn't living in a predominantly black neighborhood, he probably wouldn't be made fun of for trying to be "black", instead he would probably be looked at as cool and dangerous, as he would have taken black culture and made it part of his own culture.
Gender plays a role in this film as well, even though it is not as outwardly expressed as race is. Sara is a feminine archetype, as she is a white, blonde, smart, pretty ballerina. Derek is a strong, smart and handsome male. They both fit into feminine and masculine roles, by being the cultural ideals of what a male and female should be. This relates to Judith Butlers ideas of gender in "Subjects of Sex/Gender/Desire. She discusses how even though our sex is biological, our understandings of gender and the way it represents our identity is not actually fixed, but that we act a certain way due to the fact that gender is socially and culturally constructed (Butler, 1990: 19). Gender carries norms and expectations with it, it tells us how we are supposed to act and behave in regards to our identity (Butler, 1990: 22). In the beginning of the film Sara acts proper and perfect, as that was how she was brought up by her mom and ballet teacher. She structured her life around being perfect through her body and dancing, taking care of how she looked to others. But, when she moves away, and makes her friend Chenille, she begins to change, where she becomes more independent and "tough", as she relies and stands up for herself. As well, she gets in a physical fight with Nikki, showing that femininity isn't fixed with females, going against her gender norm. As well, Derek is portrayed as a leader, as he takes on the "father figure" role by taking care of his sister and her baby. He helps his friend Malakai get out of a fight, but decides to not help his friends with a drive by shooting, which is seen as cowardly and "un-manly" to them. This reinforces the fact that gender is constructed in our minds, where our understandings of it are shown through the way we act and associate ourselves with others in society (Butler, 1990: 22). These two characters go against these social constructions by stopping the repeated action of performing who they think they should be, removing preconceived notions of gender and race.
Lastly, the use of dancing to show the female body is illustrated in the film, which relates to "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" by Laura Mulvey. She discusses how through the use of film we gain pleasure by looking at others; this act is called scopophilia (Mulvey, 2002: 395). This is where the female being looked at is no longer a person, but an object of the males gaze, where looking becomes a form of control and power (Mulvey, 2002: 395). In film, the male is the one who is looking and the female is the one being looked at. This focus is done on the female's body, where she holds the males look and attention. The way women are displayed on film works in two ways. The first is where pleasure is gained from looking at females by the males in the film and the second is where pleasure is gained from those watching the actual film (Mulvey, 2002: 398). This pleasure can be seen in "Save the Last Dance", when the characters are in the night club, there are shots of Sara and Nikki dancing, where the focus is just on their body. As well, there's a scene when Malakai and his friends are sitting in the lounge of the club and girls are dancing in front of them while they watch. Not only are the males in the scene gaining pleasure from watching these woman but the viewers watching this on screen are gaining pleasure too. This shows that the male controls the power of the scene with his look, making the males in control and dominant over the females.
Save the Last Dance shows how society's ideas of race and gender are shown through its representations on film. These influences are not only portrayed with the characters on screen but are passed onto those watching the film. This shows that gender and race are media and socially based constructions not biological.