Plan for the Evening
- This rest of April…the semester
- 4/21: Last Official Class Next week
- 4/28: Workshop in Fretwell 219 (not required but encouraged)
Final Exam (online)
Multimodal Project (online)
Final Presentation(Combined with above–see Major Assignments for more details)
- Define Feminism (didn’t we do this?)
- The Male Gaze in Film from Laura Mulvey
- Ch. 5 “The Male Gaze in Gaming”
- More Psychoanalysis Fun (time permitting)
Based on some of your posts, I think we need to define feminism. What is the definition of feminism?
If you enjoyed the video for this week’s prompt, you might also enjoy How Feminism Ruins Video Games on YouTube. Hey, we’re all for balance in this class.
How to Approach Psychoanalytic Theory
Psychoanalysis is a vast, complicated subject (like postmodernism) with contradictions, passé ideas, new ideas, more contradictions, a few reclamations, and often argued from the perspectives of important theorists (Freud, Jung, and Lacan). In no way should you consider our discussions as the end of the road or final say in the study of psychoanalysis. In fact, it’s but one of several possible beginnings.
I will have us mainly focus on the study of the unconscious and how it relates to cultural studies. Ever heard of the collective unconscious? How about the collective conscious?
Three Important Terms to Consider
- Id: the unconscious, unorganized part of one’s personality; often accessible through dreams.*
- Ego: (overly simplified definition) the conscious part of one’s personality. From Freud: “The ego represents what may be called reason and common sense, in contrast to the id, which contains the passions” (p. 25).
- Super-ego: the mainly conscious conscience of one’s personality that embodies ideals, goals, and confidence; it also prohibits drives, fantasies, feelings, and actions; is an internalization of culture and cultural norms.
The above three Freudian terms have a rather complex relationship to one another and their supposed development is also quite difficult to describe. However, for our purposes, what do the three suggest about a person’s relationship to others? What is the cultural significance of these personality components? What do they have to offer an analysis on video games or new media in general?
Other Terms for Discussion
- Compensation: taking up one behavior [might be embodied in an object] because one cannot accomplish another behavior [often a behavior considered normal].
- Confabulation: in psychology it means to replace fact with fantasy unconsciously in memory.
- Displacement: An unconscious defense mechanism, whereby the mind redirects emotion from a ‘dangerous’ object to a ‘safe’ object. In psychoanalytic theory, displacement is a defense mechanism that shifts sexual or aggressive impulses to a more acceptable or less threatening target; redirecting emotion (or, perhaps, action) to a safer outlet.
- Identification: the act of seeing oneself as similar to or (rarely) identical to another person or object. Often the process of identification completes a subject as when one sees himself or herself represented in another figure (a parent, friend, celebrity, avatar, etc.).
- Manque à être: (via Lacanian psychoanalytic theory) literally, “the want to be”; we’re born into the experience of lack, and our history consists of a series of attempts to figure and overcome this lack, a project doomed to failure” (Lapsley and Westlake 67).
- Scopophilia: “taking other people as objects, subjecting them to a controlling and curious gaze” (Mulvey, 1975, II. A. para. 1; p. 8). Similar to voyeurism.
- Transference: unconscious redirection of feelings for one person to another.
Mulvey’s Article on Scopophilic Fetishization (she uses an ‘s’ instead of a ‘z’)
Mulvey uses Lacanian psychoanalysis to describe what goes on for a spectator, an audience. She focuses on film, but the theory can easily be applied to other media (or can/should it?). Mulvey offers a feminist critique of how women are portrayed in film and what those portrayals mean for the male spectators. A few basic things to come away with from Mulvey are the following:
- Mulvey is “demonstrating the way the unconscious of patriarchal society has structured film” (I. A. para 1; p. 6).
- Hollywood narratives, films and the myths that “inspire” those films, predominantly reflect the male gaze–what men desire to see (scopophilia).
- The scopophilic aspect of viewing cinema “arises from pleasure in using another person as an object of sexual stimulation through sight” (Mulvey, II. C. para 1; p. 10).
- The identification aspect of viewing cinema “develop[s] through narcissism and the constitution of the ego” it “comes from identification with the image seen” (Mulvey, II. C. para 1; p. 10).
- “A male movie star’s glamorous characteristics are thus not those of the erotic object of the gaze, but those of the more perfect, more complete, more powerful ideal ego conceived in the original moment of recognition in front of the mirror” (Mulvey, III. B. para 1; p. 12).
- Men viewing the female icon or celebrity–possibly in so-called “chick flicks”–poses a different psychoanalytic solution. The male unconscious, when confronted with a female icon, does not (in heterosexist circles) identify with her; she doesn’t complete him. Instead,
- Voyeurism with associations of sadism and controlling the figure–woman as the object (Mulvey, III. C.1 para 2; p. 13).
- “Fetishitic scopophilia builds up the physical beauty of the object, transforming it into something satisfying in itself” (Mulvey, III. C.1 para 2; p. 14).
- Voyeurism with associations of sadism and controlling the figure–woman as the object (Mulvey, III. C.1 para 2; p. 13).
- Mulvey argues that film is another cultural product that controls images of women “to circumvent her threat” (III. “Summary” para 1; p. 17).
- “…cinematic codes create a gaze, a world, and an object, thereby producing an illusion cut to the measure of desire” (Mulvey, III. “Summary” para 1; p. 17).
I think Mulvey’s argument is completely sound, but it needs to be updated for contemporary media. Also, I think it’s wrong to assume that Mulvey would claim ALL viewers–male, female, trans, non-binary–view films the same way. It’s more productive to consider how one could identify with a character. Also, some viewers are going to identify with some characters and not with others. That’s just taste, right?
When it comes to video games, Mulvey’s theory of identification is actually bolstered because the gamers immerse themselves more fully into a game–controlling the avatar’s actions–than into a film or TV show. The gamer becomes the avatar. But we can complicate this:
- What about when women play with male avatars and vice versa?
- Why is expressed gender–even if you think there are only two–a key to theorizing how an audience member identifies with the avatar?
Hollywood is often called the Dream Factory. Why?
How can we relate this back to our favorite subject…consumption?
Ch. 5 “The Male Gaze in Gaming”
In this chapter, I try to adapt Mulvey’s lens (pun intended) to video games. One thing that continually came up when presenting early versions of these chapters at conferences and when discussing the project more generally and informally* was the refrain that “not all video games reproduce, specifically, misogyny,” so you’ll read quite a few statements like although not all video games are violent, not all video games have violent themes, there are themes other than misogyny in video game, etc. I needed to show potential reviewers that I’m focusing specifically on a small yet popular segment of AAA video games. There appears to be a reaction from (mostly) male gamers, including gaming theorists, who don’t like their entertainment being exposed as sexist, racist, homophobic, etc. A similar issue happened when I submitted my Sopranos manuscript for review: Tony Soprano is a misogynist, a complicated character overall, but still a misogynist. Ignoring misogyny in one’s entertainment is promoting misogyny; furthermore, backlash against someone pointing out the misogyny of one’s entertainment choices is a more aggressive promotion of misogyny (c.f. Gamergate). Intellectual beings–which we are–should be mature enough to recognize the myriad cultural influences of a text. We’re products of systemic racism and sexism; therefore, our culture and its artifacts will likely have those (negative) values. I’m not sorry if your ego is bruised because I point this out. We can enjoy and critique mass culture. In fact, examining and not just consuming media is vital for having a better understanding of one’s self, culture, and ideology (worldview).
- p. 93: “…sexism is systemic in American culture.”
- p. 94: “Video games allow gamers to immerse themselves into a virtual world where they have much control, and the mainstream video game industry creates these worlds, reproducing male-oriented, male-dominated entertainment for consumption.”
- p. 95: “gaming allows the gamer to possess the avatar or use an NPC by subjecting her to his controlling gaze.”
- p. 99: hyperrealism in media
- p. 100: “…the fact that gamers can control the avatars of professional sports players and not nameless pixel representations highly suggests that playing such sports video games allows a gamer to indulge in the illusion of becoming the player.”
- For instance, in Madden NFL, you can be Aaron Rodgers and run, throw, get sacked, etc. You can make him do anything…except get vaccinated.”
- p. 100: More perfect versions and playing situations.
- Consider American culture’s love of leisure.
- p. 101: “the video game environment allows an avatar to remain (usually) at the same level of fighting force at 100 percent or 1 percent of the avatar’s health.”
- p. 103: Virtual sex and male empowerment in GTA: Vice City (2002).
- p. 107: Are celebrities in the media real?
*I once told a pretty major figure in digital composition studies I was doing a book on video games as representative of the culture from which they come–American culture as the specific focus. He said, “that’s not interesting.” Additionally, a somewhat major feminist scholar, specializing in the history of rhetoric, dismissed my book project (in 2017) as not worthy and not making sense. She used the condescending incredulity veil (“I just don’t see it”) to dismiss my work as opposed to providing any real criticism or, more appropriately, direction to consider to improve/expand my early-ish research. I’m still waiting on her first monograph…she’s been a professor for more than a decade longer than I have.
Don’t let gatekeepers dissuade you from pursuing the research you’re interested in. Many of them surround themselves by likeminded (closed-minded) pseudo-intellectuals that would rather reproduce current research than take risks and branch out. These, often well-placed, academics continue to maintain academic silos.
More Fun With Psychoanalysis
- Fight Night 2004 (EA Sports) commercial
- “the more perfect, more complete, more powerful ideal ego conceived in the original moment of recognition in front of the mirror” (Mulvey, III. B. para 1; p. 12)
Fun with Musicals
- In an aside, Mulvey asks the reader to “Note, however, how in the musical song-and-dance numbers break the flow of the diegesis” (p. 11)
- I’m not sure breaking the plot lessens the scopophilic pleasure if films still have “women[‘s]…appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact…” (Mulvey, p. 11)
Could Dr. Seuss Really have Meant That???
Some might say LeBeau is being a bit facetious in his psychoanalytic reading of The Cat in the Hat. But psychoanalysis is all about the unconscious: artists and such create texts based on their experiences in life. Regardless of how much one may protest, we are all part of society and the influence can be read through our creations–books, films, technologies, etc.
Although there may be some disagreement, psychoanalysis can help us approach texts to uncover ideologies that influence both creators (artists, authors, architects, etc.) and audiences.
If we have time, how about ruining another children’s text–Lady and the Tramp or The Little Mermaid…
Next week is our last official class meeting. Read Ch. 6 and the Conclusion from Video Games and American Culture (on Canvas). Then, on Thursday, April 28th, we’ll meet in the computer lab up the hall (Fretwell 219–not the 215 Macintrash Lab) for assistance on your Multimodal Projects. Remember, I’m combing your Multimodal Project grade and Final Presentation, so it’s one assignment worth 200 points.
Freud, Sigmund. Freud, The Ego and the Id. 1923.
Lapsley, Robert and Westlake, Michael. Film Theory: An Introduction. 2nd Ed. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2006 (1st edition published in 1998).
Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Screen, 16.3 (1975): 6-18.