This interesting video sheds light on a new and zany conspiracy theory: Feminism (we all love feminism!) was created and supported by the FBI to break up the nuclear family and to enable them to tax more than half the population. By giving women rights they are able to pursue jobs and integrate themselves into the workplace, therefore keeping them out of home as the ‘house wife’. Now, with the nuclear family broken down children spend less time with their mums and more time at schools, therefore allowing children to be ‘programmed’ at a young age by society, rather than their mums. Believe it or not? Believe it. Haha.. feminism.
This essay examines the exploitation film I Spit on Your Grave (1978) and its recent remake (2010), and how both these films make strong comments about the culture which they were released in and the context which they were interpreted. The original film was visually enhanced and re-released on Blu-Ray this year, and therefore, along with its remake stands as a contemporary text. The essay focuses on the cultural significance of the previously banned movie being remade for a modern audience, and the voyeuristic aspects of both films. The way the film represents meaning to the audience through sound and image will also be discussed, representation being defined as the ‘process by which meaning is produced and exchanged between members of a culture… [involving] the use of language… signs and images which stand for or represent things’ (1997, p. 15). The aim of this essay is to shed light on the social and cultural significance of horror films, which are braver in their exploration of society’s taboos, and the reasons why society needs these films, as evidenced by the recent trend of their remakes. The essay also aims to explore the feminist qualities I Spit on Your Grave contain, for the purpose of this essay feminism can be defined as ‘the advocacy of equality for the sexes, in opposition to patriarchy and sexism’ (Macionis & Plummer, 2008, p. 883).
In the last decade swarms of horror films have risen from the ground in the form of remakes, these include:
(2003), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
(2005), The Amityville Horror
(2006), The Hills Have Eyes
(2009), Friday the 13th
(2009), The Last House on the Left, and most recently
(2010), I Spit on Your Grave
Lizardi (2010, p.114-115) offers two suggestions as to why these films are being remade, one is that remakes are ‘commercial products that repeat successful formulas in order to minimize risk and secure profits in the market place’, while the other reason is that horror remakes have the potential ‘to reveal something to us about our recurrent fears, anxieties and hopes for the future’. Becker (2006, p. 47) contends with this view by suggesting that horror films represent ‘society’s collective nightmare’, which contain repressed issues that must be confronted and resolved. It is worth noting that the original versions of these horror remakes mostly stem from the period of slasher films made in the 1970s, an era which was known for the carefree hippie generation and the contrasting bloodshed of the Vietnam War. Considering that ‘films are best understood in relation to the periods in which they were produced and consumed’ (Lizardi, 2010, p. 115), it is necessary for me to explore the culture that the original slasher films were unleashed upon, culture being defined simply as ‘the beliefs, values, behaviour and material objects that constitute a people’s way of life’ (Macionis & Plummer 2008, p. 882).
With the hippie revolution dissipating, and the war in Vietnam alive and well, the American culture was slowly descending towards ‘the sinister, the heavy, and the darkly forbidden’ (Becker, 2006, p. 48). During these times, the catchy pop songs of the early 60s had been cancelled out by the dark sounds of The Doors and Led Zeppelin, while the film industry turned to horror with films like Night of the Living Dead (1968) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). These films revealed ‘a shift in the worldview of the hippie counterculture, which had its considerable hopes in the possibility of significant progressive social change undercut by immense social traumas of the late 1960s and early 1970s’ (Becker, 2006, p. 43). In the opening scene of Wes Craven’s infamous Last House On The Left (1972) one of the two female protagonists – before leaving to a Bloodlust concert – is given a necklace by her father, the camera zooms in as she puts it around her neck, revealing a silver peace symbol, a cultural icon of the hippie movement. The camera holds onto this image before fading into a fixed shot of a forest, showing the two girls frolicking towards the camera, serene music playing softly in the background. This scene is later juxtaposed when the two girls are kidnapped; the terror on the girls’ faces are shown in extreme close ups during the scenes of their rape and torture. The progression of violence is eventually capped off by showing a close up of the intestines of one of the girls being pulled out of her body; throughout all these scenes the camera is static and the music is dark and synthesized. This strong contrasting imagery represented the death of the hippie movement, and is a consistent motif of the horror films of the 70s. It was the filmmakers way of getting to the ‘guts’ of their films message, which was ‘there is a war going on, and blood is being spilled.’ A reality that was swept under the rug in the ignorant bliss of the 60s hippie counterculture.
This week’s reading by Debra Merskin (2006, p. 202), asks the question that is clearly on everyone’s mind: ‘Where Are the Clothes?’ The text explores the sexualisation and pornographication (my spell check agrees that this is a made up word) of modern advertising, and its secret agenda to ‘maintain the sexual subordination of women’ and keep us men thinking of them as sexual objects. While this short little introduction might paint me as an anti–feminist, I assure you I’m just trying to have some fun here. Merskin’s article radiates with the ‘us vs. them’ feminist mentality that is used to make themselves feel victimised. The way I see it, feminism needs a constant stream of proof that women are less important than men, they feed on this stream and draw their power and strength from it. I will make a point here that I agree with Merskin’s (2006, p. 203) contention that ‘female identity in advertising is almost exclusively defined in terms of female sexuality’, this is almost impossible to disagree with as we are constantly bombarded with sexual advertising, after all ‘sex sells’. This reminds me of a scene from the Simpsons where an attractive woman is posing in front of a car that can be won in a competition, after Homer puts his competition slip in the box he asks her ‘Do you come with the car?’, she giggles and the next manin line puts his slip in the box and asks her the same question (Xxoveruledxx, 2010).
This Simpsons scene, though comical in nature, hints at the not so humorous reality of advertising that Merskin discusses. Is the woman selling the car or is she selling herself? Obviously the car, but it seems that men typically associate the two things as being one in the same, they think that by owning the car, it’ll eventually attach itself to beautiful women. Merskin (2006, p. 203) states that this is due to modern advertising being more involved in selling what the product stands for rather than the product itself. Merskin’s article is centred on the idea of the ‘male gaze’ which is defined as the way men look at women in a voyeuristic fashion. Men have and always will have this gaze when it comes to women; it’s a part of our evolutionary code, after all we are men! Jerry Seinfeld says that ‘Looking at cleavage is like looking at the sun, you don’t stare at it. It’s too risky. You get a sense of it and then you look away’ (Glorby, 2009), advertising has clearly decided to cash in on this risky and frowned upon male gaze by making images of women available everywhere and on everything, for men and women to look at without risk of embarrassment. I’m sure these days even cooking magazines will consist of a few teaspoons of sexually suggested images. The only beef I have with Merskin’s approach is she’s writing about old news, trying to making it seem fresh and new, we don’t need more reminders about what has happened to advertising, as we see enough of it every day, and we certainly don’t need to read 10 pages of advertisements being vividly described. Considering I haven’t seen any of the ads she is describing, it’s difficult to picture what the ad actually looks like, and after the 15th description you just surrender and say ok I get it, I’ll take your word on this ad, it’s about sex. Merskin even dedicates a paragraph to explain the difference between ‘hardcore’ and ‘softcore’ pornography and just for fun throws the word ‘snuff’ into the mix, but what does all this mean? Am I supposed to be reaching for my pen and paper to write an angry letter to Gucci or Calvin Klein? What does snuff have to do with advertising? And where is my sandwich!?
The Calvin Klein jeans commercial by Brooke Shields in the 1980s (PaceysGirls, 2008) is a perfect example of the duality present in modern advertising. In the commercial Brooke Shields is shown putting on a pair of jeans whilst talking about genes and ‘selective mating’. Even though the ad is about jeans, and the word gets said a lot, it is actually talking about genes, natural selection and sex. This is the typical formula of modern advertising, the duality of selling both a product and sex at the same time. While Merskin’s article does point the flashlight at an issue of concern in today’s advertising, it is one that can’t be solved by complaining about it, and especially not by over exaggerating its danger, which is most evident when Merskin (2006, p. 213) contends that rapists should not be the target of assault prevention, but the media for its portrayal of women as sex objects. Should we point the finger at violent movies instead of murderers as well? Besides, most men aren’t flipping through women’s magazines anyway, these advertisements selling shoes and belts are targeted at women, not men. Therefore I conclude that there is validity in Merskin’s article and her contention that advertising focuses itself on female sexuality to sell its products, but I don’t agree that these advertisements can be considered to be pornography, nor do they exist solely to maintain the subordination of women.
- Glorby 2009, Seinfeld – George Looks at Cleavage, 28 November, viewed 28 April 2011, <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dbsmbCWUNEE>.
- Merskin, D, 2006, Where are the clothes? The pornographic gaze in mainstream American advertising, Sex in Consumer Culture, p. 199-217.
PaceysGirls 2008, 1980 Calvin Klein Jeans Commercial feat. Brooke Shields, 9 August, viewed 29 April 2011, < http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AXzR5b6HoIA>.
Xxoveruledxx 2010, Oh You, 16 June, viewed 28 April 2011, <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xW8j3x3GzxY>.