SSC: Gaze

This week’s topic is woman as image and man as the bearer of look in cinema, and whether or not this still exists today.  I’m arguing that yes, although it isn’t as blatantly obvious as it was in the past, modern texts still contain the tropes that make up this theory.  I’ll be discussing this in terms of video games, seeing as the industry was (and still partially is) a boy’s club, and although they’re getting better, many video games are still blatantly sexist and position women for the male gaze.

For so long, the roles of women in video games have been limited to tropes like damsel in distress or evil seductress.  The woman functions as an erotic object for both the characters in the story and the player playing the game.  Thankfully, we’re seeing a little more diversity in recent games and we’re getting more realistic NPCs as well as female protagonists, however the way they are created is not on an equal level to male playable characters.  There’s endless topics to cover in terms of how woman are presented in video games but one in particular I find interesting, is what Anita Sarkeesian (pop culture critique) calls ‘strategic butt coverings’.  Often the way the character is positioned on the screen and how the camera moves around her is created to keep her bum at the centre of the screen.  It’s also not uncommon for a player to be able to move the camera under the protagonist’s skirt if she’s wearing one.  For male characters however, there are great lengths in place to avoid their behinds being looked at – by only being able to adjust the camera above or to the side, or by costuming with a cape or long jacket.  This is proof that women are still presented for ‘visual pleasure’.

In many modern films, this trope is used by the female characters themselves to gain an advantage (aka in teen movies like Mean Girls and Easy A).  However since the player is in control of the game and the protagonist, the character is being positioned against her own will, purely for the player’s viewing pleasure.  It is similar to the cinema trope of a camera pan or tilt of a lady’s lovely figure from a male character’s POV.  The difference is that the audience is not just watching, they’re controlling what they see.

I’ve noticed a similar deal with video game posters, cases and promotional art where there seems to be a trend of getting the female character’s boobs and butt in view at the same time.  One might think that it’s just a dramatic way of posing, however the male equivalent is far less revealing.  It’s rare to find a male character stretched around at a ridiculous angle to get their front and back in view at the same time – but when it does happen, it’s not in a hypersexualised way.  They are shown to be ‘badass’, but female characters are shown to be ‘badass and sexy’.  This isn’t restricted to video games though, it’s common for action films, tv shows and comic books as well.  The images below will hopefully speak for themselves and justify that women are still indeed the subject of ‘male gaze’.

 

Edit 1/4/16:
Since writing this post, Anita Sarkeesian has created a video on Body language and the male gaze in gaming, and discusses Laura Mulvey’s theories as well as her own observations.  It’s an interesting video that takes the themes from this post further.

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SSC: Misleading trailers

The first few moments of a film that we witness is what draws us into the film’s world.  The same goes with TV, theatre, video games etc – the world is opened up to us and we step inside for the first time.  More than often, the first glimpse we get of a world is in a trailer or other promotional content that are released before the text at hand.  Usually they fill the audience in on how the text’s world is set up and give a sneak peak into what the text’s content is going to be.  We see who the characters are, when the time period is, where the location is, what the story is (vaguely) about and occasionally why the narrative has taken place with a bit of backstory.  However sometimes trailers can lead us astray.

In class we discussed the occasional times where a trailer for a film either misrepresents the film or misleads the audience – or even when footage from a trailer doesn’t end up in the film at all.  This immediately made me think of cinematic video game trailers.  For a lot of recent large-budget games, a cinematic trailer is released with footage or scenes that are created separately to the game’s actual gameplay and cutscenes.  Often they are of higher quality or different animation style to the game itself, so there is a chance the audience could be let astray in thinking this is how the game is going to look.

Now I’m not suggesting the games’ marketing teams are purposefully misleading their audience, as these trailers are often released along side a gameplay trailer which shows content from the game itself, as well as the fact that most gamers understand this trend and expect that the cinematic trailer is not going to accurately represent the game.  Also sometimes a trailer is made before the game to get funding or to raise awareness for how the game could potentially look.  However I still find it interesting that this can be seen as an audience member’s first step into a world that turns out to be nothing like they expected.

Above is both the cinematic trailer and gameplay trailer for Bioshock: Infinite so we can compare the difference. The cinematic trailer captures the essence of the game very well, however the art style is quite different from the game itself.  Elizabeth (the girl in blue) hardly even looks like she does in the game at all (although I personally like her game-version a lot better so it works backwards this way).  So if one was to only watch the first trailer before playing the game, would they feel a little betrayed or confused that it wasn’t like they expected?  Possibly.

There’s a similar deal with the Alice: Madness Returns advertising.  The first video shows a style completely different to the actual game content.  I personally saw both trailers before buying and playing the game and didn’t know quite which style to expect, as I thought maybe both were incorporated in the game.  Of course I wasn’t disappointed at all to find out it was only the latter because the game is beautiful and creepy and fits what I generally thought it would be – however the fact stands that the ‘misleading’ trailer DID skew my initial reaction on the game and it’s world when I started playing it.

The first Dead Island trailer brought tears to its’ audience’s eyes with a super emotional wordless story animated beautifully, but the game that came out was allegedly nothing like what the fans expected from the trailer.  The actual game had little to no emotional story-driven content and instead was more a simple beat-em-up zombie game.  I think this is a perfect example of false world-building.  A trailer should be accurately representative of the game/film/tv show as it’s the first glimpse the audience gets of the world within the text and sets their expectations.

SSC: Windows

I’m starting off this subject’s blog posts by discussing a favourite photographer of mine: Andreas Gursky.  I remember studying his work for an assignment in high school so seeing him on a third year uni lecture slide was a bit of a blast to the past.  Gursky is a German photographer known for his large-scale landscape and architecture photographic compositions.

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Many of Gursky’s works are beautifully composed of a large quantity of subjects that are placed together to create a bigger, structured piece.  What I mean by this is that there are two ways of looking at his work – as the big picture, the overall neat, aesthetically pleasing composition; or individually moving your eyes to all the interesting sections of the photograph.  In the image above (Mayday V, 2006), you can see the entire building as a whole, or you can look in each and every window.  (And this is where Screen and Sound’s themes of window and frame come in.)

Although I honestly don’t one hundred percent understand the concept (or the importance of the concept, for that matter), I believe his images are both windows and frames.  This photograph in particular is framed by black above and below, so we are looking at what is in the frame – the artificial, very obviously artistically constructed building.  At the same time, we’re looking through the many windows in the building and seeing genuine instances of life.  We see people standing, sitting, talking, moving – living their lives as we view this still moment of time.

Now a point that we discussed in class is that whatever is beyond a window is ‘real’, and what is inside a frame is ‘fake’.  We believe photography to represent a certain truth – especially when it depicts people, places and objects of the real world.  So are we supposed to look at Gursky’s work and see reality within the windows?  I believe there is a certain amount of truth beyond the windows, however all I can think about is the time and effort that went into setting up the photo this way.  Sure, what’s behind the windows are real people doing real things (and what is art if not a representation of real life?), but they would all be positioned so nicely if it weren’t for Gursky and his camera.

So despite the point that the actual building in the photo had four levels, and it was later edited together to appear like 18 levels, makes me feel like we’ve been lied to.  But I suppose that’s much beyond the point.  (When you question what’s real and what’s not real for too long it starts to get to you.)  If it’s a window in a frame, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly how much truth is beyond it.  Regardless, Gursky gives us a lot to look at through his windows.