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As discussed throughout Tricia Jenkins’ article, Potential Lesbianism at Two O’Clock, there has been an increasing acceptance of lesbian-charged imagery in mainstream media.  Wild ThingsAmerican Pie 2, and Cruel Intentions are used as examples of movies in which a very specific, hegemonic form of lesbianism is depicted, while advertisements like the Skyy Vodka ad and a 2006 Coors Light ad reinforce this image.

While these images are fairly innocuous in content, they only portray a very narrow and limited view of homosexuality, one that serves primarily to further the male gaze and depict a form of lesbianism that is not true lesbianism, but one that has been created within a heteronormative context.  In juxtaposition to these images, there is very little evidence of a parallel existing, one that features homosexual men in the same context.  As discussed in the Helene Shugart article, Reinventing Priveledge: The New (Gay) Man in Contemporary Popular Media, homosexual men exist within mainstream media solely within a heteronormative context, serving to reinforce heterosexuality as the norm.  Here homosexual men are rarely sexualized and nearly always perceived as hyper-feminized.  Why has it become so commonplace for lesbianism to be eroticized, despite existing in such a narrow heteronormative viewpoint, while homosexual males are stripped of their masculinity, and thus by association, power?

These all play into what is believed to be (and further is repeatedly depicted by popular media as) the common male fantasy of lesbianism. In this fantasy world, lesbianism is not a expression of desire or romance between women, but rather a redirection of desire and romance away from a male body, which is undesirable in advertising aimed at libidinous men, and placed on another visually pleasing female body. If asked, we believe that a majority of men would tell you they don’t wish to see male bodies in the materials which arouse them, possibly because this could lead to confusion and ambiguity surrounding their sexuality, something mainstream middle American culture is not very accepting of. This leads to a media system that employs depictions of lesbianism through a male gaze, in which the women have no agency, and take no real emotional joy in the act, but rather are objectified by the male viewer, who is the subject. We see in this advertisement for a homosexual male dating site, Man Crunch, a depiction of two fairly traditional male football fans watching a game.

As their hands meet accidently over a bowl of tortilla chips, they are overcome with desire and lunge at each other, kissing and groping ferociously. This could lead one to believe that progress has been made, especially knowing that this ad was intended to be played during the Super Bowl, one of the most coveted and traditionally heteronormative advertising slots of the year. However, the ad was rejected by ABC on the grounds that the company did not have the funding necessary to purchase a costly ad during the game, but Man Crunch released a statement saying they were indeed prepared to offer more than the going price, 2.5 million.

Physical or sexually emotional contact between two women is totally acceptable, and in some contexts even encouraged, although only when it either benefits the male gaze, or can be perceived as an adventurous yet fleeting moment of experimentation.  Why is it that our media system is flooded with these images of female pseudo-homosexuality while depictions of male/male sexuality remain all but missing in our lexicon? Within heteronormative media, the only acceptable form of male homosexuality is safely encased in either child-oriented cartoons, where it easily passes as camaraderie, or in a silly juxtaposition of stereotypes, such as we see in the Bissell Vacuum Cleaner advertisement.

On rare occasions where we do see homosexuality represented in a pronounced and more than momentary form, these characters tend to be castrated of power, portrayed as weak, incapable, rash, and confused. One reason for these depictions is the threat which male homosexuality can be seen as posing to a traditional heteronormative mindset and society. If we agree that to every dollar earned by a man, a woman earns eighty cents, together earning a dollar eighty, we can also agree that a male/male couple earns two dollars, while a woman/woman couple earns only a dollar sixty. This imbalance threatens the superiority of traditional heterosexual couples. We can also see an imbalance of a more primal nature, where a male/female couple has one member (traditionally thought of to be) capable of violence and aggression, a homosexual couple has two, and conversely the female/female couple, none. These examples may help explain the uneven depiction of homosexuality in media.

There has recently been more discussion around the existence of the female gaze, one that challenges the male gaze or simply demonstrates that women too, are capable of infusing their critical scrutiny with power and authority.  Albeit the emergence of this female gaze, the discussion surrounding this theory primarily focuses on questioning its existence.  Another provocation to this heteronormative view on homosexuality exists within the art world, and in some advertising, in which homosexually charged images of men are used to create a sense of shock and scandal, which serves the basic function of creating publicity for the artist and/or company.  Advertisements such as the Dolce and Gabbana ad from 2008 best illustrate this argument.

While this trend is becoming more common, it still exists only on the fringe of mainstream media, and is not as excepted and commonplace as the mediated heteronormative image of the lesbian.

The trend toward including images of lesbians in mainstream media rarely depicts realistic representations of lesbians, but rather presents a co-opted and regurgitated formulation of lesbianism through the eyes of the male gaze.  This is the only form of homosexuality that fits comfortably into the hegemonic and heteronormative world view, where the male gaze reigns supreme, carrying and administering the predominant form of power within mainstream media.

A Response

This post is in Response to Brett’s post on sexual otherness in media, which can be found here.

I fully agree with Brett’s contention that these ad’s display examples of lesbian sexuality which has been redirected through the hetero male gaze. In the Sky Vodka ad, we see two women with legs intertwined enjoying martinis. The obvious interpretation here is that things are getting a little loose, a little blurred. These women are one, maybe two drinks away from going to get down town. The male in the background, with his shirt unbuttoned, is not physically touching the women, and can be seen as a voyeur. Since we don’t see his face, it is that much easier for a male viewer, the obvious target audience, to place themselves into the position of the male in the ad, about to witness and possibly participate in the typical and, as advertisers would have you believe, common male fantasy. In this fantasy world, lesbianism is not a expression of desire or romance between women, but rather a redirection of desire and romance away from a male body, which is undesirable in advertising aimed at horny men, and placed on another visually pleasing female body. If asked I believe a majority of men would tell you they don’t wish to see male bodies in the materials which arouse them, possibly because this could lead to confusion and ambiguity surrounding their sexuality, something mainstream middle american culture is not very accepting of. Moving on to the Coor’s Light advertisement, we see two women in a bathroom, likely of a bar or a restaraunt, drinking beer and putting on makeup. One woman sits on the counter and straddles the other, who gets very close and puts lipstick on the first woman. The second woman’s left hand is gripping the first’s leg, and her right arm is nestled between the first’s breasts. Their eyes are locked and they seem keyed in to eachother, as if any moment the urge will overtake them to begin ravaging eachother. This is clearly the interpretation Coor’s is hoping the viewer will adopt, although I’m not sure what the original source for this advertisement was, I would wager it comes from a magazine marketed mostly to men. Although there may be nothing sexual about this scene in one reality, we are invited to believe that these women are sexually ambiguous, a common theme in the male fantasy. Men don’t want true lesbianism, as that would deny them the opportunity to get theirs, but rather women who perform a somewhat acquiescent bisexual. It is just this, in fact, a performance for the men who they wish to attract. We see this in media as a tool to market to men, and showing us the power of media, we have begun to see this reflected in real life among youth, wherein lesbianism has become a fashion statement. Young women perform as if they are sexually attracted to women, kissing and groping in mock lust, when truly they are hoping to impress and ultimately woo men. Although I don’t wish to condemn anyone or their individual sexuality, I feel that this performance of mock lesbianism is damaging, as it demeans the integrity of true lesbian relationships, and speaks to the truly bizarre effect a media saturated environment can have on a population. Lesbianism as a tool of attraction aimed at men makes, when the eroticism is removed, makes little sense. We can easily see this by reversing the roles. Imagine a man in a bar, trying to woo a woman by kissing his male friend. Although this is possible, and there may be nothing wrong with that, I find it highly unlikely that this happens.

Sexualized Minorities, “Sexual Otherness”, and Heterosexism in Media

For our discussion this week, we look at the ways in which sexual minorities are represented on television, film, and other media. There is a long history of under representation of minorities in media, be it by sexual preference, race, body type, etc. In class we discussed the growing visibility of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people in media. As our culture becomes more progressive, and as advertisers see a growing of both the acceptance as well as lucrative potential of appealing to a homosexual or non heterosexual market, we see more and more instances of inclusion. However, because advertisers don’t wish to lose the attention and affection of the larger heteronormative market, we see portrayals which can be interpreted in multiple ways, leaving the viewer to make the decision for themselves what the relationship presented truly is. This phenomena is largely referred to as the “Gay Window”, where the viewer uses their frame of reference to see the media in a way in which most viewers would not. There are literally hundreds, possibly thousands, of relationships in media which can be viewed through the gay window. One such example of this is the relationship between Ruth Jamison (Mary Lousie Parker) and Idgie Threadgoode (Mary Stuart Masterson) in the book and film Fried Green Tomatoes. Although the book made some reference to the romantic relationship between the two women, the film subverted this relationship by the insertion of Ruth’s true love, who was killed by a train. However, one can still see the deep affection the two women feel for each other and interpret this to be a homosexual relationship. Another example can be found in the relationship between Timon the meerkat and Pumba the warthog from the Disney film, Lion King. Again there is no explicit statement of their relationship, but the two live in a paradise like setting, awash in affection for their easy life and each other. One can easily make the jump that their relationship is that of more than just friends. Likewise, in this Bissell Vacuum ad, one can make the claim that these men are homosexual, specifically of the ‘Bear’ subculture within the gay community, even though no such statement is made to explicitly confirm this suspicion. We are currently seeing an advancement of homosexual characters on network television beyond their status as victim or villian, in the wake of strides made by Ellen Degenerous, and to a lesser extent, Will and Grace. Last Fall, ABC unveiled a new show called Modern Family, which features a gay couple as part of their ensemble cast. We have begin to see homosexual characters as multidimensional persons with hopes and desires, strengths and weaknesses, and which merit inclusion not just as a plot point or a foil. However it would be erroneous to say that we have reached a point of equality, as is evidenced by ABC’s refusal to air a commercial for Man Crunch, a dating site for homosexual males. ABC made claims that the grounds for denial were monetary, but Man Crush released a statement saying they were prepared to offer more than the going price, 2.5 million.

Examples of Socially Constructed Appropriate Sex

So for this, our seventh blog, we have been asked to assemble mediated instances of sex which is “appropriate” according to our social constructs. This typically means sex between a male and a female, usually young, and always attractive. In film and television, this tends to be unmarried couples engaging in this activity, as in our society it is a commonly held notion that married sex is an oxymoron, even though the joke holds little grounds in reality. The examples of sex that we see in media also tend to include predominately caucasian participants, but I believe that to be part of a larger issue of inherent racism played out through underrepresentation of minorities in general, rather than a self contained instance revolving around portrayals of sex. Let’s get started with the artifacts I chose for this blog. First we have two magazine ads for the CW show Gossip Girl. In these ads we have two couples, both of which are young, caucasion, and heterosexual. Both are also fairly attractive according to our society’s standards of beauty. These ads bring in the viewer by promising lots of attractive young people doing devious things to eachother. Anyone even minutely familiar with the show could tell you that chances are these people are not married. Next we have an ad for Jockey Underwear which features a heterosexual couple in their undergarments sharing fruit. Their similar manners of undress as well as the feeding of strawberries tells us that this young attractive couple has either just finished having sex, or will soon begin the act. If you wear Jockey Underwear, you have have special intimate times. And sex. The next ad I came across was this DKNY advertisement, advertising a new fragrance from the company which is predominately known for jeans and other apparel. Since they can’t visually show us what the scent smells like, they have opted for the next best thing, sweaty hot people making out. Again we see a young, heterosexual couple, in good condition, with well groomed hair making bedroom eyes at eachother. For the fourth image, we have this Calvin Kline advertisement, again with a young couple engaged in various unclothed debauchery. Time and again we see young, heterosexual, physically attractive people engaged in sexy times used to sell us products and ideas. Occasionally we do see advertisements and other media messages which feature sex between non normative partners, be they same sex, minority, physically unattractive, or old, such as in this ad for Virgin, but that is far and away less common.

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