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SAC 372 Paper 1 - Sasha Wang SAC 372 Contemporary Film...

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Sasha Wang SAC 372 Contemporary Film Theory Professor Mark Kligerman Paper 1 Laura Mulvey’s Theory of Visual Pleasure and Mary Ann Doane’s Feminist Theory of Spectatorship 11/02/09
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Wang 2 Film theorists, Laura Mulvey and Mary Ann Doane both agree that the female performer’s purpose in Hollywood Cinema is to be the erotic spectacle. However, Mulvey and Doane differ in defining the female’s role as a spectator. In Mulvey’s “Visual Pleasure and the Narrative Cinema,” she delineates a distinctive boundary between the active male and the passive female. On the other hand, Doane acknowledges the inferior existence of a gender- confused female spectator in her “Film and the Masquerade: Theorizing the Female Spectator.” According to Mulvey, the viewer identifies primarily with the male protagonist, and as a voyeur enjoys the spectacle of the woman. The dark setup of the auditorium gives the spectator a sense of looking in on a distanced private world. Mulvey discusses Freud’s theory of scopophilia by saying that “it continues to exist as the erotic basis for pleasure in looking at another person as an object.” (Mulvey, 713). In extreme cases, spectators may grow dependent on voyeurism in order to become aroused, becoming “obsessive voyeurs and Peeping Toms, whose only sexual satisfaction can come from watching, in an active controlling sense, an objectified other,” such as the woman. Doane puts aside Mulvey’s “opposition between passivity and activity” and instead brings about an “opposition between proximity and distance in relation to the image” (Doane, 498). She elaborates on reasons why the female has been considered unsuitable for the position of the spectator. As pointed out by Freud in his lecture on “Femininity,” a female cannot participate in his lecture, or in the case of cinematic structure be put in the spectator’s position, because she cannot see from a third person perspective. She is too caught up with herself and is unfit for signifying the motion picture’s hieroglyphics. Doane further explains Freud’s concept that the female is a problematic spectator by saying that the woman is “too close to herself,
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Wang 3 entangled in her own enigma, she could not step back, could not achieve the necessary distance of a second look” (Doane, 496). Doane then retorts Freud’s argument declaring that “it is precisely this opposition between proximity and distance, control of the image and its loss, which locates the possibilities of spectatorship within the problematic of sexual difference.” (Doane, 499) For the female spectator, there is a female domination of the exhibition; she is the spectacle, yielding a sense of narcissism. Doane agrees that there are in fact complications with a woman being a spectator, but discusses how a female may cross gender lines in order to deal with them. This idea will be elaborated on in relation to Mulvey’s theory of spectatorship.
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