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In the 1970s, critic John Berger argued that in the history of Western art, women have had little control over the representation of their bodies and subjectivities. A Marxist, Berger believed the reason for this was because male patrons and male-dominated institutions have long socially and financially rewarded representations of men as ideal subjects and spectators. To this day, from fine art to contemporary advertising, a representational dynamic dominates in which “men act, and women appear”(1973, p. 47), generally as ideal objects of desire or as muses that inspire men. As he infamously put it, “Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at” (p. 47).Throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s, psychoanalytically trained film theorists were pointing out that, even for men, images are sites where control is at risk. For instance, Christian Metz (1977), argued that the darkened cinema experience is powerful because it replicates for all viewers the childhood sexual dynamic of scopophilia, a primal form of voyeurism in which we find ourselves staring at a world of images, delighted, dumbfounded, and essentially powerless to change what we are viewing. In 1975, feminist film theorist Laura Mulvey published a landmark essay called “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” which argued that spectators of any gender viewing traditional Hollywood films wound up looking at the screen in ways best understood in terms of male voyeurism. To ground her argument, Mulvey explained how a director’s camera encourages the viewer to take its point of view only; how male actors in films tend to do the looking (while female actors tend to remain the ones looked at); and how viewers are always secure in the knowledge that they can stare as long as they like, never to be caught themselves in the camera’s gaze.These days, most theorists (including Mulvey herself) concede that a purely voyeuristic model of image spectatorship needs updating: Certainly, sexuality, race, class, education, ability, and nationality may all alter spectators’ identifications with the look of the camera, making it is impossible to say what a viewing experience “means” for every viewer. When considering images that circulate online, this multiplicity of perspectives tends to be even more obvious. Today, we may produce material, distribute it in many-to-many fashion (rather than one-way, as is the case for film and television), and court (rather than silence) viewer interaction. Who is the object in these scenarios? Who is the subject?
International Journal of Communication 9(2015) Introduction—What Does the Selfie Say? 1595 In “The Gestural Image: The Selfie, Photography Theory, and Kinesthetic Sociability,” photography theorist Paul Frosh rejects a voyeuristic model of the selfie spectatorship. He points out that, while classical photography has indeed emphasized a sort of spatial evacuation, with photographers “shooing unwanted objects off frame as potential interferences,” selfies are different in that they signal