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belle hooks and the Idle Viewer

In her film, “Cultural Criticism and Transformation,� belle hooks critiques not only the way we view popular culture, but what this system fosters, and how we play an integral role in the permeation of racism, sexism, etc. through the seemingly passive activity of media consumption. In illustrating her ideas, she uses examples from popular media, in both written word and the silver screen and then juxtaposes what was happening in the film—both on the surface and analytically—to what the audience saw, remembers. She also compares this difference to portray broader problems by showing the ways in which the creators (editors, directors) become enslaved to a system driven by money-making, and the item up for auction is the identity of classically disenfranchised groups.
In Mulvey’s article, she talks about the visual pleasure that is often erotic, and often derived from “the look� which in our terms is also known as the “gaze.� The object is female and the “looker� of is male. The fact that women are the object of the possessive male gaze for the purpose of providing visual pleasure means that women lack agency, or the power and choice as to whether they want to be possessed in this way. This is somewhat like a caging of the female identity, which is similar to the “framing� we discussed in lecture. The female on screen is consistently framed and imprisoned in windows, mirrors, etc. They are essentially trapped in the male gaze, and not at their own volition.
hooks harps on this idea of visual pleasure at the detriment of women and the African American community in her discussion of mainstream rap music videos in which the images of women are “fragmented� in a way that shows the viewer that these women are nothing more than their aesthetically pleasing parts. These women also commonly have lighter skin, and straighter, lighter hair. hooks points out that women with darker complexions are rarely featured in these videos. This also sends the message to viewers that Caucasian features in women are more sexually attractive, and therefore more valuable, as their sole identity as sexual objects is established.
The film changed my thinking a bit because I usually do not consider myself a party to these images that are projected in the media. However, as a consumer, I have mindlessly consumed racist and degrading material while, as a social activist, I have sat idly by and allowed my role in the continuation of this disgraceful cycle to go unnoticed.


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