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How to formulate the Question

Bell hooks begins “Cultural Criticism and Transformation� with a declaration of the ability and necessity of thinking critically. Because popular culture is the most dominant and widely accessed stage for the exchange and enshrining of cultural ideas and images, it becomes a necessity to deconstruct the ideologies popular culture produces. Hooks concretely examines how representations of race, class and gender operate onscreen (read productions of racism, sexism, classism). More importantly, however, she explains how intentional the motives are behind these representations, and the impact they thus enjoy in popular culture. As Ann Kaplan explains in her introduction we must ask “how meanings about women are produced on film as these relates to meanings about women produced elsewhere i.e. socially, politically, and culturally in different national contexts�. One could substitute in place of women: Blacks, Latinos, Queers, persons with disabilities...etc. hooks and McCabe both touch on the influence and power of feminism but also the brutal backlash against feminism which is perhaps most clearly shown in women's representations in film (bell hooks looks at “Leaving Las Vegas� and McCabe takes up Haskell's text From Reverence to Rape)

hooks touches on two major terms "white supremacist capitalist patriarchy" to describe the intersectionality systems of oppression and the idea of the enlightened witness- as someone who engages with popular culture with an eye towards criticism. There was a moment, which could be categorized as a second wave/third wave clash in film which emphasized for me the need to think critically even about the perspective of bell hooks. At one point as hooks is taking about the rape scene in the film Kids and says something to effect that at one point this film would not have been accepted and people would have protested but now with the “domestication of sado-masochism and acceptance of sexualized violence.... the film made the rape seem sexy or cool. The indictment of SM (consenting adults who participate in domestic SM) seems totally irrelevant to the way rape was shown in film at the 1990's progressed. Why hooks felt that community deserved the finger of judgment as opposed to other forces (feminist backlash, patriarchy, etc) seems deserving of questioning. What I took from the film for watching future films was hooks ability to constantly question and constantly find the ways in which issue intersect. Also the importance of identifying the true questions popular culture raises which are not always on the surface. For instance with hip-hop for many is seen as a perfect example of how patriarchal and misogynistic images of women are produced, but in fact the first questions that must be raised is about capitalism's influence over product and industry.


You bring up an interesting point on SM and hooks' views on it. Perhaps her views are so negative because only in recent years have more women begun to really "own" their sexualities (e.g. the rise in women viewers/readers of porn/erotica, etc.). And you're right - there is an obvious difference between rape and SM. Good post!

"... the first questions that must be raised is about capitalism's influence over product and industry."

ok, i totally agree, and so does bell hooks, but if i would play devil's advocate here, i would also suggest to think about pop culture or media in the broadest basic sense. Yes, it is true that pushing the boundaries or acceptability, especially when it comes to sensitive identity issues, is fueled by money making and capitalist greed, but is there simple alternative? i think addressing capitalist structure of big media is big part but not all. Let's look at the independent media, local media, all the social networking and endless opportunities that new technologies opened for the 'people' to participate in. Some of it is.or being actively commercialized, domesticated, whatever is 'radical' tamed etc. But some of it is not. And if we look into something that is truly 'grassroots' we can find a lot similar shit that big media has. Unless we are making conscious political decision to identify good 'grassroots' - which espouses certain politics and social/cultural sensibilities - independent media has (often) very similar problems the big media has.
I don't know if i'm making my point clear here.
My point i guess is that we can't just look at big media as a problem. The issues are much deeper than that. Yes, media plays big role in shaping peoples ideas and worldviews, but we also need to think why certain representations sell ar sought after. I guess psychoanalysis come into play here - but one could also think about many other issues along structural lines - politics, economy, family structure, or more personal ones, such as desire, pleasure, etc. I'm sure we'll be hitting on that a lot in this class. cheers!