Tuesday, April 21, 2015

An American Narrative

While researching my junior theme topic, I came across another reason why there exists such a fear of aging in America and why there is such a huge market for things like Botox treatments or "anti-aging" face creams. It all has to do with America's beloved narrative arc. 

Earlier in the year, our class studied Kurt Vonnegut’s piece “A Lesson in Creative Writing” in which he maps out the narrative arc that America loves to see in television and films.

Man in a Hole Narrative Arc

      This arc is also referred to as the “Redemptive Arc,” and it goes back to the roots of Christianity. This is likely a subconscious factor that is playing into peoples’ decisions to get plastic surgery in order to look younger. In the book “You’ve Come a Long Way Baby,” edited by Lilly J. Goren, there is extensive research on what is referred to as “sacrificial atonement.” The book states the “promise” of sacrificial atonement is that "through suffering, death has been overcome” and that these surgeries promise “the illusion that decay can be ‘treated’” (24). This "suffering" is referring to the actual physical pain of a cosmetic surgery, or perhaps the cost. And while the idea of cheating death, or "treating" it, is impossible, it is something that people, especially women, are continuously trying to achieve.
This psychological reasoning behind wanting to look younger perfectly follows the narrative drawn above. From "Beginning" to "End" on the graph: A woman starts out healthy and youthful; as the woman ages, she feels her looks are fading; she undergoes a painful procedure to "fix" this problem, and is back where she started, in "Good Fortune", looking and feeling youthful.

We see this archetype in television all the time too: the woman's goal is to look as young as possible. A character that comes to mind is Madame Lalaurie from American Horror Story: Coven, who was obsessed with looking youthful. There weren't face-lifts during the time that she lived, so she resorted to a horrifying method. She murdered her slaves and used their blood as a sort of anti-aging skin product: she would spread it on her face each night. Her extreme and sickening measures she went to in order to feel young "payed off" for her because she felt it made her skin look young again. This character would do anything to maintain her youthful complexion.
This is also why America is obsessed with "makeover" shows. There is a "man in a hole"(a person who is not conventionally attractive), and the show helps this person to get out of this "hole," and discover their true beauty. "The internal self is matched with the external" (Goren 25) is something we love seeing on television. Our psychological attachment to this narrative is playing an enormous role in our everyday lives.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Older Women as Role Models

      While doing some research for my junior theme earlier in the week, I started looking at TED Talks and began taking notes on one I found interesting, entitled Women Should Represent Women in Media.” I found the topic interesting, but realized it did not in fact relate to my junior theme. The TED talk sounded promising at first, since the speaker opens by talking about why she joined the Journalism and Women Symposium: “I wanted female role models.” While the Talk is about women in the media, it focuses on the “incomplete story” we are getting because of the underrepresentation of women as news reporters and sources. This might be too much of a leap to try to work this in to my paper, which is about the underrepresentation of older women in television and films. 

      But when the speaker said the words “female role models,” it made me think of another way this misrepresentation of women in television and films has an effect on our society. Girls and women need older female role models to look up to, and there are almost none. An interview was conducted  by “Mother Jones” magazine with director Jennifer Seibel Newsom (director of the documentary Miss Representation.) Seibel says that “aging is a beautiful thing; wisdom is a beautiful thing. Frankly, as a woman who's getting older in our culture, I want to see stories about women who are before me, so I can be inspired—because someday I'll be there.” The effects of this underrepresentation of older women does impact women of all ages.

      I also began looking at some new books that related to my junior theme topic this week,“The Girl on the Magazine Cover” by Carolyn Kitch explores the stereotypes of women in the media. This book will provide more of the "historical look-back" part of my paper. A passage I found very interesting was about the changing times which seemed to bring about this obsession with youth. On a cover of a 1925 Good Housekeeping, showed a mother reading to her child. The mother was "no longer a Victorian matron, the Jazz age mother was slim and pretty, a youthful woman urged to follow the advice of a 1927 Palmolive Soap ad... that reminded readers to 'Keep That Schoolgirl Complexion' long 'after school days" (145). It will be interesting to delve deeper as to why America is fixated on youth. I also began reading a book this weekend called “You’ve Come a Long Way Baby,” edited by Lilly J. Goren, which is about women in popular culture, which will offer a more current view on the subject. I found that the indexes were very helpful, but when I began reading the book without using the index I also found I was able to read about topics that related to my “why” question, just not as specifically. 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Age and the Entertainment Industry

For my topic for Junior Theme, I wanted to focus on portrayals of women in television and movies. As I narrowed down my "WHY" question, I decided to look at the reasons why we seem to only be seeing young women in films and television; why is aging in the entertainment industry a positive for men, but a negative for women?

I watched two documentaries that dealt with this topic of portrayals of women in the media. The first was called "Miss Representation," available on Netflix. The documentary interviews several women and men on this topic. A quote stood out to me as I was watching. Gloria Steinem, a feminist organizer and writer and the cofounder of Women's Media Center, said that "a male-dominant system, a patriarchal system, values women as child-bearers, period. So it limits their value to the time that they are sexually active, reproductively active, and become much less valuable after that." I had never really thought about age this way before, and why youthfulness is so valued in our society. It could really be as primal as the fact that there exists a window in which a woman is fertile.

Later in "Miss Representation," PhD Martha Lauzen discussed a striking statistic that 
women in their 20's and 30's make up 71% of women on TV. 
"What we see on broadcast television is that the majority of female characters are in their 20's and 30's. That is just a huge misrepresentation of reality, and that really skews our perceptions." It is saying something interesting about our society that women who are over 40 actually account for 47% of our population in the U.S, but are only making up 26% of women on television. Why are only young women given the spotlight?

I watched a second documentary titled "Killing Us Softly 4," available on YouTube. It made me think about cosmetic surgery being an aspect of an answer to my "WHY" question. I learned that 91% of cosmetic procedures are performed on women, and from 1997 to 2007, there was a 754% increase in non-surgical procedures like botox and laser treatment. Botox makes the face look tighter, and more youthful. What sparked this intense need for women to look younger? Jean Kilbourne, the writer of "Killing Us Softly" explores this when she says that "This contempt for women who do not measure up is waiting for all of us of course eventually as we age, so no wonder there's such a terror of showing any signs of aging." Women in America seem desperate to turn back the clock and look like a younger version of themselves, why is this?

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The "Blurred Lines" Copyright Issue

       A couple of weeks ago in class, we discussed the “Blurred Lines” copyright issue. We listened to clips of the songs “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke and Pharrel Williams and “Got to Give It Up” by Marvin Gaye side by side to determine if we thought the songs were a bit too similar and if it really was an issue of plagiary. The jury who was deciding the verdict; however, was supposed to make this decision based only upon sheet music of both songs. But with only a number of chords out there to work with, the line between whether or not a song is "plagiarizing" or not becomes very thin. 

       The whole discussion in class reminded me of a video I had seen a couple of years ago. A comedy rock band “Axis of Awesome” performed a funny skit in which they demonstrate how so many of our beloved pop songs are, in fact, just made up of the same four chords. It's pretty eye-opening. Here’s the video: 

       I was amazed when I first watched the skit. All of these songs can be played using only four chords, but are all widely accepted as totally different songs. But isn't it the artist's spin on these same four chords really what makes each song unique? The court ruling seemed to suggest otherwise, since Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke now owe 7.3 million dollars to the Gaye estate on the grounds of copyright infringement. The reason I take issue with the verdict is that there seems to be no clear line between taking inspiration from an artist and actually copying an entire song. “Got to Give It Up” and “Blurred Lines” may sound similar, but so does every pop song!