Tuesday, July 27, 2010

I Phone 4 - Reinvigorating the Male Gaze and Heteronormativity(as if they had gone anywhere)

*note the absence of posts. I'm a grad student. I'm busy.*
BEHOLD the IPhone 4: Videophone!

So... it's a video phone. What's wrong with that? It allows businessmen away on busy business lonely in bed to see their family back at home, mom taking care of two kids by herself; it allows grandparents to see their generically graduate daughter graduate from I-can't-tell-what-grade; it allows ahhhh.... it allows army men overseas in an unjust war situation see their "unborn child" while a hint of a tear wells up in one eye; it allows giiiiiiiirlfrieeeeends to see which outfit would be good to surely impress a boy; it allows Matt Damon to sign language, slightly off screen, to his girl friend (girlfriend? wife? who is that?) Oh the scenarios the IPhone 4 Videophone can allow one to take part in. My problem is not with the technology of the IPhone 4 videophonic feature, which I think is pretty cool (though I'd like Pee-Wee Herman's videophone better - just more fun looking). It's the commercials that reinvigorate the male gaze and heteronormativity as if straight, patriarchy-subscribing people were the only ones buying this product. I'll start with the heteronormativity to get that out of the way.

1) The businessman is always the one away on business. Does this reinforce the stereotype and therefore reinforce it in society's construct that men should travel for business because they don't take care of kids, but women should put their (potentially travel-worthy) careers on hold to mind the house and offspring? Or does it reflect the norms of society? What is the norm of society exactly? Is it really that more men travel? This is a chicken or egg argument as to which came first but I'd say more exposure to the opposite - a woman traveling for business and a man staying home with the kids - would open a lot of minds and do more good than this reinforced norm.

2) The army dude seeing his "unborn child" on the fetal monitor. Quick shot of the soon-to-be-mother (kudos that she's of a different race than white), literally mouthing the words "I love you" (or "Olive Juice" I can't tell which) since, ya know, the pregnant woman is often silenced. Now scan to the fetal monitor... a grey blob... a portrait of futurity... that unidentifiable blob seen through screen-on-screen action that has more of a voice than the woman in which it sponges.

Next is the male gaze, which is the original reason for this post. At first I had only seen the IPhone 4 commercials featuring a bashful teenager showcasing her new braces after video prompting from her young father. And several others in which the male was the one holding the IPhone 4 (as we know since not only does his in-shot masculine hand hold the product, but you also see his face on the bottom corner of his own phone - a feature the video phone boasts) and a woman is giggling or telling "big news" of an impending pregnancy as we are led to suspect. However, upon looking for these videos I found the gem embedded above that really captures all these patriarchal/male gaze/gender power dynamic/heteronormativity. The male gaze though really sticks out. Rarely in any commercials (if ever.. challenge me) do you see the woman holding the phone, the woman as the purveyor. The funny thing is too, that essentially, the woman is on the other side, also with the same product, her hand would be in shot, her face in the small screen, his in the big. Her receiving good news from her sharing partner, him giggling and excited, a mom at work keeping in touch with her newly-braced-face teenage boy coaxing a metallic smile out of him by doing something silly. Why don't we see that view? Why are the women being surveyed through the Almighty Big Hand holding the Big Product? Because whomever holds the product has the power? Both hold the product, but the male gaze upon the woman is more titillating. It's more normal. We would forget that the woman on the other end would have to own the same product and have her own view since it's so normal to see the man's point of view. His gaze. All talk that puts women to second-class status by the denigration of a person by another by calling that person a "girl" (as in, "you throw like a..", "you cry like a...", etc.), a "pussy", a "little bitch" and the like, is basically saying that being female is being at the shit end of the stick. And it is in some cases and in lots of subconscious and uber-conscious ways in America. But no one who wants to be enticed into buying something really expensive wants to see a woman enjoying it. They want to see the man, the more powerful, the gazer, the informed consumer, holding this newly purchased item which they are also deciding to buy. The male gaze is at the golden end of the stick.

Do I hate men? No. I hate masculinity as socially constructed. On a personal note, for my birthday I had a really fun vegetarian BBQ. As I looked around at my male friends, ravers, hippies, musicians, dancers, politicos, capoiera players, writers, freestylers, computer techs., mathematicians, poets, hula hoopers, poi spinners, do-gooders, artists, I noticed that every single one of them defy the convention of "maleness" and this is why I absolutely love them. They would probably all cry about something sad, they would all fall in love, they would all be amazing and active fathers, they would all share their feelings. What I'm saying is, we are in a place in this society to move beyond the convention of gender norms and gender binaries. We are more post-structuralist than we all think (if that's post-structurally possible). We already all defy these conventions of gender roles so why are we still being fed this crap subliminally into our subconscious through ads?! Why is this still the norm? Why is there a norm? The more we are fed this message, the more it seems acceptable. We need to transcend and redefine what is "masculine" and "feminine". We need to eradicate the male gaze and female consumption. None of us are objects, and all of us are human.

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