February 27, 2008

There Is No Justifiable Objectification

Double standards don't make any sense to me. Add gender to the mix and I get really confused. But, after a heated discussion in my photo class today in regards to another student's sexually charged imagery, it became apparent that double standards are definitely alive and kicking.

The Situation

The work that sparked said discussion, and inspired today's post, was of a nude (female) model that was taken with a black light (but cross-processed to give the image an overall ethereal/dream/alien look. I made the comment that unlike the artist's previous works, this series felt like the model was an object. The photos themselves aren't the issue at hand here but the discussion that followed afterwards.

A suggestion to remedy the situation that was made by one student was that the artist should include men in his own alien/implicit situations. Other students agreed. Another student then made the comment that we wouldn't find this a big deal if a woman took these sexually implicit photos. Again, people agreed (and in fact pointed out how a woman in the class did that in her portfolio). Finally, someone stated that we shouldn't necessarily bring up a feminist discourse when analyzing works of art as we lose out from the beauty of the piece.

But, in my opinion, how is this double standard justifiable? Objectification IS objectification regardless of the biological sex of the creator!

Objectification Should Not Be the Norm

Women can objectify other women, just as men can objectify other men. Objectification is not restricted by gender though it can be stopped by responsible creation.

Let's use this BMW ad as an example. Would this be less offensive if the director was female? No. Regardless of the creator's gender, the objectification of the female model in this ad is quite apparent and completely ridiculous.

Masculinity As An Object

Unfortunately for my classmate, adding men to his project won't be the quick-fix solution that he might have been looking for to solve his woes. Men, too, have become victims to sleazy marketing techniques. Just as women are, men are cast as sexual objects, though usually are in the power position over their female counterparts. Let's not forget that theses images almost always showcase a white privilege.

Besides the rising Adonis complex, some men may also grow complacent as they continually see women in positions powerlessness/vulnerability. These portrayals of the (hyper)sexual and violent male are offensive to males as they are to females as well.

Men sometimes aren't only portrayed as sexually aggressive beings. Trojan's Evolve campaign takes another approach, one that showcases men literally as pigs.

Homo Eroticism in Imagery?

What also confuses me is the total absence of the queer gaze that occurred in my class discussion today. Actually, I was shocked by the absence of it while searching Google as well. By suggesting that it is less offensive for a woman to cast another woman in a sexual light (and, by default, a male casting a man) ignores homosexual desire. But of course homosexual desire isn't even a consideration in the heteronormative world of advertisement and classroom discussion.

The Responsible Artist

Sometimes males objectify females. Sometimes females objectify males. Sometimes even men objectify men and women objectify other women. Just because it happens doesn't mean it is right. People as sexual objects remove individual autonomy and typecast groups in a negative light. Low self-esteem, eating disorders, violence, etc. all rise because of these representations.

As my photography teacher brought up, art in itself is a form of research. It is up to the artist to research past and present discourses in relation to their subject. The artist must bear responsibility and be able to approach a public. Afterwards, discussion can ensue and, hopefully, a movement towards understanding will take place.

Finally, to respond to my photography class' suggestion. To me, there is no justifiable objectification. Unless there is a strong element of irony or critique, to objectify is to objectify, whether you and your subjects identify as male, female, neither, or both. Besides being overdone and boring, these representations prove to be quite damaging. Besides, they don't offer anything new to the audience.

February 22, 2008

Wonderjock Wins the Battle of the Bulge

This is just a quick follow-up to my Wonderbra post. Aussiebum has released the Wonderjock, a sort of counter to the Wonderbra. But instead of pushing up cleavage, it is designed to bulge out the contours of your penis.

Unlike a bra, which has become a rite of passage, the Wonderjock is nothing more than a tool to make a man's dick bigger. Exploiting the cultural male fear of emasculation (and of a little appearance), the Wonderjock presents a troubling message of the (hyper)sexualization that is often associated with the masculine self.

More disturbing is the aspect of shame and deception that Aussiebum's marketing campaign is offering. While the Aussiebum models have no qualms about stripping down in public, they appear happier when their bulge is larger than life. Playing off the male fear of having a smaller-than-average penis, the ads shame the viewer and intensifies feelings of intimidation and inadequacy. Only through the deception that the Wonderjock offers can confidence be obtained.

The road to becoming deemed a legitimate male is an arduous one that begins even before birth. But one of the determining factors in having masculinity attributed to a child by a doctor is, once again, linked back to penis size.

In Sexing the Body, Anne Fausto-Sterling explains that, to be deemed a legitimate male, a child's penis must be at least 2.4 cm. If the penis is smaller than that, despite maybe have XY chromosomes and/or testicles, the child may have their penis removed, to be be reared as a girl. And this is besides the cases where the child has ambiguous genitalia, ranging in size between a large clitoris or a small penis.

The Wonderjock is just another product that is projecting negative connotations onto masculinity and the male body. Unlike the Wonderbra, which has branded itself onto femininity (albeit that being a problem as I pointed out), the Wonderjock is making no such attempts. It simply exists to shame men to buy their product. To do so makes men feel bigger and bolder, despite the large role deception plays in the process.

*Again, this post has been created from an oral that I presented in my Communication Technologies and Gender class on the gendered implications of the Wonderbra. I added the segment on the Wonderjock as a balance to the often ignored stigmas that men face. In no way am I trying to downplay the importance of Women's Studies or of Gender Studies, but offer these pieces on masculinity in order to add to the multifaceted sphere of the fields.

The Push of the Wonderbra

Ah, the Wonderbra, voted the 5th best Canadian invention. Just what makes these articles of clothing so endearing and why bother creating a post on a pop culture/representation blog anyways?

I want to look at the cultural significance of the Wonderbra. First developed in Montreal in 1964 by Louise Poirier for Canadelle, the Wonderbra first sets out to lift and separate. By 1979, Canadelle owns approximately 30% of the Canadian bra market.

Larry Nadler, son of founder of the Canadian Lady Corset Company, which later became Canadelle, decided for a new branding of the Wonderbra in order to increase sales. Instead of marketing it as a piece of clothing, Nadler decided to equate the Wonderbra as a cosmetic. Take a look at a commercial from 1968.

From this early advertisement, you can see how the Wonderbra is shown as a beauty enhancer instead of just another piece of clothing.

Move forward to 1974 and Wonderbra releases Dici, a bra targeting youth.

The successful branding of the Wonderbra has made the bra itself become a rite of passage symbolizing womanhood to many young girls.

What has this widespread advertising done? For starters, the fetishization and objectification of the bra is apparent as it becomes the focal point of the male gaze.

As the youthful perkiness of the Wonderbra has become the acceptable norm, it is precisely this shape that Wonderbra flaunts and promotes. Any shape that is different is deemed deviant, a notion that dismisses the natural sag of aging. So we have a large push to a Western notion of beauty and of (youthful)age here.

Bras have also become normalized (due to the widespread advertising). To not want one (for various reasons) is to be cast as deviant. For those not falling under the hegemony of heteronormativity, to not wear a bra is to ostracized from the dominant groups.

Wonderbra's branding has created a large market. Push-up bras are alive and kicking in various mediums in pop culture and this post was just a little showing of the cultural ramifications of this.

*This post was based off a presentation that I gave in my Communication Technologies and Gender class on the cultural ramifications of the Wonderbra

February 21, 2008

American History X and the White-Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy

***Warning. This post contains spoilers

American History X, widely regarded as America's anti-racist film, is ironic as the final message of the movie is guilty of what bell hooks names a white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy.

Known for its raw and "realistic" portrayal of neo-skinhead suburban culture, American History X fails in its anti-racist message as, ultimately, its ultra-racist message of Derek overcoming his past DESPITE constant black opposition is brought forward through the film's stylistic elements.

Created for the privileged (dominant) viewer, the audience almost feels empathy for Derek as he is trying to protect his little brother. Derek plays the saviour, a role with justified violence as he is the guardian for the weak. The protection begins from non-white individuals, but turns to protecting Danny (Derek's brother) from the neo-Nazi lifestyle.

Style and Cinematography

Many of the stylistic elements of the film also push the messiah-esque persona of Derek.

Photo from Hollywoodjesus.com

Strong back lighting, golden glow around his head (halo effect), the crucifixion stance, and the opposition from the police officers, designate Derek's character as messiah and foretell of his future message.

Derek is also the quintessential masculine hero; strong, intelligent, "justified" anger, and solitary soldier.


While in jail (for murdering a black man who tried to break into his car), Derek cahoots with other skinheads. But as they are all talk and no action, Derek feels frustrated. Later, he develops a friendship with a black inmate, to the disgust of the other skinheads.

Audiences claim that Derek's friendship with the black man (apart from Dr. Sweeney, no other coloured character really gets a name) is pivotal in his "reformation", but the whole process begins because of his disenfranchisement with the other skinheads.
The gang rape prison sequence only reinforces his alienation with the skinheads (and furthers the notion of homosexuality as an agent of humility) and alienates him from the inmates at large.

Isolated in the netherworld between acceptance for others and hatred, Derek is released from prison to discover his brother's racist ways. Here is where white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy comes into effect. In a sweeping montage, Derek clears his room of its Nazi memorabilia and places everything in his closet ("clean slate", but closet full of skeletons). No mention is shown to actual redemption; Derek just cleans his room.

White-Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy

Now, despite all the harsh actions that people of colour have committed against Derek (from his view), he is still able to absolve all the hate. But, in an act of extreme motivated representation, the black youth that Danny had fought with re-enters the movie and kills him.

As hooks states, we must acknowledge the culmination of white-supremacist, capitalist, and patriarchal thoughts in order to understand motivated representation. While trying to be "anti-racist", American History X is only anti-racist to the dominant audience but minority reception isn't even considered.

Derek's "redemption" is consistently shown as a despite all odds and obstacles scenario. Black characters are nameless and one dimensional. Derek's strong-man, masculine nature is apparent the entire movie, especially in contrast to the lack of female/feminine dialogs.

While Derek believes that he has redeemed himself, no where in the actual movie does Derek prove that he has changed. A cleaned slate, a clean room, and a closet full of skeletons is all that is left for Derek and his new life.

Box office figures show that many feel that this is enough to overcome racism, albeit a one-dimensional view of it. American History X, depicted from the point-of-view of a ("reformed")skinhead, does not account for the power of representation in pop culture (and the reception of this movie on minority audiences) nor does it convey anything beyond a white-centric version of redemption. Derek, despite his personal transformation, is not willing to sacrifice his white-privilege, furthering the white-supremacist, capitalist, patriarchy.

*This post was heavily inspired by a presentation done by Noori Lee.

February 17, 2008

10 Bands That Defy Normativity

Sometimes I want to take a break from the theoretical aspects of representation and look at actual forms of pop culture. Music is a popular medium and highly accessible for people of all ages. Instead of being my usual cynical self, I'm presenting 10 bands (in no particular order) that have defied normativity in regards to race, gender, and/or sexuality.

I am aware that there are plenty of other bands out there that have addressed these issues. The ones I am mentioning have received a little bit of attention, whether from a music magazine or on an international level. It would be great if you added in some links of your favourite bands that defy norms as well.

1) Queen Latifah. Ladies First not only shows Queen Latifah's strong feminist ties, but is also clearly afrocentric. A truly powerful song that combats racism and sexism.

2) Antony and the Johnsons. Hauntingly beautiful voice from a band with a transgender theme.

3) The Gossip. Beth Ditto, singer, is an out-spoken lesbian who uses The Gossip as a means of fighting negative views on women, lesbians, and notions of the appropriate body.

4) Le Tigre is a feminist rock band which explores themes of sex/violence in women's lives, alternative femininities, issues of race, etc. Unfortunately, I could not find the actual video to this song, but here is a fan-created one that I found.

5)Yoko Ono is an avant-garde artist who tackled many issues in various mediums. Widely unpopular in the 70's, her music is finally starting to receive proper attention thanks to a re-release. This activist video is an audio clip promoting woman power back in the 70's.

6) M.I.A. Known for her political stance in her rap, M.I.A transcends traditional hip hop boundaries and explores race, violence, and other political issues that are left out of Western mainstream music. Again, another fan video.

7) Xiu Xiu, an indie-darling, isn't the most accessible to all, but again, speaks of issues pertaining to sexuality, war, violence, and society.

8) CocoRosie provides unconventional, and sometimes controversial, lyrics and sounds. CocoRosie is poignant in their lyrics as they address women's roles, race issues, and addresses white privilege.

9)Final Fantasy rocks out the electronic violin. Challenges traditional masculinity, gay male stereotypes of (hyper)sexuality, and is just awesome.

10) Purrbott. Indie activist who addresses homosexuality, how it is received, and throws in his own angst. No videos out there, so check out the link for more info and to hear some songs.

February 14, 2008

The Problem With Tolerance

Minority depictions in pop culture are often coupled with the idea of tolerance. Tolerance, in this respect, is preached from the dominant norm's gaze and projected onto the reception of the other.

It's important to realize that the preaching of tolerance is not a message of granting legitimacy but is an attitude meant to give the feeling of inclusion. After all, tolerance is always presented as a struggle between the dominant and the other. It's not a message of actual recognition but of a grudging acceptance.

With the thought of tolerance comes the idea of acceptable representation. The minority is granted "legitimizing" public time, but is held accountable under the normative gaze. In order to be tolerable, the minority character must censor their actions, ideas, and attitude in order to "fit in". This furthers the divide of "US versus THEM" as now we have a two-tiered system of other. There is the "acceptable" other and those that just won't assimilate. A form of legitimacy is granted to those who self-censor and deviancy for people who do not/cannot conform.

The increase of minority visibility hasn't actually changed stereotypes. In reality, racism, classism, chauvinism, and homophobia are still rampant. Creating the "US and THEM" ideology that tolerance mandates hasn't benefited minorities. It is only when fair representations and understanding that acceptance is key will we, as a society, see any change.

Tolerance doesn't accept this and that is why I do not tolerate tolerance.

February 12, 2008


First and foremost, Visibility Alert is a pop culture blog whose main goal is to bring attention to current and past trends in the increased visibility of minority representation. How are minorities being portrayed (fairly? stereotypical/cast into positions based on race and/or gender?) and how are these portrayals actually affecting the group as a whole? Is this increased visibility necessarily empowering? Or is it creating a homogeneous realm where the dominant majority receive a washed version of a multi-faceted group?

I'd like to use this introductory post as a quick basis of my ideology behind this blog. I'm basing Visibility Alert on the social significance of pop culture because of its symbolic factor and its legitimizing power it has with people.

Pop culture is typically a reflection of the society which produced it, whether literal or embedded deep in the minds of the populace, which is why I feel justified in focusing exclusively on pop culture.

Many of my basic ideas stem from bell hooks. Motivated representations, as hook explains, are instances used when a conscious decision, and a certain criteria fulfilled, is made in order to typecast a character. An example of this would be, as hooks mentions, making the thief in the film Smoke black.

Using case studies in various mediums (television, film, music, ads, etc), as well as comparing and contrasting recent trends (Lil Mama/Soulja Boy, popular genres, alternative masculinity vs macho, etc), I hope to portray how minorities are typecast in pop culture.

It is important to note that when I use the term minority, I do not only necessarily mean it in terms of ethnicity. I use it in the sense to represent all groups who do not have the power, or luxury, of the dominant majority. This includes, but not limited to, people of colour, women, alternative masculinities, immigrants, queer-identified people, issues pertaining to poverty, the homeless, etc.