For our last class, we looked at a collection of music videos that were incredibly symbolic and rich in content. Though performance-based, I think music videos are a unique form of filmmaking that coupled with music achieve very clear results.
At their core, music videos are an isolation of music and video. They rely on the relationship between audio and visual but also in its separation. When you watch a music video, you have a fully-formed song guiding you through emotions and stories. You also have the visuals doing the same. Though audio and visuals may seem to be working in conjunction, they each have their own respective life.
What was interesting about Janelle Monae’s music video is the interpretation of her songs. The songs were already made. This meant that the music videos could be anything. For this reason, the visuals added to a video became a life of their own.
Specifically, Janelle Monae added color. Her music videos were incredibly colorful adding to the lyrics of her songs. They elicited further feelings from the listener/now-viewer.
In Week 2, I was struck by Lynn Spigel’s article “Television and the Family Ideal in Postwar America”. It talks about the TV and how it fit(s) into domestic spaces of the US. With its introduction, the TV became the “central figure in representation of family relationship”.
What I first found interesting about this article was its talk of the home and domestic spaces. Homes and its sub-sections are both a means of inclusion and separation. The home is both the space of a big unit but one of sub-units as well. As Spigel writes, spatial imagery was the language for which how home magazines described family life. People, primarily women, were taught to view homes in a systematic way: everyone had their separate living spaces, holding claim to an invisible decorum of segmentation. The home was redirected and reorganized to meet ever growing needs. “If the children are cranky, let them play in the yard. If your husband is bored at the office, turn your garage into a workshop where he’ll recall the joys of his boyhood.” All of these points hit to an underlying point about family life. This focus on the home being a remedy to family dynamics admits that families are inherently volatile. The use of the home and its subsections has an underlying assumption that there is something to fix in family life. The nuclear family is a trope fed to us for decades, one most prominent in the mid-1900’s. The segmentation of space placed forth the boundaries necessary to deal with these issues.
At its core was the joining of man and woman. This in itself carries its ironies as the family home was commercialized as the place for this unity, but man and woman were supposed to maintain their separate gendered lives. The man was supposed to have (by example) his office and garage space. The woman was supposed to tend to domestic duties, most commonly represented by the kitchen. Houses were carefully crafted to show very opposing things. Families were supposed to be both unified in a space and separated within it.
(Side note: Additionally, the rise of the Playboy penthouse went against the nuclear family image. Bachelor pads put men in positions of domestic organization, dodging a fine line of emasculation. No longer did men not need to worry about their living space, but rather the opposite.)
This was all disrupted by the TV. The TV forced families again to rethink the domestic space and its organization. At its core was “Where should you put the television set”. The television set became the emblematic center depicted in magazines. TV’s created a unifying force that both fit into the segmentation of family life but also had to bring opposing forces together. TV’s expanded to be present in many different rooms in a house, not just the living room. TV’s became catalysts for separate lives to be joined into one.
My take on all of this is one I mentioned prior. TV’s, representative of domestic spaces, were marketed in the same way nuclear families were in the mid-1950’s. There was the man, the wife, and their two kids (boy and girl) with a dining table full of food and warm smiles. On screen, romance films featured a dashing semi-predatory man “winning over” a beautiful woman. At the end of the film, they were happily together and usually occupied a living space. All of this came under a guise of “purity” and idealism, in which a beautiful home with a nice TV set was the trademark of a happy life. Indirectly, this othered any and all identities that didn’t fit into that mold. This is why media and film has so much power. It normalizes certain points of views and lives. What is seen on screen is accepted and used as the framework for how we view our own lives. For this reason, the simple placement of a TV is significant, especially when we consider that not all homes are the same.
In Week 1, we read James Mandrell’s “Carmen Miranda Betwixt and Between, Or, Neither Here Nor There” followed by a screening of The Gang’s All Here. In his article, Mandrell argues that Miranda’s character is part of a “general queerness in US culture during the decades following World War II, when this persona achieves a camp apotheosis with the diffusion of television in the 1950’s”. Additionally, he suggests that Miranda eventually becomes a political object used to bridge cultures and identity. This is the point I would like to emphasize and analyze about Miranda.
Carmen Miranda is interesting because she became so welcomed in US households given her reputation in movies and television. She became a household name and bridged entry into a world exclusively white and predominantly male. She became part of a system whose very essence excludes her culture and identity. How did she do it? Rather, why did audiences receive her so well?
I have trouble answering this question because I find a very peculiar hypocrisy in viewership relating to latin characters like Miranda. As a Brazilian and a latina, Miranda’s character is accepted and applauded. Her accent is marveled and she is fetishized in a way white women are not as well as being a product of a male-oriented viewership. This is contrasted by a growing resentment of latinx people in the US during the same time period. While Miranda’s character is laughed at and entertaining viewership inside, the Zoot Suit riots are occurring outside.
Rather than a straight hypocrisy in perception of latinxs, it is more of a selectivity. Viewers are selecting the parts of latin identity that they want to accept as well as the parts of Miranda’s femininity. It takes on notes like these: “ I like Miranda’s accent because she is a character I see on TV and I have a semi-ownership of her I don’t like the accents of Mexican Americans living in this country because they are “otherly” and foreign.”
It becomes a dissection. Viewers are dissecting characters and real-life versions of those identities and genders to cater to their view. It is rooted in a power dynamic of oppressed and oppressor. On the side of oppressor is white male (and partly female) viewership who taken upon a pseudo-ownership of characters through their allowance and existence in their screens. Carmen Miranda is given a pass despite her identity to be on screen, so long as she can amuse and remind viewers of their dominance over other countries (in this case, Brasil). Miranda’s representation of the Good Neighbor Policy and her humorous nature allows for U.S viewers to feel some form of safety regarding U.S. – Brazil relations. Though there was never a conflicting nature to these two countries, Miranda alleviates the “otherly” view of Brazil that U.S. viewership exhibits. However, in doing so, caricatures of latinx people and latin women/women in general are created.
This viewership takes the parts they like and chastise the parts they don’t. Usually these parts are related to similarity. If the character for some reason assimilates to US culture they get a thumbs up but the opposite is true when they character is strongly another culture. We see this in characters like Sofia Vergara welcomed in Modern Family for her very Miranda-like character. The opposite can be seen by just turning on the news.
In terms of gender, viewers are selecting the part of Miranda’s femininity that they like and making fun of the ones that they don’t, or is socially acceptable. Miranda’s promiscuous flirtation is emphasized and gawked at both on screen and on stage in the film. This can be seen by the contrast with Mrs. Peyton, who has a show-biz past but is now a loving wife. It is as if the film is suggesting that sexuality does not align with traditional family values and ideals.
What strikes me too is that everything I’m typing right now is not exclusively related to Miranda. She is followed by decades of latin stereotypes and tropes perpetuated in media. Miranda’s character extends beyond itself and reveals a still present selectivity in identities, cultures, and genders that we see on screen. They too now are also used in some grander political context. The society we live in is reflected on screen. Our perceptions and ideas of other cultures, both the good and the bad, are reflected on screen. It is a world primarily aligned with male viewership and comes at the expense of accurate representation. It is a world both reflected and contrasted by the real world. There is power in portrayal and an equal power in viewership.
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