Objects Of Desire

Posted: December 5, 2011 in Feminism, Metrosexual Murderers, metrosexuality
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I have been troubled by these photos in Oh La La Mag, of a fashion spread featuring a woman as a dead body, surrounded by her metrosexual male assassins. Not due to the murderous subject matter, which has become banal in contemporary (visual) culture. No. It is the issue of the ‘gaze’ that’s got me thinking.

The problem these photographs pose is an old one, that has been addressed in philosophy, social research, literature, film and art studies. It relates to the fraught and complex relationship between ‘subject’ and ‘object’.

According to Laura Mulvey:

‘the subject is active, is attached to the active verb, is the center or point of the utterance (the film), and directs the object. The object is passive, is “done to,” and receives the action of the subject. Thus, “Jim (the subject) pushes (the verb) the car (object). Within Mulvey’s conception of classical Hollywood narrative, the male lead is positioned as the active subject who gazes at/controls the female as passive object, which fits nicely into the Oedipal trajectory paradigm. The positioning of the gendered subject and object within the narrative is often technically enforced by subjective shots from the male character’s point of view so that the female character is positioned as the object of the camera’s/man’s/spectator’s gaze. ‘

I expect contemporary feminists looking at these photos would apply Mulvey’s theory to them, and conclude that indeed the men are the ‘active’ subjects of the photos and the woman the ‘passive’ – and sometimes dead – object of their actions (killing her) and of our gaze.

But look again. In the top picture, though the woman looks pretty done for, and is lying corpse-like on the pavement, with blood coming out of her, there is some confusion about who killed her, who is ‘active’ in this scenario. For the gun is in her hand not that of the man by her side. Could he have put it there to cover his tracks? We shall never know. Also though they are very blank, it is the woman’s eyes that are open, and looking in the direction of the camera. The man is wearing sunglasses, and facing away from, beyond the woman. He is not ’the active subject who gazes at/controls the female as passive object’. Far from it, the man is the one who is naked from the waist up, and whose body (without a face, due to the sunglasses) we see most clearly. He is the ‘mannequin’ in the picture, the ‘object’ of the gaze.

In the second image the woman is quite clearly the subject, looking directly into the camera, the only colourful ‘lively’ character in the frame. Again the men are lifeless mannequins, their faces hidden by dark glasses. Surely they are the ‘objects’ of this photoshoot?

Mark Simpson has written before about how men are becoming ‘objectified’ in our visual culture, as much as, if not more than women these days. The ‘objectification’ of men in metrosexual society throws into question our previous assumptions about the ‘gaze’ and the relationship between ‘subject’ and ‘object’. Simpson has also observed that women’s ‘metrosexuality’ which has been in existence longer than, and has been one of the causes of men’s  (though men do it SO much better now) is active, in contrast to men’s newfound passivity (especially in front of the camera). And this series of photographs definitely illustrates Simpson’s points.

But is anybody paying attention? Sometimes it seems as if everyone is going round in dark glasses.

  1. Karen G says:

    Her pose is reminiscent of Balthas paintings. However are we sure the metrosexual male is her assassin? I don’t think so. The dead woman comes across to me as yielding power. That was her gun, and live by the sword, die by the sword… What bothers me is the mm seeming to be taking his pants off. Is there going to be some necrophilia on the sidewalk?

  2. Hi QRG,

    Are you familiar with Ros Gill’s work regarding the gaze? She too acknowledges increasingly idealised and eroticised images of men’s bodies in the mediascape. However, she cautions that ‘the female gaze’ (men’s ‘objectification’) is not a direct inversion of ‘the male gaze’. The woman’s very act of looking into the camera could be interpreted as her invitation to the viewer to make eye contact with her, to look at her. It lets the viewer know that the woman knows she is being looked at. If the men in the paintings are being looked at, this gazing is ‘incidental’, it was not explicitly invited. Their minds are actively engaged with other matters … necrophilia in the first? keeping the woman protected in the second? How to discard of the body in the third? Obviously, the images are open to interpretation. My interpretation (today!) is that they attempt to disrupt heteronormativity by inviting women and men to gaze at women and men, but they manage homoerotic fears (and therefore sustain heteronormativity) by positioning the woman as there to be looked at and the men as concerning themselves with matters other than, and perhaps more active than, being looked at.

    • hey Alison thanks for your comment. I know some of the work by Ros Gill on the gaze. Unfortunately I think she gets some of her ideas from Mark Simpson but doesn’t credit him adequately. And, as many feminists have done she kind of ‘dilutes’ his theories to avoid the homoerotic charge of metrosexual imagery (and to avoid the ‘m’ word itself).

      HOWEVER I think you, separately from Gill make some excellent points! Often men are pictured alone when imagery is *really* homoerotic so men viewing it don’t need to get freaked out by seeing two men in a homo type scenario.

      So when there are more than one man in a photo, yes there are tactics to make it less ‘homo/sexy’. I think the sunglasses are the key here in doing that. And the woman herself you’re right.

  3. […] QRG -ites will know, I am a bit sceptical about projects that seek to ‘reverse’ the objectification of women and men. Mainly because, influenced by the work of Mark Simpson, I am aware that men, to […]

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