Spectatorship, Power & Knowledge

In today’s society, there are two ways of looking at the media around us. There is the dominant gaze and the oppositional gaze. The dominant gaze is basically something that is seen as the social norm in society and which has been implemented into our brains by the media. Examples of a predominant view in society include women’s sexuality, hetero and homosexual couples, social class (wealth), hierarchy of power, and so forth. However, the oppositional gaze perceives a message that is not necessarily seen in mainstream media. Meaning that it challenges what is considered the “norm” or “stereotype” and makes people question the meaning behind the visuals being shown. Unaware of the gazes in our modernity, we may not always stop to consider the consequences. As stated, “In modernity, the gaze is constituted through a relationship of subjects defined within and through the discourses of institutions” (Sturken & Cartwright, pg. 104). But more than anything else, the images we look at influence our self-identity and inform our perception of the world. With that being said, a popular gaze that we are taking notice of in our culture is love and attachment.

Bruno Mars – Just the Way You Are

Upon listening to “Just the Way You Are by Bruno Mars”, you will soon notice the narrative of the song isn’t about a relationship, but rather a story Bruno’s infatuation with a woman who is lyrically represented as his perception of perfection. In the main chorus, “When I see your face … just the way you are” shows the Bruno’s fascination with her. He also implies that even with all the flaws she might have, her imperfections are what makes her perfect. Everyone’s perception of love can be influenced. For example, to a stranger the girl may look nowhere near perfect because her appearance may insinuate tackiness, or her personality may seem dull. But in the eyes of someone fixated with affection, she appear flawless due to their notion of a perfect being. It’s a situation which Bruno tries to tell in these lyrics. In the lines, “…her eyes make the stars look like they’re not shining her hair, her hair falls perfectly without her tryin’ she’s so beautiful…” is basically professing his adoration for this girl which successfully conveys his overall message that this girl is amazing just the way she is.

Disclosure – Latch
The thrill, desperation, and the obsession.
Another take on the theme of attachment is seen in the song, “Latch by Disclosure”.  Latch focuses on the thrill, the desperation, and then to the achievement of love. The song begins with his desire for her and what she makes him feel. He acts if he has an empty void in him that needs to be occupied. In the line “You, you enchant me even when you’re not around” emphasizes the influence she has on him and that his actions feel controlled by her like a spell.  His desires are further portrayed in the bridge such as “I feel…”, “I wanna…”, “I think…”, “Could I…” which represent his desperation. He’s asking her and confessing his feelings. The main chorus of the song shows him seizing his opportunity to “latch” onto her, emphasizing that he has become hooked, encaptured, and enamored. He is baffled by how much he has fallen for her, but he senses that there is a possibility of not receiving reciprocity of affection as the bridge is repeated. The song ends with the  repetition of the chorus once again to show that his affection is relentless, maybe even against her will/consent because of his certainty and that he has gotten her “shackled in my embrace” and that he “won’t let go” of her.

Ne-Yo – Because of you

Moving to the other side of the spectrum, Ne-Yo’s “Because of You” focuses more on the negative things that happens because of attachment. The song starts out with him enjoying his time with his girl. He then is introduced to another female and quickly becomes attracted to her, and later cheats on his girl. He knows what he is doing is wrong, but can’t help it stating “baby you have become my addiction” showing his attachment to the new girl. This attachment quickly worsens to addiction as he simply can’t get enough of her, shown when he replies to her phone call and leaving to see her at the pool. He also states “she’s the sweetest drug” showing his addictions towards her, comparing her to drugs, a common substance people get addicted to. All the while he is still attached to his own girl, as he lives with her, comes back home to her, and still has sex with her. His attachment is easily shown at the end when he is having sex. While he has sex each girl’s faces are constantly replacing each other showing his attachment as he is thinking about one while doing the other. This goes against the dominant view of attachment to be a loving commitment between two people. Ne-Yo went against the dominant view as he wasn’t committed to his own girl, and is juggling two people at the same time. While subtle Ne-Yo is also addicted to sex, which influenced his decision to later cheat. This videos presents a common lifestyle that happens, with addiction and cheat, that the media tries to cover with its own views.

Eminem ft. Rihanna – Love The Way You Lie

The music video for the song “Love The Way You Lie” by Eminem featuring Rihanna focuses on a very dark, abusive view of attachment. The video opens with the woman in the relationship, waking up to find a name and phone number on her significant other’s hand. Seeing the number initiates a full blown physical fight between the couple. After the fight scene is over, the woman is shown leaving the man, only to be pulled back. The lyrics in the song that sync with this scene specifically say, “ ‘Wait! Where you going?’ / ‘I’m leaving you’ / ‘No you ain’t. Come back.’ ” As if the dialogue were happening in the scene. And then the lyrics follow with “we’re running right back, here we go again.” This implies that this particular scenario has happened more than a few times, which is where the attachment idea shows up first. After the fight, we see the couple pretty graphically making out. One might perceive that the couple are attracted to each other because they are attached to the sexual pleasure of the relationship. Obviously from these scenes, it’s simple to tell that this relationship is extremely dysfunctional, the audience sees the couple at their best and worst, yet one can almost feel the same attachment and obligation to stay in the relationship. Also in the video, one of the first things we see is woman holding her palms open and holding/playing with fire. This suggests that she feels attached to this relationship for the thrill,  the heat, and even the danger, as the man represents the fire. In the video, we see that the man is the dominant figure in the relationship but the chorus states that the woman loves the way the man lies and in some ways this suggests that she enjoys the pain and abuse.

Understanding just how influential the gazes are, it’s important to first understand the theory of spectatorship and what it truly means to look and understand the correlation with the variations of media. After examining both dominant and oppositional gazes through the sample videos shown above, we cannot simply deem them as positive or negative, or even bias to certain criterias, but rather to comprehend the overall meaning behind it. By understanding the theories of spectatorship, “we can form our own identity, not just blindly conform to whatever it is we are being shown… We can now look through the image instead of just reflecting it into our subculture” (Sturken & Cartwright). As a subculture [a group of people who articulate their rejection of [dominant] norms or dominant hegemony through dress, music, and lifestyle] we must be able to change the status quo by removing the limitations, stereotypes and preconceived notions on those in the media and unify them instead.

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