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Reading the ‘Body’: A Closer Look at Philippine Pop Culture And the Consumption of Women
Mundiz, Teresa May A.
Dr. Patricia Elbanbuena
ENG 122— Mass Media Communication
March 14, 2009
Reading the Body Abstract
Every man is another man’s information; and every Juan is just a google away. Mass media has not left a culture untouched that even the average street vendor knows of Marian, Eva Fonda and Betty. That even the fetus in a woman’s womb recognizes Beyonce’s Single Ladies. Philippine pop culture speaks all these—from the television ad, to Friendster, to the latest MYX video, to FHM. These are the canvas where bare, beautiful and fair skinned women splayed themselves to be consumed. This paper, hence, problematizes the semiotics of Philippine pop culture and mass media in their portrayal of women’s sexuality. The act of consumption, then, is being expressed as that pleasure in looking and be looked at in return.
Reading the Body Reading the ‘Body’: A Closer Look at Philippine Pop Culture And the Consumption of Women
“It’s easy to look around and see that the body has been “read” as a text for years.” --Chapter 2, Self-Perceptions: Perspectives on Men, Women and Sex “Close up I see all this yellow powder caked up on her face. Red rouge. She look like she ain't long for this world but dressed well for the next.” -- Alice Walker The Image A glossy page of Holly Golightly was laid open on a friend’s table. He—no, she—was trying to get the look of the woman in her black, sheath dress, a pearl choker, an upswept hairstyle, sans the cigarette holder. Internet websites say that this look has always been a favorite among costume parties and even on Halloween. Even the actress who played the role attested that it was the most identifiable and challenging role she ever had (Schwatz, 1986). Audrey Hepburn, the actress who played Holly Golightly, has always been a style icon in the 60’s. But portraying the role had permanently placed her among the icons of the generation. Breakfast at Tiffany’s has served as a classic not just among film enthusiasts but also to the movie industry in general. Even for the whole population of women, Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly is an immortal. An icon. Capote’s novel introduced Holly Golightly. Pop culture encouraged the character. Mass media placed her everywhere—from books, magazines, televisions, music and even in the Internet—creating a cult. It is therefore not surprising why some women follow suit to the image. And media, having had the sole purpose of producing artifacts to make them popular (that is how pop culture come about), has facilitated this imagery.
Reading the Body
Laura Mulvey (1975) in her essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema has pointed out how films demonstrate the ‘unconscious of the patriarchal society.’ Mulvey is a film theorist of the 70s whose seminal essay has made her one of the prominent feminist of her time (Chandler, 2000). She pointed out the paradox that is: the woman’s lack of penis gives signification to the phallus. A woman’s existence is always that of castration, and therefore, ‘she can exist only in relation to castration and cannot transcend it.’ Because of her, man is given recognition—an importance which creates meaning to that of the woman. Images of Holly Golightly and even that of Marilyn Monroe are only important so long as there is, too, the existence of the phallus. Women will always be the bearer of meaning or the image; men as the bearer of the look (Mulvey, 1975). Looking at images of Angelina Jolie, Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, Beyonce—the list does not end—pleasures the senses. Such is also the case in Philippine popular culture. There is Marian Rivera. There, too, is Angelica Panganiban. Christine Reyes. Anne Curtis. Carlene Aguilar. Ruffa Mae Quinto. Theirs is the image that exudes utmost sexuality. And they are women. Their images add up to that claim of men’s signification. They are being signified as the normalized standard. Their bodies, their faces—induce more than simply defining beauty according to what mass media and pop culture is trying to convey. Instead, it is these women’s body and sexuality being portrayed which creates a deep impact among the viewers and consumers. And most of all, the images of these women now become the sets of signs that other women looks up for identification. Simply put, women now identify to these images—the look, the poise and the sexuality. Third, their images and sexuality are “being read” for consumption. This act of ‘being read’ is
Reading the Body
done in the means that new discourses and interpretations are given from the texti —which for these images— are the women’s bodies. And these women come about because of popular culture. John Storey divided his definition into two. Pop culture is 1) “simply culture which is widely favoured or well liked by many people” then, 2) it is “the culture which is left over after we have decided what is high culture […] it is a definition of popular culture as inferior culture (p. 2).” But since mass media is a major proponent in pop culture, the definition therefore should be: [Pop Culture] is a cultural production mediated by media or mass media. Pop culture, thus, should be identified such that it is the milieu as mass media is the medium. The acculturation of people through the Mass Media is not limited only through the Internet or television. (Although one can say, that in this age of Wii, Internet and TV are the most common of the forms of media.) Wikipedia categorizes the forms into 7: broadcast media—the radio and TV; Discs or tapes; films; Internet; publishing—books, mags, newspapers; video games—PS2, Xbox 360, Wii; mobile phones. Still, film, Internet, publishing, discs through songs, have always been the most accessible of all the forms. Mobile phones have just been recently considered as the 7th form of mass media with people using it as medium to exchange news, horoscopes, messages, videos and the likes (wikipedia). However, much of man’s influences root from his or her access to the boob tube and the zines. As Jack Johnson sings in his Good Peopleii, “turn on the boob tube/ I’m in the mood to obey/ So lead me astray by the way…”
Reading the Body Now Showing: THE wo(e)MANLY CURVES
Ugly Betty’s America Ferrera has been gaining prominence through the drama which is a franchise of the Colombian series Yo Soy Betty, La Fea (wikipedia). If one can remember, the same Colombian series has been aired for some time in one of the Philippine networks. And it is not surprising that just last year, September 08, Philippine television launched its very own Betty —Bea Alonzo in I Love Betty La Fea. Typically, any foreign franchise has to be made fitting to the milieu and sensibility of the country and culture where the franchise is made. Though Betty is originally Colombian, a lot of changes have been done to the Betty La Fea character to fit the persona according to the Filipino humor. The image—or the Betty face—has also evolved partial to the taste of every country which franchises the said television series. But often, the image only comes close to its archetype through the dark rimmed, eye glasses and the braces. The rest of the Betty look does not reflect much to the Colombian version. However, the production of Betty, La fea, if one looks critically to it, is really a criticism for women and this universally problematic concept of beauty plus the sexuality. “Media,” then, “creates the ideal image of [a] beautiful men and women and tells you [what are] the characteristics of a successful person, you can see it in movies and on TV. [It is] a subliminal way to tell you that if you are not like them you are not cool yet so its time to buy the stuff they buy and look like they look. (Rayuso)” Betty franchise has reflected this kind of social perception of body image and beauty.
Reading the Body
The remake of this Colombian drama, the phenomenon itself, is referred to as recontextualization. This is pop culture occurrence which explains as “generational identity overlapping with [one] another […] artifacts of one generation are recaptured and remembered for a new audience. (Listening through Generations)” For the Betty franchise, the name changes from Beatriz Aurora Pinzón Solano as compared to the Filipino Betty Pengson. However, it is not just in this series where the character or even the setting is being recontextualized. How about MariMar? Marian Rivera, one of the Philippine television’s beautiful faces, has played the title role of the Mexican drama, MariMar. It follows the stereotype Cindrella-cum-lost-and-found-childof-a-millionaire story. But one remarkable thing about MariMar in its Filipino version is that the image of the woman—Marian Rivera—is more daring than its archetype MariMar—Thalia Sodi. Imagine Marian Rivera: half of her body submerged in the water, her skin glistened from the sun, her eyes with a wicked hint of seduction. Gone is the innocence which the Mexican drama originally portrayed through Thalia. Both television drama—Betty and MariMar—series are recontextualizations from archetypes of foreign dramas. But recapturing these dramas for another audience has not removed the image portrayed by the women. Hence, the images are maintained, made more beautiful/ugly/sexy/dowdy according to the social perception of beauty and ugliness in the Philippines. Bea Alonzo has been made ugly in I Love Betty La Fea through layers of wigs, eyebrows and thick, dark rimmed glasses. Her character defies and re-defines the concept of beauty as one that can be found in one’s inner self. Even a facial moisturizer ad by a famous actress has this line: It is beauty from within. And, Betty, La Fea continues to inspire.
Reading the Body
Then again, Marian Rivera’s MariMar maintains how beauty affects other people around the character. Its appeal comes a long way from the angelic face to the body of a seductress. The story is about a beautiful woman who has experienced unfortunate events in her life. In one scene of this drama, the woman antagonist has lost an eye which made her almost frantic because of such “monstrosity” and “ugliness” that befallen on her while looking at herself in the mirror. Other Philippine dramas, however, have shown similar concepts: Mula Sa Puso—Jaclyn Jose had acid burn on her cheek that made her cover half the face while people looked at her disdainfully; Kampanerang Kuba—a remake of Vilma Santos’ 1973 film of the same title, has made Anne Curtis a hunchback who always fends herself from the mockery and torments around her (wikipedia); Luna Mystika—Heart Evangelista, playing both the characters of Luna and Celestina, has had the challenge to portray characters of extreme physical difference. And Luna, being the physically challenge character, has to give up her love for the fairer Celestina. Still the idea remains that physical beauty matters—and with it, one becomes more appealing and attractive for the viewers. Pop culture has not missed to encourage that concept. Philippine television, through prime time drama series has effectively embedded in Philippine society this most base definition of beauty. And “the film industry is one [element in mass media iii] that has [continually have] a major effect on how young women are viewed in society (Maya).” The ideal which is then created puts pressure on women to look like that of the young, sexy, fair, with pouting lips, blonde, curvy woman in videos, film ads and other mass media formats. The constant recontextualizations of story lines from foreign drama series, and even that of movies have not taken out scenes that will eventually change or remove this perception. Another Philippine drama, Eva Fonda, a recently wrapped up ABS-CBN drama, is another type
Reading the Body
of show which adds up to the social construct of beauty/ugliness. A remake of the 1976 Bombaiv film of the same title, Eva Fonda is a tie up of how beauty pleasures one’s senses while at the same time bringing misfortune to the other. Christine Reyes is Eva Fonda, a poor, barrio girl whose beauty brings her much misfortune—being raped, abused and consumed—simply because she looks desirable for men.
Taking it one by one, Eva Fonda’s character is what Laura Mulvey (1975) has explained as the way “ film reflects, reveals and even plays on the straight, socially established interpretation of sexual difference which controls images, erotic ways of looking and spectacle.” Films like this only proliferated that passivity among women in films—the eternal damsel in distress waiting for her knight in shining, shimmering, splendid armor to save her. According to Maya, “Women’s roles are written with irrelevant sexualization [whose] character’s primary function is to please men.” Quoting Budd Boetticher (Mulvey, 1975) “what counts is what the heroine provokes, or rather what she represents. She is the one, or rather the love or fear she inspires in the hero, or else the concern he feels for her, who makes him act the way he does. In herself the woman has not the slightest importance.” MariMar’s and Eva Fonda’s characters have shown more than enough to attest how a woman, despite her absence of the phallus, gives signification to men. These actresses have also said their gratitude after the wrapped up of their drama series—with the leading men and love interests they have had in their shows. And continually, they are being consumed.
Reading the Body
Then again, much as there is pleasure in looking at these women, there is too in being looked at. Every time a consumer/moviegoer/viewer turns on her television to look at her favorite actress—to consume her being, this consumer, too, wants the same pleasure she gets from looking at Eva Fonda or MariMar. The ‘gaze,’ also called ‘the look,’ used to be a technical term referring to how viewers look at images. Originally, the term was used among film theorist in the 1970s to refer to the same phenomenon. However, contemporary media theorists use the same ‘gaze’ to refer both “to the ways in which viewers look at images of people in any visual medium and to the gaze of those depicted in visual texts.(Chandler, 2000)” Unsurprisingly, this culture of image is not an exclusive occurrence in the Philippine TV and pop culture. Celebrities and non-celebrities alike have invested much in their looks and appearances according to what is considered as pleasurable. Unfortunately, the population widely affected is that of the women. Recontextualizing Mulvey’s essay and Freud’s concept of scopophilia—that pleasure in looking at another person as an erotic object—it is evident among female teenagers on how they try to suit themselves to the looks of MariMar and Eva Fonda. To be looked at also gives pleasure for these teens. Asking a friend why she opted to do Holly Golightly, her answer was simple: she just wanted people to admire her. Same as the other women, she, too, wanted to be looked at. Thus, one can deduce that more often, women want to be objectified. Hence, the images projected by mass media of women consequently make voyeurs out of the viewers. Scopophilia, then, is being encouraged. Women, ironically, know that they are being objectified as sexual objects. The women—in advertisements, glossy pages of magazines and in all other media format—are the spectacle or images; the mediated form or the mass media, now, carries the look
Reading the Body
which the viewers adopt after. As what Mulvey has written, “as the spectator identifies with the main male protagonist, he projects his look onto that of his like, his screen surrogate, so that the power of the male protagonist as he controls events coincides with the active power of the erotic look, both giving a satisfying sense of omnipotence (1975); “the viewer may subjectively identify with the camera’s point of view, with that of a person which it depicts or with both (Mulvey, 1975).” The culturalist theory of the 80s and 90s (CliffNotes.Com) purported how audiences play an active rather than passive role in relation to mass media. However, the clinging of this theory is more on the interpretation of a given text/artifact of pop culture as mediated by mass media.
Still the idea remains that despite the objections on how pop culture and mass media present women as passive, the latter knows that objectification eventually happens to her and all the other images she projects in ads, in television shows, in endorsements. Philippine pop culture has a number of drama series which follow a certain equation—that is, the man will always save the woman—that makes their show a sell-out among (male) viewers. The act of consumption occurs not just in mere patronages in products and artifacts from women actors, and other forms of mass media. To be consumed is to be devoured—ingested— used up—eaten—expended. When Mulvey said that Women is the Image, Man is the Bearer of the Look, what she really meant by saying that is: woman is the other, the presence which is expendable; the body which should be consumed. A harrowing state which speaks true of the modern times.
Reading the Body References Betty la fea. Retrieved February 19, 2009, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Betty_la_fea Chandler, D. (2000, April). Notes on 'the Gaze.' Retrieved March 09, 2009 from http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Documents/gaze/gaze01.html
CliffsNotes.com. The Role and influence of mass media. Retrieved February 03, 2009 from http://www.cliffsnotes.com/WileyCDA/CliffsReviewTopic/topicArticleId-26957,articleId26946.html Eva Fonda. Retrieved February 19, 2009, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eva_Fonda Maya.. Influence of mass media. Retrieved February 03, 2009, from http://www.mysistahs.org/sts/pastpeereds/maya.htm Kampanerang Kuba. Retrieved February 19, 2009, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kampanerang_Kuba MariMar. Retrieved February 19, 2009, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MariMar Mass media. Retrieved February 03, 2009, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/media Mula Sa Puso. Retrieved February 19, 2009, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mula_Sa_Puso Mulvey, L. (1975) Visual pleasure and narrative cinema. Retrieved March 13, 2009, from http://yorty.sonoma.edu/filmfrog/archive/Mulvey.html--mulvey Rayuso. Mass media influence on society. Retrieved February 03, 2009, from http://hubpages.com/hub/Mass-Media-Influence-on-Society Schwatz, Alan U (1986). Breakfast at Tiffany’s the Movie. Retrieved February 07, 2009, from http://www-personal.umich.edu/%7Ebcash/movie.html
Reading the Body Pop Culture Essays: Listening to generations: Perspectives on music and generational identity. pp 32 Self-perceptions: Perspectives on men, women and sex. pp 80-88 Storey, J. What is pop culture?. pp 1-6
Text, in popular culture, means “what appears on the surface and needs to be interpreted.” From the album ________________ iii Author’s additions iv A term given of the 1970s sexy films
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