Saturday, July 14, 2012

Watching You Watch Him, Part II

I was so hoping that I could just casually mention voyeurism and then back away from it and run as far away as possible. But that of course isn't the case. Even though it's really mind-boggling and uncomfortable to discuss, I can't not discuss it. Because: 1) I just read Laura Mulvey. And 2) I found this post.
First on Mulvey. You can't study film theory without studying her. She's huge in feminist theories. And a bit controversial. And by a bit I mean she wants to do away with mainstream Hollywood cinema. (Yeah. Shit just hit the fan.) However, she brings up some legit points (and Freud. Always f-ing Freud).

Here's the deal: There are two forms of viewing in her book: scopophila (pleasure in viewing) and narcissistic identification. Lemme break it down for you: Scopophila is essentially voyeurism as discussed before, producing "an illusion of voyeuristic separation" (9) (the whole idea of being able to watch without being seen in a movie theater).  Narcissistic identification focuses more with the ego (hence the Freud) and on identifying with characters in the film. We see aspects of our personalities in the protagonists onscreen and relate to them, thus reinforcing ourselves as individuals. As Mulvey says, "...the cinema has structures of fascination strong enough to allow temporary loss of ego while simultaneously reinforcing the ego" (10). It's this complicated link between separation and distance - we want to watch, to not be seen, to gain pleasure from observing, to escape and view the story of someone else. But we also identify with those we are watching (in cinema, the protagonist and the "male gaze" on the heroine, Mulvey argues). All of this, of course, refers to gender and film viewing. But I'd like to take Mulvey's ideas and make a different argument: namely, that when we watch actors in everyday life, we're watching them as if they were still onscreen at the cinema.

Which brings me to 2), that Tumblr post. It comes from a blog called What are you wearing, Benedict?, a photo blog and conglomeration of critiques of his attire and awing over his "perfect" moments and what he should "always wear." I've known about it and ignored it even though it kind of grates on me for reasons I can't exactly describe (why do I care about people critiquing Cumberbatch's clothes? Why do I care when people I don't even know criticize U2 and Adele and Ellie Goulding and Florence and the Machine and [insert musician that I listen to here]? Why do I take something that has nothing to do with me so personally? I seriously cannot explain it in words. Really. I spent a semester studying music and discourse, and after all that time, it became no easier to explain why I - and others - react this way. (And in my mind, my interest in music and my fascination with certain actors affect the same general emotions so I'm categorizing them together)).
Anyway, the website bothered me but I never paid much attention to it and besides; it's the internet - people can say whatever they want. But the text accompanied with the above photo was a weird tipping point for me. The text is this:
I like the denim shirt, I like it open, I like your hair, I love Cabin Pressure and I love you. But why would you wear that tee underneath? And I know the fashion Mafia might disagree with me this season, but I really cant stand blue denim tops to blue denim bottoms. Maybe next time wear grey or black trousers and a tee without a pattern so psychedelic I just craved Pink Floyd really bad…
And then I started feeling that little bubble of: "Are we really upset about denim on denim? Oh my God I have opinions about this and I HAVE TO STATE THEM" (always a bad idea, but then I do it anyway). And of course I'd just read Mulvey. And because I have a blog, this post happened.

This is something I have wondered about for years. Why do we care what celebrities wear? I'm not saying this to be unkind; I just don't understand why the first question celebrities get at an event (especially female celebrities) is "What are you wearing?" I'll admit, I read fashion magazines (Lucky and Glamour, in case you're wondering (FYI, Glamour is much morel like Cosmo than I anticipated. Which means it makes me laugh and cry with its ridiculous sex advice). I like clothes (most of the time. When they aren't utterly impractical and impossible to figure out how to put on. (I sadistically enjoy those moments when I walk into a changing room with an article of clothing that looks great on a hanger and the moment I pull it off, I realize, "Wait... how the hell am I supposed to get this on my body?" It has happened more than once.)) I occasionally like shopping for clothes (when I am looking for something in particular, I can find exactly what I want in five minutes, and I can leave a store without having a fit about cloth sizing (which is different FOR EVERY SINGLE BRAND). Needless to say, I am not much for browsing and window shopping).

But when it comes to other people's clothes... I know what styles I like but I feel I have no right to tell someone they should or shouldn't dress a certain way (unless they ask my opinion). I take my clothes rather personally (maybe because wore school uniforms for just long enough that it affected my whole clothes psyche as I find the ability to choose what I wear some liberating, expressive freedom. But that's my psycho-analytical side speaking). I don't know... the whole "what are you wearing" blog makes me incredibly uncomfortable. Maybe because it brings my attention to something I never really concerned myself with before. Namely what Benedict Cumberbatch is wearing, be it "50 shades of grey" (their words, not mine!), a leather jacket, his shoes, hats, scarfs, etc, etc, etc.

OH MY GOD I AM SERIOUSLY DISCUSSING BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH'S WARDROBE. HELP ME.  This is clearly a new level of fangirl creeping or something.

Max Bialystock: Remember when I told you I'd tell you when we were in too deep?
Leo Bloom: Yeah...
Max Bialystock: We're in too deep.
 (God, I love The Producers. I swear it has a quote for everything.)

This is kind of weird. I mean, other people talk about celebrity's clothes all the time. I do it and feel like a total creep. I could wax poetic about this disparity in my mind, but if I do this post will NEVER END. So, back to business. If I'm at this weird level of... whatever, I might as well make something of it. I can understand ideas of wanting to be well-dressed (for job interviews, nice events, and because sometimes wearing dressy clothes can be fun. On that note: KEVIN IF YOU ARE READING THIS, WEAR DRESS CLOTHES TO JESS' WEDDING RECEPTION OR ELSE. I AM WEARING A DRESS AND HEELS AND YOU WILL SUFFER IN THE HEAT WITH ME). I enjoy dressing up - and often turn up to events over dressed. Can you say every Christmas party ever? :( But I feel bad judging other people's clothing choices because, simply, I'm not them. Also, I wore a bad 80s headband for two years of my life just because I thought it was cool even though it was terribly hideous. I am far more about comfort and happiness than looking chic. (But if you can get both together - then bingo.)

See what I mean? Bad 80s headband. I have no shame.
I don't want to personally critique the person's "What are you wearing?" blog because obviously it's the blogger's opinion but at the same time... the idea of it bugs me. (Wow, that seems tremendously backhanded and catty of me. Reminds me of this:
Yeah, pretty much.) But talking about a someone you don't know this way... I know it's meant to be fun and endearing but would I do this to my friends? Would I want this done to myself? (Well, I just did with the headband incident but because I'm complicated and human, making fun of myself feels far different than when someone does it for me.)

Not that there's anything wrong with your suits there, Peter.
And then the Laura Mulvey stuff starts brewing around in my head, about how we identify with characters onscreen and how at the same time we voyeur them. Though she's talking in terms of gender, I still think this is pertinent. Besides, I feel male celebrities are beginning to be examined under a similar gaze as women. And I have this feeling that in culture we tend to forget that the people we see onscreen are not exactly the people who are walking around in our "objective reality" (aka everyday life. Cultural theory buzzwords, everyone - they're great). While it's all fine and well to comment on how Cumberbatch looked at Peter Guillam in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, it wouldn't hurt to remember that he was wearing clothes based on a wardrobe department and costume designer. It's perhaps a tad much to expect him to dress like that every day of his life. So when you're commenting on his attire, you're really talking about costume design. I know, I know, I'm ruining the beauty of films by reminding you there is a costume designer/team. It comes with the territory. Here is a run-down of a conversation that recently occurred in my film class:
*watching The Lady From Shanghai; a shot of the Brooklyn Bridge appears onscreen*
Instructor: Where is this?
Student: Brooklyn Bridge, New York
*Next scene; a carriage in a park*
Instructor: Where is this?
Student: Central Park.
Instructor: WRONG! It's a sound stage in Burbank!
Get it? The film wasn't actually shot in New York; it was of course shot in Burbank like other film noir of its time. But we accept it as Central Park because we see the shot of Brooklyn Bridge and assume the next shot is naturally in Central Park (which, narratively, it is but it, in actuality, is not). The point is, what we see on film isn't real. But begin to treat it as if it is. And we begin to treat actors as if they were their characters. We identify with them as characters and that beings to influence in how we view them. And, because we're used to looking at them in the theater, that carries over into everyday life. We care about what they look like because we care about how they look onscreen. And we continue to view them as we do in the cinema. Case and point: this post. Apparently people actually kind of ship (once again: ship: verb. To wish for and desire a relationship between two people in which said relationship does not actually exist) Martin and Benedict. Which I find undeniably bizarre. Shipping Johnlock is one thing. Shipping the actors that play them: too far, guys and gals. Too far.

Am I even making any sense? Unlike when I bather on with my opinions in discussions, people can't point out when I'm confusing on a blog. Well, they could... but maybe they don't because this posts are just so bloody long most of the time. Sigh...

But here's the thing: I don't understand the need to go over every photo of Cumberbatch to comment on his clothes, be it complementary or sarcastically critical. I can't say that all the blogger cares about is his appearance because she often makes comments about his talents as an actor and the contributions he makes to charities and awareness programs. So really, all it comes down to is subjective opinions (just like musical taste! See why these two things are categorically the same in my absurd mind?) This is just all my opinion, just like the creator of the "What are you wearing" blog is all her's. The fact that our two opinions can coexist in the world just goes to show how complex and wonderful the universe is. There is no right answer. Especially because I war with myself about clothes/materialism/fashion perpetually because (in case there was any doubt):

I am a fucking hipster (I took a quiz on the internet, it's definitely true :P). But remember this post? So hipster. No, really - it's like a thing where we have to contradict mainstream opinion because we can. Basically: this entire post as well. And hipsters of course have their own particular fashion tastes (I happen to like bowler hats. And fedoras. I realize this puts me in a minority, because I can count on one hand the number of people I see in fedoras each day. Oops).

So feel free to lambaste my opinion. It is just an opinion, after all :D


Note: All citations from "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema." by Laura Mulvey. Screen. Vol. 16 No. 3 (Autumn 1975) pg 6-18.

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