Narrative and Technology
Final Project 2007
The female narrative has been constructed and reconstructed over the centuries by
various people, places, and things. The word narrative means story. Who is responsible for adequately telling and retelling the female story? How has the advancements in technology altered the documentation and representation of the female story? As a women of the 21st century I find myself looking to the pictures and words around me, not so much for validation of my existence as a 21st century female, but for the assurance that our story is being responsibly documented, because after all, the way women are represented now will be one of the ways future generations “read” our story of the present..
What about this generation will remain for the future women of the world to learn from? The technological advancements of today has made the images and representations of women more main stream than ever. The internet, advertisements, cable television, and reality shows all have impacted the way women are perceived. Thanks to the technological ease of digital imaging, and other outlets, the female story is being tainted. It is my opinion, that media is negatively affecting the current female narrative, and sadly even still, is that too many women are ignorant to this fact. The story being recorded is that of a superficial, consumerist, shallow representation of women. As I look at vintage dresses and early commercial advertisements, I laugh at the way women are represented and wonder how they could stand for such ludicrous treatment. In my eyes, the way women were treated and depicted in the media outlets, i.e. television, commercials, magazines, is detrimental to the female narrative.
One of my favorite television show is I Love Lucy. This show represents a common contradiction. While Lucile Ball was in part responsible for the production of the show, an example of the power women could have and did have in the 50’s and 60’s, ,in every episodes Lucy is the epitome of the cliché women. Cliché is the house wife and simpleton, enamored with simple the idea of her husband, who dutifully caters to the need of the house and child with no other aspirations. In many episodes she pokes fun at the idea that women can hold responsible position outside of the house
Women see images of what an ideal woman or girls should look like or epitomize. Often times these images have been approved by some man, who is most likely in charge of production in some form or fashion, who approves what he thinks men will want to see, in tern the result is fashioned under male influence, and is not what women of the 21st century represent. For example, the Miss America Pageant started by Frederick Hickman more than 75 years ago, and is very prevalent today claims to “…represent the highest ideals. She is a real combination of beauty, grace, and intelligence, artistic and refined. She is a type which the American Girl might well emulate.” Is this what the women of 2050 will take from our existence today. Our story is being recorded with these negative stereotypes.
There has never been an “ugly” Miss America, and it is safe to say there might never be. Too much emphasis is placed on the superficial aspects of beauty, and the media continues to play its part in perpetuating these shallow ideas. Beauty is a concept that is judged through individual perspectives, but because technology has advanced in the way it has, the mass production aspects has overshadowed what is the more realistic attitudes of women. In addition to shallow ideals about the female body, women and young girls are being taught gender roles. The amount of television they watch will have a great impact on the way in which they see themselves and other women. By continually running weight loss advertisement in Cosmo Girl magazine, and placing “How to loose those ugly pounds in 10 days” in Cosmopolitan, they are emphasizing the importance of weight loss and other physical transformations as the important things in life. Although these advertisements are not the only thing the magazine has to offer, flipping casually flipping though a magazine, I was aware of more of these types of advertisements than any other kind. Allure magazine, which is prescribed for young girls constantly, presents ways in which alterations to the body can be made to become “more appealing”. How can girls consciously grow into anything other than appearance zombies? Just as I am opinionated when I flip through an older issue of Essence Magazine publishes in 1950, as will the future be as the thumb through magazines from today. What is represented in the media is professing to be what is valued. I don’t hold these shallow values and I am sure many other women are behind me.
Various theories have been developed to look at the way in which messages are received and what they do to our psychological nature. For example, McLuhan said that when the cultures dominate medium is reading, individualism is a strong message. With the advancement in media and technology, reading is definitely not our culture’s dominant medium. This is sad when thinking about narrative. I love being able to read stories about women, written by women, of the past, and as technology continues to grow this form of narrative representation will be altered, and thus far this alteration is not one of a positive nature. When we are children we begin our personal relationship with the media, the traits that we learn most about are fear, aggression, and sexuality. Having young girls learn primarily about their sexuality through television commercials, music videos, and magazine ads, off sets reality for them. This is the cause of negative messages about the female body. “The child’s ability to differentiate between fantasy and reality is at the crux of development of children’s relationship to mass media.” Lessons learned in youth will be carried with you for your lifetime. If these images are left un-opposed they will be perceived as fact. History is told by the winners, presently our history is being documented by the big corporations, while the opposing attitudes are still forced to use smaller outlets to present their prospective. As technology has advanced so as the politics behind the control of it. While the media giants fight over who will make the most money off of these images, the reality of female existence in the 21st century is left confused.
Not only is the role of women apparent in Western media, but also in the messages around the world. In a book entitled Women in the Media: Diverse Perspectives, three stories struck me as powerful depictions of medias impact on women. The first story written by Kimiko Akita, Cuteness: The Sexual Commodification of Women in the Japanese Media attacks the idea of “cuteness” in Japanese culture. In the commercials she notices that women are depicted only if they adhere to the standard of cute, (which are almost always younger petite women.) In addition to sex, the Japanese’s medias uses a certain level of humor to capture the audience. Once the audience has been captured, the messages about women that are shown display women as, infantile, ignorant, and stupid. The bodies of the women were strictly sexual and material properties. Akita comments on a show that she watched with a number of other women. The show was a comedy called Samna the Great Teacher. On one of the evening programs for children he makes a comment that she goes on to write about for two pages. He says to a little girl, “You are so cute! I feel like raping you” (Carilli and Campbell, 50). The fact that she finds most disturbing about this comment besides the obvious, is the reaction of the other women watching the program. She says they act nonchalantly about it. This nonchalant attitude expresses a lack of critical thinking on behalf of the Japanese women. “In patriarchal discourse, the nature and social role of women are defined in relation to the norm created by the men to meet individual men’s needs” (Carilli and Campbell, 52). The Japanese women in this story certainly meet this standard. When questioned as to why they reacted or did not react to the comment on the show they remarked that the “hadn’t really noticed it.”
The female image today does not include attributions that are intrinsic to her own personal identity, but rather highlights things like her teeth, hair, skin, lips and eyes. These are the images representing the values f the 21st century female. The following quote captures the thoughts of this author and illustrates the severity of the images of women in the media. Pertaining to Indian culture she or he writes, “In our social order women are “products” used and exchanged by men. Their status is that of merchandise, ‘commodities’….So women have to remain an “infrastructure” unrecognized as such by a society and our culture. The use, consumption, and circulation of their sexualized bodies underwrite the organization and reproduction of social order, in which they have never taken part as subjects.” (Calli and Campbell pg.16)
“What a discussion of feminist media analysis of women’s representation in news and magazines demonstrates, incontrovertibly, is that the media’s framing of women in highly restricted, negative ways is not simply the consequence of idiosyncrasies of this newspaper, that TV channel, or that radio station, but rather, is a global phenomenon that has endured over time and media form, and continues to do so” (Byerly and Ross, 54).
As outlined by Parsigian (1992) In Media Writing, media analysis starts with a detailed examination of the thought process. The section titled, The Mysterious Doman: Thinking takes a close look at the way in which we process information. “Research in schematic, or cognitive thought processes, describe thinking as a natural and human attribute, available to all, but used to it full potential by only a numbered few” (Parsigian, 224). This research highlights the select grouping of people that fully think through issues. Media has a persuasive property and coupled with minimal thought on the part of the average human, the possible influence is severe. Bartlett (Parsigan,227) speaks on the features necessary for dealing with evidence, in the case of media interpretation by women, evidence consist of the messages being transmitted to women through various media outlets. He explains, “ …before fill-ins, “transfer,” and “leaps” can occur, a state of “perpetual readiness,” a mindset of preparedness and attentiveness to the task at hand, must be present” ( Parsigian, 228). That is to say that if one isn’t prepared to process completely any given message the message will be misperceived, or understood differently than it might have been originally intended.
Many variables affect the way in which women process information, all the new forms of technology for example. In Communication Theories by Severin and Tankard they give examples of the many outside influences that change and alter the way we receive messages.Multi tasking is common practice in today’s fast paced world. It is rare for anyone to give undivided attention to anything at any point in time. Commercial producer and advertisement agents understand that they have a limited window of opportunity to connect with their audience. Additionally, they understand the frequency in multitasking on the part of their audience. With these factors in mind, it is necessary for them to repeat and reiterate the point of their message. Consequently often times when something is repeated it soon becomes validated. As as mention before history is told by the winners, in this example, who ever “yells” the loudest will be heard, and remembered.
Razali Ishmael, the Malaysian president of the UN General assembly, raised some concerns about television viewing. “Today’s television environment enlarges choices, creates opportunities for diversity and promotes a freer flow of information. However, such enlargement of people’s choices would only be a false distortion of empowerment were it to be restricted within the doctrine of consumerism, or pre-packaged by power elites. Information technology that spans the global can concentrate ownership, limit access, homogenize content, and pit freedom of expression against certain minimum standard” (Schecter, 446). Media is a constantly changing medium capable of great things. Its effects on women spans globally, and alter the fabric of society greatly. Consequently it is one of the greatest tools that we have today, and both a resource and an outlet for historical documentation. Right under our noses, our history is being tainted, and the story that the future will see is not that of our actually ideas and goals, rather a consumerist nation capable of depicting what is most advantageous to their endeavors.
With this class I have learned that writing can inspire thought, and attitudes, not previously acknowledged. It is my fear that because the media has become so obsessed with individualistic objectives they loose sight of there long term impact, and the representation of women is suffering. Our story/human narrative is not being documented accurately. If the future generations rely as strongly as I do on the images, advertisements, and television of the past to interpret what life was like in any given time, the future will be sadly mistaken about the reality of our time today.
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